I worked on some results jointly with other coauthors. We jointly wrote a first draft of the article, and we started discussing where to submit. Time passed, and there was not much impulse to finish the article. We moved on to other projects and forgot about it. Our shared draft was never touched again. I assumed we lost interest.

Until, a year or so later, I found my coauthors wrote another article on the same result and published it. To be clear, it is a different text – I do not think any of the text is mine – but it follows the same structure and main idea that the document we discussed and drafted together.

What to do now? I imagine this is a common situation: multiple people work on an idea, but a subset takes the idea to a different place and finishes an article. I do not know if I would feel comfortable being added as a coauthor: I have not written this. At the same time, it does feel unfair to have put so much effort and time into a project without my name. Asking them to add an acknowledgement feels a bit unsatisfying to me (although I feel it is the least they could have done). Is there any better option? Apart from contacting them, is there any obvious step I am missing?

  • 1
    What is your academic position? What is theirs? Are they your classmates? Do you have the same advisor? Have you been non-university friends? Is there any common authority higher ranked than you and them? If so, you may be able to refer to that authority.
    – m123
    Commented May 5 at 23:02
  • 3
    "I do not know if I would feel comfortable being added as a coauthor: I have not written this." You should be co-author if you have contributed in a substantial way to this work. This does not necessarily mean writing. I can't say from reading your question how substantial your contribution was, you are the one to know. If an important part of the paper is your idea or elaboration, you should be co-author and they should coordinate this with you, otherwise not. (It is not enough that you took part in initial discussions -what of the work is really yours?) Commented May 5 at 23:41
  • Thanks. Reading most guidelines for authorship, I feel I could perfectly be an author: I contributed a core idea, I contributed substantial results to a common draft of the paper, I advised against a research path and for the one that finally worked, I also revised and line-by-line edited the first versions of the manuscript. I do not think any of my text is on the final version, but it still feels very close to my text.
    – tandr
    Commented May 6 at 12:03
  • 1
    "We moved on to other projects" and to other institutions? are you sure you could be reached by them? did you meet them at conferences/workshops/etc.?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented May 6 at 14:25

5 Answers 5


Whether you should have been invited to be a co-author, acknowledged, or whether they were perfectly in the right to move on to do a related but independent follow-up project on their own really depends on the specifics of the "ideas". Nobody on the Internet will be able to give you advice on this (I will still try, but it will be a bit abstract).

The problem with ideas is that they are often incredibly fluffy initially, but also very persistent. Some ideas I brainstormed widely with colleagues and friends ended up shaping my research agenda for years, and I doubt any of these people would honestly expect to be a co-author on each of my papers in the next five years because some of the underlying themes are similar to something we discussed abstractly at some point. I would say in my community there is a fairly widespread acknowledgement that ideas are less important than execution (i.e., the concrete experiments, data collection, analysis, and write-up). If you are significantly involved in one of those you should expect to be at least offered a chance at co-authorship, but not for being part of an ideation phase. Part of this is also pure pragmatism - if discussing research prevents all involved from ever doing related research on their own or with other collaborations, people would be very hesitant to ever discuss their ideas with others. It would also mean that there is basically no way to gracefully move on from a collaboration that isn't working, without putting a full stop on this entire line of inquiry (and as you can see browsing the history here it's not exactly unheard-of that collaborations at some point break down for one or all parties).

In that sense I would, without knowing the details, suggest to be gracious about this - sure, it would be nice, maybe even expected by common courtesy, to have been invited to this independent-but-similar research, but from the outset it doesn't sound like they did something obviously wrong so I would let it go. Of course, you can draw your conclusions from this event and decide that maybe this is not a good group to do future work with.


It's hard to account for academic norms. Your expectations don't seem to have been met, they're not unreasonable, but there is more grey in the scenario than is perhaps obvious. Some in this thread have framed it as, "ideas are cheap", which is partly the case. Sometimes ideas are worth keeping to yourself, but if you're not going to be able to see them through, sometimes it's better to know that someone else had explored them.

Unfortunately I've had not dissimilar things happen a few times over 20 years. Some were a genuine misunderstanding, some my expectations were unreasonable and with some the co-authors were simply ruthless in their ambition and happily excluded me (and others).

The most critical thing here, if you're intending in progressing with an academic career, is to think about your reputation and relationships, and how this will impact your career. The sooner you can move on from this and forgive them, the better. Very few people are going to credit you for pursuing the situation (not actually understand it fully), and it sounds like you may be someone with whom ideas come easy- this perhaps demonstrates that it's not merely the ideas that matter, but seeing them through.

Having an authorship dispute hanging over your head is unlikely to be good for you. With time you might find an "in" to discuss it with these individuals but equally you may find that their approach means you choose not to actively collaborate going forwards.

  • I disagree with this simplification of "ideas are cheap, move on". If I take a paper and I rewrite it on my own words without citing the source – perhaps expanding a bit – that is plagiarism; my coauthors took a joint draft article and rewrote it on their own words to publish it without me – that is not taking only my idea but our article. A different question is what is best to do; you seem to argue that there are no incentives to pursuing coauthorship. I agree there; I think I will contact my coauthors and ask my contribution to be acknowledged.
    – tandr
    Commented May 7 at 0:02

You should have been acknowledged. it happens that you may think what you contributed was crucial, but the authors think differently. In this case it can be a problem, or an opportunity. Reaching out and asking how they see things might lead to possibilities for future collaborations, acknowledgements, work or something else. I know of a case at Aalto University where an artist's work has been taken and presented by a researcher without due accreditation. The artist is understandably furious. His attempts to get restitution from the institute have led to legal proceedings. This is bad for all concerned. In your case you have to see what is best for yourself and consider others, will they leArn lessons? Or just learn to be more Machiavellian and sly? Hopefully things can be done to build integrity and not undermine it. Scientists who are willing to steal, lie by omission and plagiarise - how trustable will they be with future publications? Do you want to be jointly publishing with them when their work appears on retraction watch?


Ideas are cheap, seeing them through is what counts.

Lesson to learn? Next time you initiate/agree to a preliminary collaboration that you think has value, then see it through to a conclusion or let it go. If you cared enough about this topic, you should have pushed to take this through to publication.

Follow up lesson to learn? You identified several people that you should not collaborate with further. If they valued your initial input, they would have invited you to contribute to the derivative work. They don't, so they didn't.

You did not functionally do anything to warrant authorship (because you were not given an opportunity), and acknowledgements while "nice", are completely worthless. Focus your energy on fostering good collaborations and publishing your own works. As you go through your academic career you will collaborate with many people (to various degrees of effort) which you will find out are not worth your time. Dwelling on them is just more sunk time and energy that gains you nothing.


It, unfortunately, happens all the time. Definitely reach out and defend your work as best you can by sticking up for yourself. But if it doesn't mean a publication later on, then just see it as a lesson and keep going

  • 2
    What do you think would be the lesson to extract here? I have collaborated multiple times with others and it is frankly the first time I see something like this. It feels disappointing.
    – tandr
    Commented May 5 at 20:19
  • Yeah, I had the same happen last summer to me. I also coauthored many manuscripts and publications. However, this was a first that happened to me. When it did, I reached out to the PI and asked for a resolution. Basically, it ended up with me letting it go because I respected the professor, and I didn't want to see them lose their job. So the lesson is that it is a small thing that doesn't amount in the long run. Let it go. That's the lesson. Unless the research is groundbreaking and ends up in Nature, don't worry about one slipping by :)
    – hack 91372
    Commented May 5 at 23:27
  • I think I disagree. At the very least, I will ask to be added to the Acknowledgements section. After checking all of the authorship guidelines, it feels very obvious to me that this is the minimum they should agree to.
    – tandr
    Commented May 6 at 12:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .