My research group is preparing a theoretical article in a field where author order matters (computational neuroscience), and it has to be submitted soon, as our funding ends soon. I am an author "in the middle of the list."

The first author (TFA) has made a first draft and started circulating it. Although results-wise everything is ok, the text is very poorly written (both in terms of English and general logic understandability). TFA is known to be not very responsive to even minor correction suggestions.

Our PI knows the situation but he started his PI career relatively recently and his management skills have not yet fully developed, as far as I understand it. He says that he will just rewrite the whole text in the end (as he did with a number of other articles before).

Technically I or another middle author could rewrite the draft completely to make it better. However I think it would make the first-authorship of TFA somewhat strange-looking, and in general I feel that there should be some better ways.

So the question is: how are situations like this typically resolved?

  • 2
    "I think it would make the first-authorship of TFA somewhat strange-looking," Not at all. Writing is only one slice of a larger pie, and if the other slices of the pie are mostly of his baking, then there is no reason why he shouldn't be the first baker. Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 12:20
  • 2
    I would say that typically in life sciences, rewriting the paper carries little weight in terms of authorship order. Events that happened before writing (developing the idea, executing it, producing results, etc) are much more important.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 19:02
  • @Bitwise my field is not a pure life science, we do mathematical models for life sciences. So it is not like TFA sat days in a dirty lab doing dangerous experiments and now somebody wants to steal his effort only because he has bad writing skills. In the case of this particular article the first author did a few not-that-difficult to code computational experiments and found some important articles that our model is based on. But the most important thing -- the formulation of the equations, was done by the PI.
    – demitau
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:15
  • The history of this question seems to have been a bit murky to me "I want to rewrite an article that is poorly written by the first author, can I argue to supercede him as first author") Now it appears to be changed to ("I can't get the first author to do what I want him to do". I'm not quite sure what you are asking. You can't get him to agree to let you be first author if you rewrite his text (which many comments suggested was not very strong case on your part) ? or is he not agreeable because he refuses to Let you do some massive edits while keeping the authorship the same?
    – Carol
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


Rewriting the text doesn't necessarily qualify someone to be the first author of a publication. If you're using the intended first author's structural outline and just rewriting sentences, then I don't know if that's sufficient to usurp the intended first author's claim. If I were the PI, I don't think I would do that.

What I might do is place a note in the paper along the lines of "X and Y contributed substantially to the writing of this paper," where X is the intended first author and Y is the person who rewrote the paper.

Better still would be for the PI to work with the intended first author about the corrections that are needed, rather than just rewrite everything. Helping X to become a better writer will reduce the PI's workload in the long run.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .