Let assume a journal accepted a topical review proposal I submitted. It's often a good approach for a student like me (PhD student) to coauthor the paper with a more experienced researcher who is quite known in the field. In my previous papers, when was the first author, I wrote the whole paper and asked for feedback from the coauthors at the end of the writing (since they contributed in the experimental data acquisition for example, but not on the research development).

For the specific case of a topical review, I wonder how the coauthoring is done in practice ? Are the coauthors expected to write some parts of the review ?

  • In the scenario you described, you have the 99,99% of the work. The prof might pass some relevant papers to you and will check if all is in shape. Assuming you are pretty good already. Assuming s/he know and agreed with the proposal.
    – Alchimista
    Mar 30, 2021 at 10:59

3 Answers 3


Who does the actual "writing" (i.e. putting pen to paper or fingers to keys) is actually immaterial. I've published with half a dozen people where everything was "written" by one person, since he is (by far) the best writer in the group. He chose the words and the sentence structure. But the ideas came primarily from two other people and the rest of us contributed ideas from our own experience. The "writer" synthesized all of that into a nice expressive form. But without the rest of us he wouldn't have been able to do it.

Authorship is (or should be) about intellectual contributions, not physical manipulations of keyboards or even of experimental equipment.

At the other end of the scale, I've written books with major publishers and worked with a copy_editor who helped with some of my (occasionally!!) awkward syntax. In no such case would anyone expect that their contributions were authorship.


I wrote a couple of reviews with 5-7 coauthors in the last years, and indeed, in all of them almost every coauthor was asked to write their part. Some of my co-authors were indeed PhD students. On top of that, there was one "main guy" who was basically responsible for getting everything together, making sure that different parts have comparable weight/length, taking care of the figures etc. This person was a corresponding author too.

Interestingly, while generally in my field there is a tendency that the first author is often a PhD student and the last author is a group leader, in review papers the order can be very random.


Coauthorship in academic publications has two very important, distinct perspectives. One is a matter of scholarly principle, the other is a matter of scholarly politics.

Concerning scholarly principle, probably the most thoughtful and influential guidance on coauthorship is the authorship recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (often called the "Vancouver Protocol"). In summary:

2. Who Is an Author?

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

In addition to being accountable for the parts of the work he or she has done, an author should be able to identify which co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work. In addition, authors should have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.

I personally strive to follow these principles in all my coauthorship. I recommend that you read the full document to develop a sense of what is appropriate.

However, especially as a PhD student, you must also pay carefully attention to scholarly politics. The reality is that not all of your supervisors, chairs, senior professors and so on will follow these principles--some of these people might not follow any of them at all. You need to learn to astutely navigate the institutional environment in which you find yourself. On one hand, you should never do anything that violates your own conscience. On the other hand, as a PhD student, some people who have direct power over you sometimes constrain you to do things that you are not confortable with and which you do not have the authority to oppose. (From my PhD days, I have a few publications with "coauthors" who certainly did not deserve it, but I and my fellow PhD student coauthors were powerless to do anything about it. However, since I became a professor, I do not tolerate any such nonsense on a publication where I am a coauthor.)

To take care of the politics, I recommend that you find a trusted mentor at your academic institution who knows the power plays going on among the people around you and whom you trust to advise you in your best interest. Such a mentor might or might not be your official supervisor. It would be wise to consult this mentor about any coauthorship decisions, such as this one you are asking here. However, politics or no politics, you need to always take care of your conscience.

  • 3
    What you wrote is certainly true and everyone shall be aware of it. But I don't see how it really relates to the question.
    – Alchimista
    Mar 30, 2021 at 11:03

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