In this situation in which Person (X) was approached by Person (Y) with a project idea, which is to be published as a research paper.

Person (X) has written the entire code, collected the dataset, ran all tests and prepared the outputs for the project. The time taken for this was around 2 months (approx.)

Person (Y) prepared the manuscript for the paper (only text) where as the algorithmic details, flow charts, outputs were provided by Person (X).

In the first draft of the paper, Person (Y) gives himself first authorship on his own. The point to be noted here is Person (X) is not backed by any academic gains in form of LOR from the academic guide of Person (Y), Person (X) contributed as an independent contributor to the paper. Now, Person (Y) claims he'll consult about this with his academic guide, who's the third author of this paper.

My question here is:

  1. Who has more contribution in this paper (which is basically a practical/project paper) the one who has written the code (X) or the one who wrote the manuscript (Y)?

  2. How to raise this dispute if it is not resolved with mutual discussion?

  • 1
    This will teach you to never start collaborative projects before an agreement regarding authorship has been reached.
    – Roland
    Oct 14, 2021 at 10:19
  • Person (X) is not backed by any academic gains in form of LOR from the academic guide of Person (Y). I don't understand what you're saying here. Are you trying to get a letter of recommendation from your co-author's supervisor? If so, why is this relevant for authorship?
    – henning
    Oct 14, 2021 at 10:21
  • @Roland Agreeing with you, This lesson turned out to be a bit costly. Oct 14, 2021 at 10:25
  • @henning The main idea of getting first authorship is to prove contribution in the project which is useful for graduate studies. Which can be compensated or compromised with if an LOR is provided instead. That's the main idea behind mentioning the LOR bit. Oct 14, 2021 at 10:25
  • First author dispute on a singular paper is NOT a costly lesson. If anything, it's very common for two people to work in pair providing more or less equal contributions to the paper. In your case, it'd make the most sense to make X the first author and Y the second and corresponding author; with the third person (academic guide) possibly being the last author (which satisfies common expectations for their contribution but is still a questionable practice). It would also work nicely with variations on h-index like this one.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 14, 2021 at 13:31

3 Answers 3


Just as it is impossible to objectively compare the intrinsic work of two pieces of research in very different fields, there is no objective answer to which author has more contribution in this case. This might appear unfair, but is based on the following objective reality:

(1) Writing a manuscript is a very significant part of the research process. It may be reasonably argued that research communication is as important as conducting experiments or analyzing results.

(2) A general rule of thumb in many disciplines is that the first author has conducted the experiments, written the manuscript and is able to justify any part of the manuscript. (Exceptions of alphabetical authorship etc. are ignored here). So, the writing and the conduction of research are not divorced. The supervisor (in an academic setting) essays important roles of guiding, ideating, correcting, and editing. The remaining authors are placed in order of importance of their contributions.

This should make it adequately clear that X entered this research effort without understanding the roles and responsibilities. Y may or may not have acted in bad faith by not making X aware of these (assuming that Y is a senior student and X is a junior or an intern). I am inclined to lean towards the former, unless X independently chose to do all this work without the knowledge of Y.

Redressal will depend entirely on how X was involved in this research project; whether they contracted by Y, Y's supervisor, or whether X and Y jointly ideated and initiated the work.


You pose two different questions here. However, there is a big assumption in your thinking:

The point to be noted here is Person (X) is not backed by any academic gains in form of LOR from the academic guide of Person (Y)

No, it has not be to noted at all, the point to be noted is not that one. Authorship is not an exchange of favor. From how you write it, it transpires as a possible outcome of collaborations in your conutry/cultural environment, however it is despicable (no offense intended, we are all small cogs in the big university systems ... but the sooner we realize what is wrong, the better).

Back to your questions: it is difficult to estabilish 1., about 2. you can resort to having explicit mention of who did what in the Acknowledgments section (I have seen papers having contributions from authors added there).

You did most of the practical work, but who had the incpetion for your work and who draw the conclusions from all your work is Person (Y). Your work took 2 months. What if Person (Y) thinking to define experiments and to analyze your reults took 6 months? what would you think?

Person (Y) without your work would have not written the paper, but would haye you thought about the idea presented in the paper without Person (Y)?

Final line for the casual reader: main authorship is overrated [EDIT] but please please sort out authorship BEFORE starting working on a certain idea. If you really care about discussing authorship, please note that such relevant discussion has already been published (Riesenberg and Lundberg, 1990) and cited plenty of times .

  • Cutting short, Person (Y) didn't draw any conclusions, He was more of a typist who typed everything fed to him. And main authorship will be overrated until academic institutions starts considering all authors equally. Oct 14, 2021 at 10:14
  • Your answer seems too ambiguous and biased towards the person Y, He simply came up with an Idea (period.) And his phase 2 included typing the findings. That's it. No further drama or ideas cooking in his head. Oct 14, 2021 at 10:17
  • 1
    If coming up with ideas is so simple, why Person X did not have the idea on his own?
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 14, 2021 at 10:19
  • 2
    If the pressing issue is first authorship to Person X, then X should publish the code as first author, then have it cited in the paper of person Y (first author + 1 citation, that would be great for current academic useless metrics!). Not knowing many details of the story, nor how long it took to person Y to get the idea, to develop the concept and to design the experiment/data collection we have no way to properly assess the situation. Lesson learned for others: please sort out authorship BEFORE starting working on a certain idea. See doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140079039
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 14, 2021 at 10:29
  • 1
    @AshishPapanai In case you have difficulties reading/parsing comments to the post itself: 1) This is not the thing you should argue about as collaborators 2) Normally, X would be the first author in the presented case and Y the corresponding author 3) It doesn't really matter, if anything swapping authors around, especially on like 2-author paper won't make any difference, really. Adding a few more authors, like that "academic guide, who's the third author of this paper" and who supposedly didn't really contribute to it, would hurt your metrics lot more.
    – Lodinn
    Oct 14, 2021 at 13:50

Both of your contribution is significant. One might argue that X's did all the work of the paper as they acquired the results necessary for the paper to exist anyways. However, without proper body and discussion, the results would mean nothing.

I think, both deserve first authorship and you can submit to a journal as co-first authors (equal contribution). Since X has done all the leg work, they can be first name. But order won't matter as both of you are first authors here.

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