20

For papers in disciplines where the authors are alphabetized, how does one decide which author of a paper to contact for more information? Suppose for the sake of argument that one doesn't know any of the authors even by reputation, so it's impossible to decide that way.

22

Purely alphabetical author-list conventions and no designated contact author tends to show up in theoretical fields that usually have fairly short author lists.

As such, if you're going to contact the authors and don't know which to contact, why not put them all in the "To" line of your email?

  • 4
    Isn't putting them all in the address like a bit risky? If you put all authors, there's a chance that each individual author could expect others to reply to the mail, thereby increasing the time needed to receive a response. – AndrejaKo Sep 3 '16 at 13:54
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    @AndrejaKo My experience so far with this has been good --- there's often one author who's eager to contact or multiple authors who are all happy to talk with you (and each other). – jakebeal Sep 3 '16 at 14:03
  • Oh, that's great then! – AndrejaKo Sep 3 '16 at 14:04
  • I second what @jakebeal says; even if all (or none of) authors' emails are listed, one of the authors usually feels "responsible" for the paper and he'll most likely reply. – yo' Sep 3 '16 at 19:59
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    @Hadi I strongly advise against that, because you're then essentially asking for duplicate responses, which is likely to annoy the folks you're talking with. – jakebeal Sep 4 '16 at 12:22
20

Some journals allow the authors to nominate a corresponding author and it's usually determined by a little envelope icon next to their name in the paper or on the journal's webpage. If you don't have this information, you might want to check which of the authors is still in academia (as opposed to, say, a graduate student who moved on to industry) and whether you have current contact info. Among those, just pick randomly.

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    In my experience (in a field with alphabetical authors), "corresponding author" means "the author who corresponded with the journal", not "the author who corresponds with readers". – JeffE Sep 3 '16 at 6:32
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    @JeffE if it is a purely internal matter between the journal and the authors, why would they specify it on the article? (In my field, to clarify, it is usually indicated as "to whom correspondence should be addressed"). – Davidmh Sep 3 '16 at 7:00
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    why would they specify it on the article? — Pure bureaucratic inertia. Publishers do not care about cultural norms within research sub-communities. It's easier for all journals to require a corresponding author than for only some. The publisher may believe, claim, or even advertise that readers should correspond only with the corresponding author, but in my community, those publishers are simply incorrect. – JeffE Sep 3 '16 at 16:05
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    @JeffE while this is true in my experience as well, I still think it can be a useful criterion (if one has no other). The author that submits will usually not be the then undegraduate that contributed something but by now has moved on, the expert in a different field that helped out with a specific part only, the author that has most difficulty to communicate in English (or the relevant language in the given case), the author that hardly ever reads their emails, etc. – quid Sep 3 '16 at 18:26
5

I agree with what jakebeal said. That's what I usually do - I simply contact all the authors at the same time. In certain papers, it's sometimes obvious which part of the article was written by which author if you look at the other publications of the authors. In that case, you can probably decide more easily who to contact.

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