20

I am currently working on a paper in Computer Science. I am the sole author of the paper. Every aspect of the paper, the idea, the implementation, figures, plots, results are all solely based on my efforts. Since I wanted it to be accepted into a good conference/journal, I wanted it proofread. I approached a professor who is doing research somewhere close the same field (not exactly the same field) as my paper's. He made corrections to the paper based on semantics and visual aesthetics. Should I include him as a secondary author? Is it ethically wrong if I just mention him in the acknowledgements section? How should I go about dealing with this situation?

  • 57
    Going forward, you should really make it clear before accepting anyone's contributions, what they can expect in return (e.g.: "Would you mind reading my draft and offering some comments? I will of course mention your assistance in the Acknowledgements section.") That way there are no mismatched expectations. – ff524 Sep 28 '16 at 18:12
  • 2
    Were you paid in some way? Did you get any course credit? Were you supervised during the experience? Are you listing your university as your affiliation address in the paper? Are you ENTITLED to do so? – Scott Seidman Sep 28 '16 at 21:42
  • 11
    Wait, "my professor" or "a professor"? If you are talking about "your professor", the answer might be different... – Konerak Sep 29 '16 at 6:51
  • 2
    To follow up on my point, if you're just a student, and there is no faculty author on the paper, you might not even be entitled to list the school as an affiliation. – Scott Seidman Sep 29 '16 at 15:10
  • 2
    "My professor has only proofread my paper" "He made corrections to the paper based on semantics and visual aesthetics." Which is it? – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 29 '16 at 17:22
62

I would thank him in the acknowledgments. Although there is no set standard for what is required to be an author, it is generally accepted that they must make a research contribution. Proofreading definitely doesn't meet that criterion (or any of the other criteria that I have seen).

I did this in one of my recent papers. I just said:

We would also like to thank Bob Bob for his helpful feedback on a draft of the paper.

  • As someone in academia, would he understand this decision? Would he take offense? – Hans Krupakar Sep 28 '16 at 18:21
  • 12
    It is generally seen as a kind gesture to acknowledge someone. If you would feel more comfortable, you can casually let him know you plan on doing so in the paper. – Austin Henley Sep 28 '16 at 18:22
  • @ʰᵈˑ Bob Roberts, maybe? :) – Olivier Grégoire Sep 29 '16 at 10:56
  • 1
    There is no universal standard for what is required to be an author; in many journals there certainly is a set standard. – Ben Voigt Sep 29 '16 at 18:43
  • @Wrzlprmft Fair enough, TIL. Though since "acknowledgement" certainly is also valid (and, an aside, more widespread, and spelt that way in the OP's realm :P) the rollback was inappropriate. :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 29 '16 at 20:38
8

The answer below assumes that the professor (P) is the advisor of the student (S), and that the internal guidelines of the institution forbid P to be a coauthor unless his/her contribution is sufficiently large. (Consider other answers for all other cases.)

This was the case for one of institutions I've been to. For such institutions, the unspoken, unwritten, but still present culture of deciding upon such an issue at my institution goes roughly along the following lines. It is similar for many other institutions (and it may or may not be like this in your case).

S: Here is the current paper draft to be sent to the conference XXX. As of now, you are in the acknowledgements. Would you like to be a second author?

P: No, thanks, please do not make me a coauthor.

S: Are you sure? You really contributed a lot of proofreading to it.

P: No, that's ok. The paper contains only your ideas.

S: But you are also my advisor, so I think you should be on it.

P: No, you did all the hard work. You should be the single author.

S: Ok, thank you. Then your name will be in the acknowledgements / in a footnote on the first page / etc. But, still, you did proofreading. Is there anything I could do in return?

P: ...

If you tend to think that your institution has similar rules and culture, consider simply trying out this approach. Do not include your advisor iff he/she rejects at least, say, thrice. Otherwise, do inlcude him/her.

  • I don't know if my institution has that kind of a culture. I don't want it enforced on me because I asked him. If he wants me to include him as the second author and insists on it, I would be in a very tough spot. – Hans Krupakar Sep 30 '16 at 16:13
4

As you already mentioned it, you have a really pratical option to handle your conflict. The acknowledgement section in which you can also wrap authors's contribution in most journals. In case you decide to offer him the co-authorship you can and should put all author's contribution as they have happened. Your own case is pretty clear here. AB contributed by developing and implementing the algorithm as well as writing the complete draft.

I would like to give you the following points you might have missed considering yet regarding other co-authors, especially your professor's one:

Is your professor the project leader? You could acknowledge his contribution by stating this, but also you could consider granting him co-authorship. Is this a collaborative project which you are provided with initially? Your professor most likely has spent a lot of years operating in his position within the science field to have the capability to do so. He can be protecting you from an overwehlming administrative amount of work (which is needed for the existense of positions like yours). Without him there would be no workstation, no access to a free cluster to perform heavy computations?

For me this are ethical reasons (or others like this examplary given exists behind the scenes) to grant a co-authorship if clarified with something like "Prof. XY's contribution gets acknowledged with leadership of project XZ funded under nummer 111 by YZ" All co-authors in addition contributed by an internal review. "All co-authors" needs to be addapted in your considered two-author case.

Take some weeks to consider these points in case you never done this before. Talk to your collagues about it. Also to some long term post-docs. Those can help you seeing stuff faster which now might still be hidden to you. I also would like to emphasize. You never put just someone as a co-author, you offer him co-authorship. It is a much more respectful way to describe this procedere because this forumlation still implies the possibility that your professor rejects because he consideres his time he is able to spent not worthy to accept.

Finally, I just gave you my point of view, but I cannot give you a direct answer. Consider such points and also the arguments from a contradictionary point of view which might show up in another answer. It will still be your decision which you have to do by yourself.

There is authors guidelines in every journal which you should read carefully and follow. I have not done this in your field (the reading of the guidelines). I know though some papers of computer science and those have a (for my field) rather uncommon high frequency of really small teams or single authors. So the ethical common sense might be shifted a bit from my pov. My main point was that I see no ethical conflict if the pure secondary nature of contribution is stated clearly (but ofc in agreement with the journal).

  • Giving co-authorship to lab directors for the type of contributions you list violates the rules of many journals, which explicitly call out the type of contribution that merits authorship. – Ben Voigt Sep 29 '16 at 18:42
  • @BenVoigt There might be also journals who forbid this in there authors guidelines yes. I was also told that some journals forbid putting authors contribution, so the choice of the journal is of course also relevant to this question. At least in my field, but that is not the tc's one, it is really really common that the coordinator is placed in last position. So I guess there is also many journals who do not forbid. – Jan Hackenberg Sep 29 '16 at 22:17
  • Yeah I've heard co-authorship based on position, funding, granting lab access etc. are usually frowned upon regardless of what journal you apply to. Can you give me examples of some journals that require this? – Hans Krupakar Sep 30 '16 at 16:10
2

Contrary to what some people are saying here, there are clear guidelines (see the Vancouver protocols on scholarly publishing) as to what constitutes authorship. Most reputable conferences and journals support them (and publishing in non-reputable venues is a bad idea anyway - it's not just a neutral, publishing in bad venues damages your reputation, as it leads people to suspect all your papers). In some countries, and I can specifically vouch for Australia, ignoring them can get you sacked. And under the Vancouver protocols, proofreading (or being the head of a lab or doing organisation or gaining the money for the research) clearly do not qualify. If you're in a country that does condone such 'honorary' authorship, do think about whether you might ever want to apply for a job in a country that does not accept it (one paper on your resume that smells of being 'honorary' is likely to lead to all your papers being tarred with the same brush). Even if you decide to give the professor authorship, you must give him/her the choice, as adding people's name without consultation may cause grave embarrassment (I've been there), and worst case, may lead to retraction of the paper. You can see many examples in retractionwatch.

  • No. It's very very field specific. Please do read some other related question on this site to get an initial idea of just how much this varies. – EnergyNumbers Sep 30 '16 at 12:12
1

The problem you have raised is quite tricky to address. Generally speaking, there are some non-written rules about contributions and authorships, which i guess you know. On top of this, there are even more "internal" non-written rules: each institution and research group have different policies. I will suggest you to make sure you are following all of them.

Sometimes, the contribution that a supervisor/professor gives is more on the discussion phase where she/he assists you in the reasoning and in the definition of the research problem. In your case, you claim the professor made corrections related to the semantics and the aesthetics. From the way you write it seems that they are all minor corrections, but it might even be that the semantic and aesthetics issues were major issues for your work. Sometimes, papers get rejected because they fail in delivering the message not because they are technically wrong. All in all, i suggest you to adhere to your institution policies and to objectively asses the importance of those corrections for making a final decision.

For the future, as someone already said, make sure you discuss duties, authorships and expectations when involving other people and before start to write the paper.

  • 1
    Discuss with potential proof-readers before you even start writing? How is that even feasible? Also, the proof-reader in this case doesn't seem to be the student's advisor. – David Richerby Sep 29 '16 at 9:25
  • You do not have to discuss with potential proof-readers about reading your paper. Instead, you might want to discuss their involvement and their expectations. For instance, the student could have been clear on the fact that proof-reading won't have led to the authorship. – Alessio Sep 29 '16 at 9:45
  • 3
    I find the last comment quite unreasonable. It is clear to anyone familiar with academic writing that proofreading will not lead to coauthorship. – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 29 '16 at 10:32
  • Readability is one of the aspects rated in a peer-review process. From Wikipidea: "Proofreading is the reading of an electronic copy of a publication to detect and correct production errors of text". Given such a definition, semantic and visual aesthetic corrections are hard to categorise. All in all, all major communication experts suggest to prefer being clear than leave things unclear or subject to interpretation. The student, apparently, was still not sure about this, so the advise for avoiding future misunderstandings and frustrations. – Alessio Sep 29 '16 at 11:41
1

I think there is a common misunderstanding here about 'authorship' in the context of scientific papers.

Someone explained to me that a 'professor' at a university is not just someone who has a lot of experience and authority on a subject, but in fact someone that the university has appointed to have the authority of the university in their statements, to be someone who professes the university's knowledge or position. That means that when they teach, they are not just giving their own opinion, or teaching from their own understanding, but teaching the official line of the university. It is not a legal position, so I wouldn't take it too far, but it highlights the importance of the name of the institution in the role of the professor as a teacher or an author.

There is a tenet that any author named on a paper should be able to defend it. Whilst that is not always practically true, it indicates something of what the author list should be, along the lines of the title of Professor above. Author, here, is then more than just who wrote the paper, or indeed who did the work, but includes the concept of on whose authority the paper is presented. A professor, by inference from their position, holds the authority of the university.

In the modern research world, where authorship counts towards impact measures which count towards management requirements or performance-related pay, the water is somewhat muddied.

But I would take the central idea that adding someone as co-author is not a kind of 'thanks', or riding on coat-tails, and so on. If someone is added as co-author, then they are adding their reputation to the paper, being willing to defend it at a conference or during a visit to another institution. So the question of whether to add the professor who proof-read it is fairly simple; ask the professor whether he would want to be added to the list of authors or not. If he does, he is lending his authority and that of the university. You are still the first author (which is meaningful in most fields but not all), and no-one is likely to be under any false impressions about who did the work; professors in my experience rarely do the work themselves, acting as a focus of research ideas and development which is done by their Research Assistants, PhD students and so on.

0

Asking the professor if they wish to be listed as a co-author carries some potential benefits:

  1. If the Professor has a good reputation then it may be a bit easier to get the paper accepted for publication.
  2. Sharing this with the professor could be the start of future partnerships. They may ask you to contribute to their next paper or include you on their next grant.

I have only limited experience with this, but I have generally found that strengthening connections between people outweighs the glamor of a one-person show.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.