Collaborative writing

The number of authors who collaborate has been steadily rising over the years, although there are disciplinary variations (Lewison and Hartley, 2005). Collaboration has been highest among scientists and lowest among arts specialists. International collaboration — as measured by co-authorships on papers in the sciences — has also grown significantly (Abt, 2007).

The literature in this area suggests that collaborative writing among academics can:

1 be more efficient — because different aspects of the task can be shared out;

2 be of better quality — because different individuals can contribute different expertise; and

3 lead to better written papers — because each individual contributor can assist in the writing and the editing of the paper, each seeing it from different perspectives.

Bahr and Zemon (2000) discuss some of the evidence used to arrive at these conclusions. They cite studies showing that:

(i) single authors in librarianship submit more papers, but that papers by multiple authors are published more frequently;

(ii) papers by multiple authors require less revision; and

(iii) papers by multiple authors receive more citations.

More recently, in a survey of 443 physical scientists, natural scientists and engineers, Lee and Bozerman (2005) found a strong correlation between collaborative activity and research productivity when just the number of papers were counted. However, when the number of papers were adjusted for the number of authors, then the specific number of collaborators was not a significant predictor of productivity. Other studies in other contexts have provided different results. For example, Duque et al. (2005) did not find correlations between collaboration and productivity in their study of scientists in Ghana, Kenya and the state of Kerala in south-west India. Wigg et al. (2006) only found small but positive correlations between the numbers of authors and subsequent citation rates in six biomedical journals that had high impact factors. Indeed, in this particular study, the picture differed slightly in each journal, so that it was not possible to pool the data to present a clear conclusion.

There are other, perhaps more unexpected findings from studies of co-authorship. Thus, for example, Lewison and Hartley (2005) reported that:

1 the more authors there were, the longer (on average) were the titles of their paper;

2 the more authors there were, the longer (on average) was the paper itself; and

3 single authors used colons in their titles significantly more than did pairs or groups of authors (until the number of authors reached twelve or more)!

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