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I am a PhD student, I recently sent a draft of a paper to six co-authors to get final revisions before submitting to a journal. One of my co-authors responded saying they had sent to manuscript to another colleague to get comments for a section they did not have expertise in.

This seems a bit strange to me, as neither myself or my supervisor gave permission to circulate the draft to others. Is this normal practice? I’m not sure if this new person would also expect to get co-authorship if they provide feedback. Is there anything I should do to address this?

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    did you check with your supervisor? maybe the person had good relationship with your supervisor and the agreement is implicit? Feb 19 at 3:08
  • I removed a few comment-answers; please avoid answering in the comment section.
    – cag51
    Feb 22 at 0:39

4 Answers 4

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If you were asking if you as a coauthor should share the manuscript with additional people without permission, I would say absolutely not, but that it's also not a big deal to ask and I'd expect most coauthors to say "sure" unless you're considering sending it to someone they see as a competitor.

However, since you're in the opposite role, I'd suggest not making a big deal of it. If they end up making a contribution that makes them an author, that's fine; most likely a comment on one aspect won't do that, an acknowledgement may be more appropriate. It would have been good form for them to ask your permission first, but most likely their top concern is that you all have a great paper which is good for all of you.

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    Mostly good answer, but I would strongly disagree with: "If they end up making a contribution that makes them an author, that's fine". If that happens, the situation is much worse than if the co-author only had asked for feedback---it's the whole author group who collectively needs to decide about the inclusion of new authors. To avoid this, the co-author should clearly phrase the expectations about the expected kind of feedback, in a way that avoids potential contributions that could make the person an author. Feb 19 at 7:09
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    @lighthousekeeper I think that's a separate issue to address in a separate Q&A, I was just reacting to OP's concern and stating that either way it should be dependent on what they contribute.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 19 at 12:43
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It's not really "standard" practice, but it does happen. My suggestion would be to either leave it alone, or ask the person who passed it along to ask the recipient to please treat it as a confidential document. This has the added effect of letting the person who passed it to someone else that perhaps they should ask first.

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This seems a bit strange to me, as neither myself or my supervisor gave permission to circulate the draft to others.

The default position is of course unpublished work is not circulated outside of the author pool because even though their names may appear at the top of the draft for formatting purposes, they have not yet approved of what the paper says. It's a draft; an internal working document only.

Is this normal practice?

The author/passer absolutely should not have shared the draft with someone outside the pool without everyone's permission.

It was wrong to do so without asking the other authors first.

That said, it does happen. And especially of the author/passer and commenter have a good academic working relationship and are of upstanding character, it's probably a plus.

I’m not sure if this new person would also expect to get co-authorship if they provide feedback.

  • If the nature of the comments were to help enlighten the author/passer on some specific details (e.g. help me understand x) then possibly nothing needs to happen.
  • If it was more like the commenter made comments that improved the paper but didn't impact the research, analysis, or conclusions significantly, then generally a short note at the end of the paper acknowledging comments by the commenter is normal, standard and most folks would say, required.
  • If the comments had some actual significant impact on the research, analysis, or conclusions, then they certainly might be a candidates for authorship.

Is there anything I should do to address this?

I have to agree with the sentiment in other answers and comments, unless there's some problem or objection on your part, don't worry about it, leave it alone, etc.

I would probably not go so far as to tell the author/passer to "...ask the person who passed it along to ask the recipient to please treat it as a confidential document." if the author/passer is established or otherwise someone who would not take kindly to being told what to do. If they are on the other hand also a student or fairly new to the acadamy, then maybe say something...

But rather than "please tell them to keep it confidential" perhaps "may I ask what the nature of their contribution is?" and "I just want to double check, they know it's a first draft, right?" and "since there's a possibility that they might end up in acknowledgements, could I ask who they are?"

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Sorry, I have to add this answer because I disagree with the tone of other posts:

"I'd suggest not making a big deal of it."

"It's not really "standard" practice, but it does happen.... leave it alone..."

"don't worry about it, leave it alone, etc."

In my opinion, one should react to it (not over-react of course), because it is not right. Be polite but firm. I suggest to respond to the email, thank for taking care of the manuscript and state that you prefer that decisions to share the manuscript are taken collectively by all authors.

The reason to respond are 1) to prevent new people claiming the co-authorships, 2) avoid repetition of the story.

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