In our research I had many meetings and discussions regarding our work (i.e., solutions, implementation, related work, etc) with three other researchers. When I wrote the papers, they were also responsible for reviewing the manuscripts and making decisions together about anything related to them (publishing, editing, assessing comments from journal reviewers etc).

These contributors were my coauthors in every paper I wrote for this specific research. They are all researchers, PhDs and teachers in different institutions.

There are still two papers left: one in the process of being published and other brand new. However, one contributor simply stopped contributing. He didn't say that explicitly, but every time I write a new paper version and our reviewing process starts, he either does not respond to e-mails or takes too long to answer or finish his duties. Usually, the reviewing is only partial (e.g. "I couldn't read all the paper, so here is my comments regarding the first two sections").

My question is, even though this person contributed to our overall research and for the papers in the past, should I put his name in the next paper, assuming he is not going to contribute anymore (while the others will)?

How would you deal with this situation?


2 Answers 2


If you plan to change anything in your authorship agreement, you should bring this issue up as soon as possible.

You could politely ask if the person is still interested in working on the paper, e. g. ask "I've noticed that your responses for this paper come slowly. Probably you are busy with other things. To complete the paper I would need... from your side. I could also try to finish the paper without you, but wonder if you still want to be a coauthor." (Just a first shot for a formulation...)

You don't know the motivation on the other side, so it may well be that the coauthor is really busy, but feels obliged to continue to work on the paper and they would be happy to say "I'm out." I have they can't work on the paper but insists to be coauthor, that is another topic for which your field plays a large role.


Things to consider:

  • What are the standards for authorship in your field, and for the type of journals you expect to submit to? Some fields and journals have much more demanding criteria than others. They may, for example, require that they not only make meaningful contributions to the research (it sounds like he did), but also meaningful contributions to the actual writing and final approval of the article (questionable). Others may expect significantly less.
  • Is author order important in your field? There's always the possibility that he gets demoted in the ordering, or that any arrangements you made regarding varying the ordering of authors on each paper can be taken into account (maybe he was in the lower importance positions on earlier articles but contributed highly to those, so you just count those towards his higher positioning on these and call it even; or he's in the low importance positions now and that's consistent with his contribution).
  • Did you and your collaborators discuss the conditions for being listed as a coauthor, or the loss thereof, at the beginning of the project? If not, the lesson here is that this is usually considered a very good idea. If you did, does he meet them or not?
  • Very importantly: Have you recently discussed this issue with the other collaborators? You can't make a decision unilaterally, and they may see the matter as a bigger or lesser problem than you do. You will also need to address how you're going to broach the topic with the colleague that's at issue. He has to be made aware in a professional manner, otherwise if he finds out you've cut him out he may contact any journal you submit to and cry foul play, potentially getting you into a whole heap of trouble.

Collaborations can go awry for lots of reasons, and people getting busy is one of the most common. That's why you often see the suggestion here to discuss authorship issues at the beginning of the project, instead of at the end. Sometimes practical realities force you to accept concessions regarding authorship that you might otherwise be opposed to. Best to start talking with your collaborators on their opinions and advice. Keep a record of conversations about the writing of these articles as well as discussions concerning authorship. Even if you think he's made no significant contributions to the actual writing of the article, that he has provided any feedback at all may be usable as proof that he did. A broader record that puts his "contribution" into context, and makes it clear that you aren't trying to hide things, is likely to help your case if problems should arise.

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