I'm an undergrad student and I got together with 2 people to write a research article (lit review) for publication. We divided the project in 3 sections and each did our part. When it was time to submit it, I noticed they completely edited my sections and removed/added new things to it. They said what i wrote wasn't good and my writing had plagiarism, therefore I am not considered a first author (along with them) anymore. They didn't even tell me they were not satisfied with my writing before they edited it.

After days of arguing, the journal we were planning to submit it to emailed us and told us that if we don't come to an agreement soon, they won't even publish our paper. My "teammates" agreed to have me as first author, but without including any of my edits.

My question is, is it unethical for me to accept first authorship now that a lot of my original content is deleted from the paper?

  • 15
    There are so many problems with this whole process; there are reasons why mentors exist in academia and this is definitely one of them. This sounds like a school project, not an academic work, what sort of journal is this that you are submitting something like this to? It's possible you have successfully found the lower bound that a predatory publisher will accept.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 29, 2017 at 19:56
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    To clarify, are the two other people also undergraduates? I would be wary of journals that are willing to accept literature reviews from authors who don't have a history in the field. Check Beale's List ( beallslist.weebly.com ) to make sure the journal isn't a predatory one.
    – Adam Bosen
    Jun 29, 2017 at 20:00
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    "the journal we were planning to submit it to emailed us and told us that if we don't come to an agreement soon, they won't even publish our paper." - this makes no sense at all. How could the journal email you while you were planning to submit? You definitely left out part of the story.
    – Shake Baby
    Jun 29, 2017 at 20:01
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    The paper cannot be submitted without the agreement of all authors. That means you and your coauthors have to come to an agreement—about both content and authorship—before you can actually submit anything. I think when you write "they won't even publish our paper", you mean "they will not even consider our paper".
    – JeffE
    Jun 29, 2017 at 20:31
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    Was the plagiarism comment factually true about the OP's initial draft of his/her section?
    – Carol
    Jun 29, 2017 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


Letting aside the messy aspect of the question as highlighted in the comments, let me address your main concern.

Since all three of you agreed from the beginning that you are all going to be first authors (not sure how this works in practice), and you gave your best effort and time in good faith during the preparation of the manuscript, there is no ethical issue in you being first author.

In one of my papers, it has happened to me that the section I was mostly involved in writing turned out to be removed in the final version. Nobody, including me, considered removing my name from the paper.

Now, I don't see why you should be so concerned about how your colleagues acted (apart from the issue of removing "first author status", which I understand is not an issue anymore). They did not like what you've written and they decided to rewrite it. This is good proactivity of their part. If you think something important has been left out, you should try to convince them, with sound arguments, why you think this things are important.

Note that the main concern should be the final quality of the paper, not who wrote what and why. In fact, you should also review what they have written and provide feedback (rewrite what you don't like, and so on).

But bear in mind that in the end, all three of you must agree on the final version. Just know when it is relevant to disagree, and when it is best to let it go.

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    thank you so much for your help. this is the best advice i've heard and i've asked many people for their professional opinion on this matter. I appreciate your help. I'm gonna stay quiet and be published as co-first author.
    – MHNR
    Jul 5, 2017 at 3:37

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