I started working in an NGO mostly to write and publish their finished projects, with the condition of me being in charge of authorship (Who is first, who is corresponding, etc). After a while, I received a previous yet-unpublished article on one of the main projects of the organization that they concluded 5 years before my time. The article was objectively very poor, so I decided to write it again from scratch. It took me one full year, considering it was a sensitive subject and also required non-routine statistical analyses that I had to learn on my own, while no one helped me in writing the manuscript or anything else.
Afterward, as I was ready to submit the article, the head of the NGO, that used to be my professor, excluded this article from our initial agreement and insisted that the person with the original idea 5 years ago should be the first author, and she herself should be the corresponding author. Additionally, the person who wrote the original poor article should have a place in the authorship too.
Now I am not happy with this. As while I understand they had the idea and managed the project, I think they should be co-corresponding authors and I should be the first author. Also, I don't think the previous author has any rights to be in the authorship of the present article. However, the terms are non-negotiable to them and they won't accept anything else. Am I wrong? What should I do?

  • 1
    Well, not much if you have given them the re-write. If you have not then keep it safe until this is sorted.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 9:53
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    I don't think the previous author has any rights to be in the authorship of the present article, why? They wrote the foundation.
    – user2768
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 9:55
  • @user2768 not even a single word is used from the poor original article. Should she still be in the article ? Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 10:35
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    @Etem You took her intellectual property and built upon it, you cannot claim the resulting work doesn't belong to her in part. If you were to give me the current draft and I didn't use a single word of yours in a new draft, could I drop you as a co-author? I don't see a difference between dropping her and dropping you.
    – user2768
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 11:51
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    @Etem So I didn't even use her as foundation. To exclude her you'd need to argue that her work had no impact on the results (or get her to agree to be excluded).
    – user2768
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 13:02

1 Answer 1


Time is not a real concern. Having some draft written 5 years ago, or 5 days ago should not make a difference. So, the original author should be on the author list.

Another option: You may go with your own publication while citing the original (unpublished) version. In that path, you need to describe what you add over that unpublished version. If you have not added much in terms of contribution, you cannot use that option.

Being the first author is a different concept. In most organizations, the author list is sorted by contribution levels of corresponding authors. I assume that is the same in your case. So, according to your words, the manuscript is written almost completely by you, analysis and other supporting work are done by you. If that is correct, you should have the right to be the first author.

What can you do? You need to convince others to be the first. Well, that is not the only thing you need to do. Other authors should approve the whole manuscript, not only the order of authors.

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