13

Problem

This question was triggered by the comments on this discussion, but comments and answers on these questions confirm the existence of conflicting ideas.

There seem to be two prevalent interpretations of the word corresponding author:

  1. The corresponding author is the one who corresponds the (unpublished) paper to the journal, i.e., who performs the technical process of submitting the paper, is available for requests on the review and publishing processes, and so on.

  2. The corresponding author is the one who corresponds on the (published) paper with anybody who likes to do so, e.g., because they found an error or like some clarification.

What I found out so far

Until today, I was only aware of the first interpretation, which was confirmed by my experience: For all papers I submitted, I automatically became the corresponding author and cannot remember that I could choose one of my co-authors for this role. Some of these journals do not even indicate a corresponding author to the reader. Also, there already is a way to indicate that an author is available for questions on the paper (interpretation 2): stating the e-mail address.

On the other hand, other journals do indicate corresponding authorship, which makes little sense for interpretation 1. Also, the value put into this role by some funding agencies for its implied meaning makes more sense for interpretation 2 (not that I completely agree with it).

Looking for some guidelines from publishers covering multiple fields, I found the following instructions on denoting the corresponding author from Elsevier¹, which kind-of covers both interpretations:

Clearly indicate who will handle correspondence at all stages of refereeing and publication, also post-publication.

While there are other questions on this site touching this issue, they focus on consequences of the interpretation, such as how to assign corresponding authorship, the implications of corresponding authorship, or whom to address with a request.

Actual question

What is the explicit meaning of the word corresponding author? Interpretation 1 or 2 as listed above, both, something else, or is this an extreme example of academia’s inhomogeneity and the answer depends on the field or publisher? Please answer only if you have more to offer than personal experience and individual journal guidelines. In particular, please address the possibility of a varying meaning.


¹ which is separate for each journal, but seems to be identical in content for many journals

  • 2
    For what concerns post-publication correspondence, regardless of the corresponding author, in my experience people writes, in order of frequency, to: i) the author they're most familiar with; ii) the first author; iii) all authors. – Massimo Ortolano Feb 5 '17 at 5:26
  • This discussion on ResearchGate about the possibility to add 2 corresponding authors has some really interesting answers which are relevant for this question, e.g. the comments of Rachel Y Lei and Helmuth Haslacher. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 5 '17 at 8:19
  • 1
    In general, I've seen it several times that the corresponding author didn't submit the paper. Sometimes the corresponding author is even modified after the paper has been accepted. So, I'd conclude: Your 1. definition is the submitting author and your 2. one ist the corresponding author. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 5 '17 at 8:22
  • 1
    @MassimoOrtolano: I know a similar scheme, which goes i) the author(s) the inquirer has had any kind of direct contact to before, and ii) all authors. Based upon my observations in my field, I agree the indicated corresponding author is ignored - the chance that you'll get any response at all is slim enough, so there's no point in further reducing it by writing to only one of the strangers who have written the paper. – O. R. Mapper Feb 5 '17 at 15:53
  • 1
    It'd be great if the journals would one day distinguish between "guy who handles all the tedious paperwork and stupid online forms" and "guy who takes official responsibility". – Karl Feb 6 '17 at 11:33
13
+50

IEEE distinguishes between contact author and corresponding author:

Contact Author: This is the person who is contacted in regards to the submission during the peer-review and production processes.

Corresponding Author: This is the person who is listed as the author to be contacted in the printed publication.

PLoS states two types of corresponding authors:

Please note that the corresponding author for the online submission process can be different from the corresponding author of your published manuscript.

Copernicus uses the terms contact author and corresponding author:

From submission to publication, the authors of a manuscript are formally represented by the registered contact author(s). After publication, the authors of a manuscript are formally represented by the corresponding author(s) specified in the published paper.

Personally, I've seen this differentiation several times. Sometimes the corresponding author is simply a role in the journal system that the submitting author/person can assign to one of the authors during the submission process. The corresponding author might also change during the process.

Conclusion:

Some publishers make a difference between the author corresponding with the journal (submitting/contact author) and the author corresponding with potential readers of the article (corresponding author). Some publishers don't. It's absolutely inhomogeneous and seems also to vary by journal not only by publisher. And it varies over time.


Side note:

And yes, these publishers are indexed in SCOPUS and Web of Science (Science Citation Index, Thomson Reuters Master Journal List).

Search for the publishers in SCOPUS (select checkbox "publisher") or the Thomson Reuters Master Journal List (TRMJL). The latter includes all journals indexed in Web of Science. Unfortunately, the search in TRMJL is only based on journals and not on publishers. Search for "plos" to see PLOS journals, "ieee" for IEEE journals and e.g. "geoscientific" to see two Copernicus journals. See also IEEE indexing agreements, Visibility of PLoS and Copernicus metrics.

4

I don't think you're going to find anyone who has the final definition for the term. It is not defined by the law or some government regulation, but instead is a term that is used by speakers in the community who may have different interpretations and nuances on their minds when they use it. As a consequence, I suspect that all you can find is how people interpret the term, but you won't get universal consensus. In the current context, it also seems to me that not very much is lost if there is no universal consensus.

To me, and I suspect to most in the community, the "corresponding author" handles both roles: communication throughout the publishing process, and about possible questions. In the past, the corresponding author may also have been the one who has off-prints of the article sitting in his office that a potential reader could request (by mail), but this is no longer happening in times of the internet. Rather, if you have questions, you may contact any of the authors of a paper.

2

Royal chemical society definition

`On submission of the manuscript, the corresponding author attests to the fact that those named as co-authors have agreed to its submission for publication and accepts the responsibility for having properly included all (and only) co-authors. If there are more than 10 co-authors on the manuscript then the corresponding author should provide a statement to specify the contribution of each co-author.

The corresponding author signs a 'licence to publish' on behalf of all the authors. Any change in authorship after initial submission must be approved by all authors and justified to the editor.

`Duties of corresponding author, described by Willey

The Corresponding author will receive information about proofing directly from the typesetter. Queries should be directed to the Production Editor. When the accepted article has been received by Wiley-Blackwell, Author Services will send the corresponding author an e-mail inviting registration in Author Services to track production, and for most journals, for free access to the published article. There may be a short delay from when the editorial office accepts the article and when the alert is sent.Some journals follow a process where all the articles in an issue are sent to the publisher at one time, so the delay for the first few accepted may be several days or weeks. Contact the Production Editor if the delay is more than two weeks.

In page about Defining authorship by Taylor and Francis company

If an article is written by more than one author, you’ll choose one person to be the corresponding author. This person will handle all correspondence about the article and sign the publishing agreement on behalf of all the authors. The corresponding author is responsible for ensuring that all the authors’ contact details are correct. You should all agree on the order in which your names are published in the article, and ensure that your affiliations are correct, as explained below.

Springer describes duties of the corresponding author as

The corresponding author collects the conflict of interest disclosure forms from all authors. In author collaborations, where formal agreements for representation allow it, it is sufficient for the corresponding author to sign the disclosure form on behalf of all authors. The corresponding author will include a summary statement in the text of the manuscript, in a separate section before the reference list, which reflects what is recorded in the potential conflict of interest disclosure form. The corresponding author should be prepared to collect documentation of compliance with ethical standards and send if requested during peer review or after publication.

My university interpretation. First author is the one who carries out the bulk of the experiments, while having an important contribution to experimental design, data analysis, interpretation and writing of the paper. The corresponding author is in most cases the principal investigator. He has major contribution in the design of the work, he will supervise experiments, he will verify or even contribute to data analysis and most importantly he will take over most of data interpretation and writing of the manuscript. Of course variations to the above scheme may occur.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Nov 9 '17 at 22:09
2

While maybe not a full answer across the fields, in some journals, the papers have a description about what it means.

For example, in IOP papers (a paper of mine where it does happen) it says:

"Author to whom any correspondence should be addressed."

Which, considering the paper has already been published, means the correspondence about any further questions one may have about the research/science on the paper. Note, I did not submit the paper.


However, to give a counter example, IEEE guidelines describe Corresponding author as (sec 6, page 11):

The corresponding author is responsible for submitting the manuscript and managing it through the review and revision process with the publisher. The corresponding author makes sure that all authors are kept apprised of the current status of the work.

Which could be considered the "submitting author" as in the question linked there.

I guess that the answer is: The definition is not written in stone and different editors/journals use it differently

  • 1
    IEEE distinguishes between contact author and corresponding author. – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 5 '17 at 13:59
  • @FuzzyLeapfrog Interestingly I copied the text from of my answer from the IEEE document, and that contradicts the one you linked. Which probably makes the point stronger: The difference is vague and undefined – Ander Biguri Feb 5 '17 at 17:03
  • 1
    Yes, I agree. Overall, more likely it seems to be a journal freature than a publisher feature. @Ander – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 5 '17 at 17:07

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