Co-authorships are very common in some fields, and hardly existent in others. When these collaborative ventures are successful, they can enhance the scholarship of the collaborators. In many cases, scholars consider co-authorship to be one of their most rewarding activities.
I have co-authored several articles and book chapters with colleagues. Some of these ventures have worked better than others. Others have not worked at all. When co-authorships are well-planned, they can be mutually beneficial and take your scholarships places you had not foreseen. In contrast, when the terms of the co-authorship are murky and the power dynamics unfavorable, co-authorship can turn into a nightmare, especially for junior faculty and graduate students. The good news is that these pitfalls are often avoidable.
In this post, I discuss some strategies you can adopt to ensure that the co-authorship works out.
Tip #1: Begin with an outline of the article
When you begin a co-authorship venture, sit down with your co-author and come up with an outline of the final article. Once you have a skeleton of the article, you can use that to agree on who is responsible for which part, and how long you plan to spend on each part.
For example, your outline could look like this:
Introduction (500 words: Author A): First draft: 1/30
Background (1000 words: Authors A and B): First draft: 12/1
Literature Review (1500 words: Author A): First draft: 12/15
Methodology (500 words: Authors A and B): First draft: 12/7
Case Study One (2500 words: Author A): First draft 12/22
Case Study Two (2500 words: Author B): First draft 12/22
Discussion (1000 words: Author B): First draft 1/15
Conclusion (1000 words: Author A): First draft 1/22
First draft review (Author B): Due: 2/7
Second review; citation check; copy-editing (Author A): Due 2/14
Final check for accuracy and proofreading (Author B): Due 2/17
Submission to xxx journal (Author A): 2/18
Tip #2: Agree on as much as possible up front
If you agree up front on as much as you possibly can, things will go much more smoothly. Here are some things you can agree on up front:
- Agree on how long the paper will be, how long each section will be, and who will write the first draft of each section. One of my most successful co-authorships was when my colleague and I agreed to work together to write a 25-page article. At the beginning, we decided on how long each section would be; for example, we decided that the intro and conclusion would each be 2 and ½ pages, that each of our background sections would be 1 page, etc. We also agreed on who would write the first draft of each section.
- Set clear deadlines at the beginning.
- Agree on theoretical framework and proposed methodology.
- Agree on which journal you are targeting for the first submission.
Tip #3: Keep the communication lines open
Establish a weekly check-in with one another by phone, in person, or over email to ensure that both of you are keeping on task and to resolve any potential issues.
Tip #4: Keep track of the files by clearly establishing who is in charge of the most current draft
If you assign sections of the paper to specific co-authors, make sure it is clear who is working on what section at which time. Once you have a complete draft of the manuscript, it is usually best for one person to work on it at a time. When one author has the manuscript, the other author will not make any changes to the file. That also gives the other author some time away from the manuscript and a chance to look at it with fresh eyes when it comes back their way.
Tip #5: Be positive, encouraging, and courteous.
If one co-author is not keeping up his or her end of the bargain, make sure to let them know as soon as it becomes apparent. But, do so in a positive way and offer to help. Your shared goal is to produce a high-quality paper in a timely manner. Keep that in mind as you work through any unexpected difficulties.
Collaborative scholarship can be very rewarding. Following these guidelines can help to ensure that you get the most out of this venture. I look forward to hearing from you if you have any additional suggestions for fruitful collaborations.