Most academic articles contain acknowledgements to various sources of help received during their preparation, although one editor of my acquaintance steadfastly deletes them on the grounds that they add nothing to the content. However, I believe that it is courteous to thank sources of financial support and colleagues and referees for their help in improving articles. Slatcher and Pennebaker conclude:

Portions of this research were funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (MH53291). We would like to thank Greg Hixon, Amy Kaderka and Girish Tembe for their assistance on this project and Amie Green, Timothy Loving, Mathew Newman, William Swann, and Simine Vazire for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

(Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006, p. 663)

Suls and Fletcher (1983) counted the acknowledgements to colleagues in papers in chemistry, physics, psychology and sociology, with the number of acknowledgements adjusted for the number of authors of the papers. (The number of joint authors was highest in physics and lowest in sociology.) Suls and Fletcher found that the proportion of acknowledgements to colleagues increased as one moved through the disciplines from chemistry to sociology.

More recently, Cronin et al. (2003) examined the acknowledgements in all of the several hundred articles published in the Psychological Review and in Mind from 1900 to 1999. In both journals, there was an upswing in the percentage of articles with acknowledgements — from the 1960s for Psychological Review and from the 1980s for Mind — until 1999, when almost ninety per cent of their articles contained them. Cronin et al. (2004) then repeated their analyses with samples from the Journal for the American Chemical Society. Here the upswing started earlier (in the 1940s) and over ninety per cent of the articles in this journal have contained acknowledgements since the 1960s.

Cronin et al. (2003) separated the different parts of an acknowledgement as follows:

• financial (recognition of extramural or internal funding);

• instrumental/technical (providing access to tools, technologies, facilities, and also furnishing technical expertise, such as statistical analysis);

• conceptual (source of inspiration, idea generation, critical insight, intellectual guidance, assistance of referees etc.);

• editorial (providing advice on manuscript preparation, submission, bibliographic assistance etc.); and

• moral (recognising the support of family, friends etc.).

Table 2.9.1 shows the relative proportions of these categories in the acknowledgements in the three journals examined by Cronin et al. (2003; 2004). These data reveal clear disciplinary differences, and they also tell us indirectly something about the intellectual debts incurred in writing a paper.

However, even within disciplines, a closer examination of the acknowledgements can reveal interesting things (see Cronin and Franks, 2006; Hartley, 2003). It appears, for example, that — in psychology — there are differences in the numbers of acknowledgements given by single authors compared with those given by pairs or trios of authors. In one study, for example, I examined the acknowledgements made in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Teaching of Psychology and Psychological Science (Hartley, 2003). Here fifty-seven per cent of single authors acknowledged the help of colleagues, referees and editors, compared with forty-nine per cent of pairs and forty per cent of trios. It appeared then that single authors benefited from discussions with other colleagues — who were acknowledged — more than did pairs or groups of writers who were perhaps in a better position to discuss salient issues among themselves.

In all of the studies described above, the authors worked by hand when counting the elements in the data. However, automated methods for analysing acknowledgements are now available and, with these, larger samples from many more journals can be considered. Giles and Councill (2004), for example,

Table 2.9.1 The proportions of acknowledgements (%) devoted to different aspects of acknowledgements in Mind, Psychological Review and the Journal of the American Chemical Society


Psychological Review

Journal of the American Chemical Society





















Data derived from Cronin et al. (2003; 2004) and reproduced with permission of the authors.

Data derived from Cronin et al. (2003; 2004) and reproduced with permission of the authors.

carried out one such automated study of 188,052 acknowledgements in science papers. They showed that funding agencies got the highest rates of acknowledgements, commercial companies the next, educational institutions the third, and individuals the least. More interesting, perhaps, is that it will soon be relatively easy, using such computer-based techniques, to trace which people are acknowledged most in a given field, and thus to assess their currently hidden contribution, and also to see if acknowledgements to colleagues are reciprocal in different papers.

Finally, Day and Gastel (2006) remind us that it is always appropriate to check with the people named in acknowledgements that they are happy with what is said and, if necessary, to reword it in the light of their comments. Indeed, some journals require that all the people listed in the acknowledgements, as well as all the authors, each sign separate consent forms allowing publication.

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