I teach a senior design course for undergraduate engineering students at a public university. Our senior design projects are all team based, usually with three to five engineering students per team. The teams are all multidisciplinary--e.g., electrical engineers, computer engineers, mechanical engineers, etc. all working collaboratively on a given project.

At present each student team coauthors a GROUP report that documents their project-level information--e.g., project history, problem statement, project concept, engineering merit and innovation, project goals and objectives, project requirements, risk management, constraints, budget, timeline, project evaluation, etc. Each student also individually authors an INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS report which details that student's contributions to their group's senior design project.

Because these reports are scholarly works performed within academia, I need to devise a method of identifying which student(s) authored which sections(s) within the GROUP report for feedback and course grading purposes. Right now I'm considering requiring the use of bylines throughout the report so that I can unambiguously determine which student(s) authored which section(s) within the report. This copious use of bylines might appear unappealing in the finished product, and it's a practice that's not commonly used in industry, but it does solve my necessity of ascribing authorship to specific students.

If multiple students coauthor a given section of the GROUP report, I will require that there be a principal author and one or more contributing coauthors. The principle author's name shall be listed first on the byline, followed by the coauthors' names. For course grading purposes, the principal author shall be fully responsible for all written content provided under their byline.

I would, of course, provide rules that define the criteria for qualification as a coauthor (for example, see section "2. Who Is an Author?" on the web page titled "Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors" on the Internal Committee of Medical Journal Editors website).

I might also allow an additional and separate contributors byline to identify students who do not qualify as an author, but who contributed in some way to the writing in a given section of the report. I'm thinking of placing the contributors' byline on a new line immediately under the authors' byline:

By: Jane Smith, Frank Cedars
Contributions by: Huan Sung

I'm wondering if anyone has comments regarding this proposed use of bylines, or perhaps has other suggestions for identifying authorship within undergraduate group reports produced as scholarly works within academia.

(n.b. Assigning a single group grade is ill-advised for a number of reasons. Different students have different levels of writing competence--e.g., foreign nationals for whom English is a second language. In an undergraduate course, skilled authors should not be held responsible for, nor unfairly burdened with the task of, editing / correcting other students' writing in order to ensure the entire group receives a decent grade. Indeed, if the skilled authors do all the work there is neither accountability nor incentive for lesser-skilled writers to work at improving their writing skills. For what it's worth, these students receive feedback on their writing via peer review, rubrics, project advisors, and course graders. The project advisors and course graders are the ones who need to know which student wrote which sections of the GROUP report for feedback and assessment purposes.)

(n.b. I've already considered and rejected the idea of a two document solution where one document is the GROUP report itself, and the second document is a "key" that identifies which sections within the GROUP report were authored by which students. This "key" document adds extra work, its upkeep is clumsy and unreliable, it's another piece of paper that must be tracked, it slows down the grading and feedback process, etc.)

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    Maybe you could use footnotes to the section headings? Although I didn't quite understand why the bylines in the main document are needed, since you said "Each student also individually authors an INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS report" -- could this individual document be a record of the individual's writing? Commented May 28, 2017 at 21:37
  • @aparente001, your footnote idea is a definite possibility. Commented May 28, 2017 at 23:13
  • @aparente001, I didn't mention previously that the drafts for the INDIVIDUAL and GROUP reports are written and evaluated at different times. And, evaluation of the GROUP report would be inefficient, to say the least, if the evaluators were required to reference five or six different documents to figure out which student wrote which section(s) in the GROUP report. Also, a student might forget to update their INDIVIDUAL report after revising the GROUP report. So the attribution information (byline or footnote) must be provided in the GROUP report itself, and not via a separate document. Commented May 28, 2017 at 23:21
  • If you don't want to do footnotes, and you don't want to clutter up the document with a lot of bylines, you could have them submit an appendix that's sort of a table of contents, with the primary and secondary contributors listed next to each section title. If there is a time crunch for them to submit the final report, you could have them hand in the appendix 24 hours after the report is due, but with instructions that if they neglect to hand in the appendix, all their grades will be halved-- i.e. make sure they understand that the due date is later only because you're trying to be a nice guy. Commented May 28, 2017 at 23:26
  • There's a lot more to evaluating the performance of students working in teams than just figuring out who wrote what parts of the final report. I'd suggest that you take a look at the CATME system that allows team members to provide feedback on how their team functioned. Commented May 29, 2017 at 2:40

1 Answer 1


FWIW, I mocked up some sample reports--some having the byline style and some having the footnote style--and I've decided upon the byline style. I disliked more the presence of footnote numbers at the end of the chapter subtitles compared to the bylines.

Noting that the same student(s) could author contiguous subsections within the report, I think I'll use bylines only to indicate a change of author/contributor rather than requiring a byline within each and every (sub)section within the GROUP report.

The definitions for AUTHOR and CONTRIBUTOR I've settled on are those provided in the IEEE Publishing Policy and Ethics manual. The IEEE manual was chosen simply because the students I instruct/manage are electrical engineering majors, or computer engineering majors, or both, and the IEEE's style guides are relevant to both majors.

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