I've recently had an experience where I wrote an editorial at the behest of a distant colleague. He was invited to write it by a journal and asked that I do so with him (for him actually). Is it still appropriate for him to be first author even though he did not write any of it (but he was the invited author)?

  • So did this invited author contribute anything, besides for getting you involved? Are any of the ideas etc in the paper his? – ff524 Jan 7 '16 at 0:54
  • Posting such a question from a profile associated with your real name is not the best practice, and can create some embarrassment for your coauthor (who would be quite easy to identify by anyone reading this once the editorial comes out in print) and potential trouble/awkwardness for you. I recommend you change your account name. – Dan Romik Jan 7 '16 at 1:28
  • Thank you for the feedback. No, he asked me to choose the topic and write it. He added one comment and a reference. @ff542 – Melissa Jan 8 '16 at 3:19

Authorship practices vary quite a bit from field to field, but except in those fields where all publications are in alphabetical order, it is expected that the first author should generally be the one who contributed most to the work. Thus, if you wrote the bulk of the document, then normal academic practice would be for you to be the first author (I assume you are not in an "always alphabetical" field).

An invited editorial is a bit different, since the people soliciting the editorial were probably wanting to get the opinion of the person they invited. As such, putting you as the first author may cause embarrassment to your colleague and might annoy the journal. Your colleague should probably have checked with the journal before asking you to write the editorial, rather than trying to conceal their lack of work by claiming first authorship.

To put a person who hasn't done much work as first author, however, is dishonest and will reflect badly on you as well as your colleague.

  • 1
    Thank you for all of the feedback. I thought I should post a follow-up so that you would know how it all shook out. The article was picked up by the journal with me listed as second author. After great reviews (he was awarded), they asked my colleague "again" to write an editorial. When he approached me to do so for him again, I refused on the ethical basis. He went back to the journal and came clean with them that he did not write the original. They contacted me this week asking me to write another. Good lessons for me in practicing boundaries! Thank you so much for the input!!! – Melissa Feb 18 '16 at 21:40
  • @Melissa I am so glad to hear about this positive outcome! – jakebeal Feb 18 '16 at 22:21

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