On Being a Good Coauthor


Having supported the submission of hundreds of journal articles and grant applications (including my own), I’ve seen (and heard) a ton of variation in the way that authors interact with their coauthors. I’ve seen teams that are a well-oiled machines to cat-herding operations to lawsuits. Authorship can be tricky biz-ness!

If you haven’t had super strong mentoring from an experienced (and frankly, ethical) academic, you might be missing out on key insights about what your team is expecting from you and better/worse ways of providing feedback.

Here’s 15 thought that “you may want to consider” (see what I did there - suggesting) when working with your author team to make your relationship and submission much smoother:

  1. Criticizing is easy.

  2. Making things better takes effort.

  3. No one likes a coauthor who points out problems without helping to fix the issues.

  4. Purposefully look for what you like about the work.

  5. Tell your coauthor what's great about the work in the first line of your email back to them.

  6. Comment on well-written sections.

  7. Suggest changes instead of requiring or demanding changes: "You might consider ..."

  8. Let the author know that they are free to accept or reject the changes as they like.

  9. Use track changes.

  10. If you make extensive formatting edits with track changes, you may want to accept these changes so that comments and insertions/deletions can be clearly viewed. If you do this, let the author know.

  11. If you make insertions/deletions, do not accept the changes without telling the author. Secret edits are unwelcome.

  12. The imagined reader or audience is critical when reviewing the work.

  13. Use comments such as "The reader may interpret this as..." or "Will the reader know..?"

  14. Clarify with the author the kind of feedback they expect back. The 50,000 foot view of the work is very different from microstructure/stylistic editing.

  15. If you aren't able to review in a timely way, let the author know immediately.

What would you add to this list? What qualities do your favourite coauthors show when you're working together?

WritingJill Norris