(There is a similar question but not exactly.)

When you write a paper, you need various views. So you invite collaborators and it often works well. But assume that out of 5 invited, for example, one or two, don't contribute to the paper much but are kept on the email thread with updated versions of the manuscript.

How do you politely remove them from the author list (paper) and how do you say that politely in email. Do you just send them a separate email or a general "authorship rules" email to everybody?

  • 14
    Please edit your post to add a link to the similar question you mention.
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 8:59

3 Answers 3


Removing people late in the preparation stage of a manuscript is always prone to bad feelings. It is of course unfortunate that this is a fact. This is why it is always a good idea to try to set up some ground rules for authorship (or contributorship). There are many posts under the authorship tag that discusses the Vancouver Protocol which is a set of rules under which authorship/contributorship is determined. I usually provide the link to ICMJE as an example. The basic idea is that to be listed as author you need to fulfil certain criteria. Some have even devised a point system to calculate if a person is worthy of authorship/contributorship.

But, to answer the question when you face the fact. There is no easy answer. You could decide to be strict and simply state that no sufficient contribution has been made (quoting the Vancouver Protocol list). How badly this is received is something only you can evaluate. And, only you can assess if you think it is worth it if the consequences are in some way "high cost". You can also decide to let this one slip through and make sure you have a clear arrangement around the next manuscript you write. I also think it is a good idea to start introducing ideas around authorship/contributorship in your research environment. I am sure many will dislike the topic but you are on safe grounds. Remember, many, maybe I should say more and more, journals request lists of contributorship and provide a basis for evaluating them (usually following the Vancouver Protocol list)

  • 2
    This is an interesting topic. What if the collaborator's contribution was small, but still accomplished the requested work. Would it be correct in this case to remove him/her later from the author list?
    – ddiez
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 13:15
  • 2
    @ddiez Then it would seem that it was incorrect to add him there in the first place.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 13:21
  • i guess what the OP needs to do is, for each co-author presently on the list, state what each author did contribute and juxtapose the contributing authors with those not contributing. so that when you tell this non-contributor that his/her name is being removed from the list, this person can see clearly why. tell him/her that you're sorry to have to do this, but to leave that person's name on the list would not be forthright nor scholarly. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 13:48

Of course, Peter Jansson is correct to define the rules ahead of time. If you have not, and from your question it is hard to know if you already have authorship order in mind (if this is appropriate for the field), then you could ask to receive contribution statements from each person.

Sometimes, it is hard to gauge others idea of how much they contributed or how other collaborators feel about the others. Instead of making a direct decision without warning, you could email everyone asking for a contribution statement (as Peter Jansson mentions, some journals will require it). From there, everyone can see the contributions from the eyes of your collaborators, and some collaborators may willingly mention to take them off as they had little input.


Some journals provide guidance on who to recognise and not recognise for authorship, e.g. ICMJE. You could also take a look at PhD on Track's page on this topic

You should discuss this issue with the other co-authors. I'd assume that some might have more experience in this area. Any such decision needs to be taken with the consensus of the remaining co-authors.

Finally, if the non-contributors did in fact provide some useful input during conversations, etc, then maybe you should acknowledge that in a section after the conclusion. This is sometimes even done for anonymous reviewers when there has been a couple of iterations through the review process.

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