I am finishing writing a manuscript in collaboration with a dozen of colleagues. The paper is mainly theoretical, does not involved experimentation of any kind and is born from numerous discussions between all the collaborators (it is actually hard to tell when the project started). No one really took the lead in the project, at least not during the whole time (for meeting setup and so someone had to take the lead, but only temporary). In addition, the ten collaborators are coming from 6-7 different research groups and universities.

In such case, when everyone as more or less the exact same contribution, what is the best way to determine the author order on the paper, without making any diplomacy misstep?

PS: in my field , alphabetical order is really not common.

PS2: we do not have time for a 25 games croquet tournament...

  • 2
    If you are actually writing the manuscript with all the attendant hassles (sending versions out to collaborators, keeping track of edits, merging them all together), this sound like you have as good a claim as any for a senior position. For everything else, talk to the senior people whether they could agree that the more junior people could get a slightly more prominent position. Apart from that, roll dice. Commented May 13, 2014 at 13:08
  • I know a duo who solved it by writing two papers, Jones and James and James and Jones, but with N authors you'd need to write N! papers, which may be impractical.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 16:54
  • The title is slightly misleading here - it's not really about who should be listed as author, just in what order.
    – Mangara
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 21:14
  • 1
    @gerrit I think a fair compromise could be achieved with N papers, though it wouldn't be perfect.
    – user10060
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 5:47
  • 3
    – 410 gone
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


Since your field does not normally do standard alphabetical ordering, then its use here might signify that something unusual is going on. So you could in principle list everybody in alphabetical order, identify the corresponding author, and then insert a note in the acknowledgments that everyone contributed more or less equally to the paper.

Alternatively, in some fields, papers can be authored by "teams" instead of individuals—although all the individuals participating in the team are cited somewhere. This is more typical when the collaborations run to the hundreds of authors rather than a few to a dozen. If the journal you submit to allows this, it would probably be the fairest option of all.


Recently I have seen a paper draft that had a footnote at the author list (which contained more than the two persons named below) stating that

A. Uthor and C. Ollaborator contributed to the present work in equal parts and share first authorship.

Maybe this would be an option in your case as well? By this you have made clear which persons did the main part of the work and give the first position in the name list to the one who managed all the submission process.

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