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I am currently doing undergraduate computer science (machine learning) research, and I'm wondering how much one has to contribute to be considered a co-author (and therefore listed as such)? I've found that, during my research, questions often arise – questions for which I don't know where to look, or what I'm even looking at, but suspect that specific professors would (such as mathematics professors). If I occasionally email various professors and ask them questions (for instance, if what I've come across looks like it might be an optimization problem, then I'll email a professor who is doing research on optimization), then would this be considered sufficient contribution to be listed as a co-author?

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This differs widely by field. The general principle is (or should be) that co-authors contribute to the intellectual content of the paper. The actual ideas that make it worth publishing.

But there are fields, such as high energy physics where nothing can get done without the participation of a lot (lot) of technicians. They sometimes get listed as "authors". But people in that field understand the intent. The first few authors came up with the ideas and framework. The rest actualized it in some sense. There are a few papers in which the list of authors is longer than the paper itself.

If you are asking general mathematical questions of experts to help you understand, then it is unlikely that they would warrant authorship. This remains true even if the questions are quite deep. If you ask them to help you prove the theorems or come up with important applications that you will include, then they probably do.

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  • "If you ask them to help you prove the theorems or come up with important applications that you will include, then they probably do." Definitely nothing like that. Sep 24, 2020 at 17:19
  • I didn't suspect that there was.
    – Buffy
    Sep 24, 2020 at 17:20
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Answers to occasional queries don't call for coauthorship. Several important ones from a single person warrant an acknowledgment. Someone who reads your manuscript and makes suggestions as well as corrections might qualify: ask.

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