Circulating your “To be submitted” manuscript
July 26, 2013
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Circulate your manuscript prior to submission to everyone you work with to get feedback and make sure everyone is properly acknowledged in a way that makes everyone happy (or at least get multiple opinions to ensure fairness). The Neuroskeptic has a nice blog post about circulating your manuscript to your labmates/colleagues before submission. I really wish this practice was more widely adopted.
Many people are in large research groups or work with many collaborators. It can be hard to keep track of what everyone is doing, which means missed opportunities for collaboration or mutual assistance. In research, there are also many opportunities for people to contribute ideas and knowledge in ways that sometimes don’t get acknowledged in publications. For many in academia, their currency is their ideas and knowledge.
By circulating your paper to everyone you work with, it’s a good opportunity to make sure everyone who is credited as a co-author or in the acknowledgements is happy with how they are included and that no one who thinks they should be included has been left out. Often people will not be happy with the final result, but at least by offering an opportunity for discussion on this issue. The main author (whether first or last in the author list) can be the main arbiter, but it is polite and generally a good idea to let everyone who thinks they contributed to the paper to have an opportunity to discuss with the main author about their contribution and how they are included/acknowledged. It sets a good foundation for future collaboration. For example, it’s often easy to miss including the contribution of a summer student or technician who worked on a project briefly, but often that corresponds to a substantial contribution, and including them as a middle co-author can provide a substantial boost to their long term education/career goals. I also remember hearing a talk by Bill Hersh, an expert on research literature text mining, where mentioned that the more authors a paper had the more citations it got. Now this might be because of large consortium/collaboration papers being more impactful, but if I remember correctly this was a residual effect, having more to do with the fact that with more authors, more people were finding the paper or publicizing it.
Their are even technical solutions. Recently, I was working on a project that ended up with a patent submission. Since everyone was working on separate things and to very different amounts, it was hard to allocate patent royalties (each person gets x%), so the project lead set up a survey where each person could give their idea of a fair allocation, and then those results were averaged. One could imagine a prisoner’s dilemma type of situation, but in practice we are all going to continue working together, so everyone had some incentive to try to be fair, so we ended up with a pretty fair allocation of credit in this crowd sourced way.
By having everyone involved have an opportunity to comment on how credit in the paper (author list and acknowledgements) is allocated, then I think you’re more likely to get a fair and equitable outcome.
Just because science is sometimes very competitive, it doesn’t need to be uncivilized.