A group of 5 colleagues and I are working on a collaborative education paper. We are compiling our various unique efforts and describing them within the context of a larger theme in this paper.

How should we refer to [unpublished] work completed by just one of the 6 authors when writing the paper?

For instance, we may use collective phrases such as "the authors believe..." throughout this collaborative paper. However, if one of the author's work is being highlighted/described in some area of the paper, it seems inappropriate to expand credit/ownership to all collaborating authors on this paper (i.e., using the collective "authors").

  • For example, if I specifically (and individually) previously developed/employed an assessment tool being highlighted/analyzed in this paper, saying "the authors employed an assessment tool" or "using an assessment tool created by the authors" seems disingenuous since only 1 of the authors (me) developed and employed this component.

I had considered the following approaches, but I did not feel confident they were the best choices:

  • Using phrasing such as "one of the authors...". (feels too vague)

  • Using passive voice without indirect object (e.g., "Intervention X was developed to foster...") also seems vague.

  • referring to one of the author's names also feels kind of awkward -- I don't think I've ever seen a multi-author paper reference one of the authors by name in the paper. (outside of citing previous work).


(maybe the answer will vary based on discipline...)

3 Answers 3


In [1], one of the current authors….

[1] Donald J. Duck, Underwater basketweaving in the Middle Ages, unpublished.


Sometimes people use phrases like "the first author", "the second author", etc, to refer to a specific one of the present authors without stating their name.

In separate work, the fourth author investigated the reticulation of splines.

You can also say "the fourth author of the present paper" if it makes it more clear.


If you use that phrase ("The authors believe...") throughout the paper and you don't disagree with the work of your colleague and co-author on their solo work, then just continue to use it.

But you need to actually cite it somewhere, probably as "work in progress" or similar with their name.

You might also consider a "contributions" paragraph in which you single out that colleague for the work on some particular thread.

For the tool, you probably should single them out specifically. Clarity trumps style for such individual efforts.

  • thanks for this. I agree clarity is important. Regarding your last sentence: single out how? Do you have a recommended approach? (I.e., using their actual name??) Jul 17, 2022 at 17:25
  • Sure. Name the tool, even if generically, and its author, even if they are also an author of this paper.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17, 2022 at 17:27

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