In our discipline we are equal coauthors ordered alphabetically.

We have one most senior coauthor (advisor) who supplied the idea and edited the manuscript, two junior coauthors who have done most of the work, and another "half-senior" coauthor who has been commenting but reluctant to directly contribute to the manuscript.

The "half-senior" coauthor from another institution was invited by another junior coauthor without an explicit and clear agreement of how the work will be separated. It is possible that the other junior coauthor merely asked her to "check the results" when inviting her.

I have been indirectly suggesting that she could "directly write on the manuscript whenever she find suit". However, she is still commenting without directly write on the paper. I am feeling like I have been doing too much work.

As a junior, I don't think I can explicitly make a complaint to others and say that I have been to doing too much work.

My advisor explicitly make complaints to his juniors that the half-senior is not contributing enough, but he does not speak directly to her. So this makes me think that the situation could be better.

How to be polite and diplomatic while fixing the situation?

  • 1
    This is confusing to me. If I were the half-senior, I would generally find it my role to make feedback in the kind you are describing, rather than writing directly in the paper. Why do you think she should be writing more? Please tag a field. May 10, 2022 at 21:54
  • @AzorAhai-him- My advisor is much more senior than her and he is writing a lot while providing the main idea. He also says a few times that the half-senior is not contributing enough comparing to the rest of the team.
    – High GPA
    May 10, 2022 at 21:58
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    It's not ordinarily expected or efficient or practical that every author on a paper contribute absolutely equally. Coming from a field where author order communicates some of this information, I find it to be a drawback of the alphabetical ordering that there is no information towards contribution extent from different authors, but that doesn't mean you can solve it by making sure everyone contributes the same word count to the paper. Like Azor, I'd consider comments on a manuscript to be a direct contribution.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 10, 2022 at 21:59
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    It will probably be far less work for you to just incorporate their suggestions and move on with the paper rather than trying some diplomatic coercion and waiting for them to respond.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 10, 2022 at 22:01
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    I didn't meant to suggest that more senior people should contribute less, rather she seems to be auxiliary to the main team. I think this is too far from my area to offer an answer in terms of authorship standards but I'd agree with Bryan's message that you should incorporate her contribution and not try to strongarm her into writing text (you are just going to end up without a paper). May 10, 2022 at 22:04

2 Answers 2


This situation does not sound uncommon, and without knowing more I wouldn't even say it's a particularly problematic situation. I have been in all three roles at various points, and there are papers where one feels that the best way one can help is to provide a slightly "outside" perspective without messing up the text directly. I also note that it seems like there are already three people actively, and presumably concurrently, editing the text, which seems more than enough to me.

As a junior, I don't think I can explicitly make a complaint to others and say that I have been to doing too much work.

Well, I am of the opinion that anybody in a collaboration is "allowed" to voice their dissatisfaction with how things are going. That is, if it really bothers you, you could seek a direct conversation with your "half-senior" co-author, and ask them if it's possible for them to write their changes directly rather than commenting. I have done this in the past, with mixed success - sometimes they start doing it, sometimes they say they will but never follow through, and sometimes they have a good, or at least reasonable, explanation of why they do not want to or can't.

Of course being polite and professional is key, even (nay, especially) if you don't like what the other party is saying. I have also been in a collaboration where a junior author started to write fairly aggressively-worded and demanding action items and deadlines to a senior collaborator. Let's just say things did not go well from there.


Not writing on the manuscript but sending comments is a feature, not a bug in this situation. It is hard enough to coordinate between two authors. Also, we all tend to be slightly ego-centric. You are engaged in the difficult work of writing, and you might loose perspective easily. Commenting on written text by a co-author is much preferable to commenting on the written text by reviewers. Having someone really read your text is in itself a valuable contribution.

Your feeling of not enough input by your coauthor is the real problem. It could be based on a wrong understanding of co-authorship or the complex social networks in academia on your part or your advisor's part. If you still feel that there is not enough work done by your co-author, consider strategies that involve your co-author in a non-threatening way. For instance, can you ask her/him to allow you to run some things by him. Or you can ask to discuss a certain aspect that is troubling you. Discussing related work (instead of asking for a write-up) is also valuable. Prefer the spoken to the written work or even consider visiting in person.

If in the worst case your not-so-senior co-author is a parasite, academia has ways of solving the problem. Such a person will just find it harder and harder to collaborate with others. But there is also a certain amount of forgiveness for difficult personal situations as well as well as a tit-for-tat. Most research is based on the works of groups and authorship in group work can be rather indirect. Finally, you did not mention the field. Practices vary greatly between fields and even sub-fields.

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