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I am first author on a paper about my research from last summer. Due to a busy school year and a bout of severe depression, I have taken FAR longer to finish this paper than originally planned.

When I send the draft to my coauthors, should I apologize? Thank them for their patience? Promise to be better in the future?

As a very young researcher, my primary concern is seeming professional and reliable to my coauthors.

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    Maybe thanks them for their patience but apologizing ? Not really, a paper is something you must think carefully about. Taking time is not really a problem. – Gautier C Jun 9 '16 at 6:09
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    brightside.me/article/… – Peter Jun 9 '16 at 10:00
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    @GautierC, but if there was an agreed deadline, missing it is a problem (though not necessarily a big deal). The problem might not be taking too long, it might be over-promising in the first place. – user24098 Jun 9 '16 at 11:25
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    Related, but not duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/q/17988/22733 – jakebeal Jun 9 '16 at 12:19
  • The question is interesting in both cases, as a resource for future visitors, but is your primary contact with your coauthors via email or in person? – E.P. Jun 9 '16 at 21:19
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Delays on this sort of thing are extremely common. So, unless there is some specific reason that this work is time sensitive, it's unlikely that anybody is going to be surprised or upset by this: don't worry too much about it. Certainly, don't beat yourself up about it, especially when you had legitimate reasons for the delay.

That said, a brief apology is a good idea. All you need is something like:

Sorry for the delay with this; the last few months have been really hectic.

Don't make too much of it; just acknowledge the delay and move on.

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    I'd also add a note indicating if the cause of the delays is finished, or if you are still busy. – Davidmh Jun 10 '16 at 14:22
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In general, you should.

Especially if you are decidedly the main author of the paper, the delay itself should not be a major issue for the others (unless you have caused a "hard" problem, such as missing a deadline), but you may still have caused some inconvenience. For instance, your co-authors may have allocated some time for the paper that they couldn't work on due to your delay, and they might not have much time left now and have to squeeze it into their schedules again.

Whether the apology as such will be expected depends on the culture you're working in. Different cultures have vastly different stances on what "on time" means and whether it is expected in the first place.

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    Why was this downvoted? It's a good answer. – user24098 Jun 9 '16 at 11:21
  • apologizing when an apology is unnecessary makes one look like they have weak character. this is not a good strategy. honestly, it's better in my view to err on the side of maybe not apologizing a couple times when it would be otherwise appropriate to, rather than being too apologetic and going around feeling sorry for yourself/inviting other people to feel sorry for you. – sig_seg_v Jun 9 '16 at 15:47
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    @sig_seg_v: Clearly, this is very culture-specific. Personally, I think apologizing is not about the one who apologizes (such as to bolster a weak character, if I understood you correctly), but about the other person(s). The apology is a way to make them feel respected and let them know the issues that may have been created for them by the delay are acknowledged, not ignored. I do not see what would be won by not apologizing (especially when it would have been appropriate to), but as I said, this is very culture-dependant. – O. R. Mapper Jun 9 '16 at 16:37
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In addition to the answer's by dan1111 and O.R. Mapper (which basically say something like "an apology is a good idea and will not hurt") I'd like to add the point that it is good working practice to inform co-authors if

  • you can foresee that you won't be able to work on the paper in the near future (if can say how long, even better) and also if

  • you couldn't work on the paper in the past (if you think that they expected that you do something) and also indicate when you can pick up the work again.

Related to

my primary concern is seeming professional and reliable to my coauthors.

is the following: Communicating a schedule and also goals/milestones can be really helpful for a collaboration, but it's even more important to communicate if can't keep up with the schedule and think that rescheduling is necessary.

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Important information would be if someone ever complained to you, asked you for a draft, something like that. In this case, you should apologize.

If you did not hear from your coauthors during the last year, I think it would be polite, when you send your draft, to include a short statement acknowledging your delay. Do only say sorry if you mean it and if there is a reason for it. Your coauthors will have been busy with other things as well, so there is no reason to thank them for their patience.

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    "Your coauthors will have been busy with other things as well, so there is no reason to thank them for their patience." - careful, people can be very busy and very patient at a time. Patiently waiting for something (and possibly even delaying some other tasks for it) does not imply inactivity. – O. R. Mapper Jun 9 '16 at 16:47
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    "Your coauthors will have been busy with other things as well, so there is no reason to thank them for their patience." An assumption that may not be warranted. In any case, what is the reason not to thank them? – user24098 Jun 10 '16 at 7:07

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