Agree on the order of authors names

Why does it matter in what order names appear on the title page of a typescript or published paper? One reason is that the order implies the authors' relative contributions. The first name to appear is generally assumed to be the individual who played the largest part in the study. This person is called the senior author. In some laboratories, the head of the laboratory, department, or research team is automatically included on any paper coming from the laboratory. In various science disciplines, the last author by convention is the head of the laboratory where the research was done.

Visibility is a second reason. If several people have worked together on a project, and you are not one of the first three authors named, be prepared for your name to be invisible in other authors' articles. In reference lists (and sometimes in text as well), journals typically print all the names up to some arbitrary number (three or six are common choices). Beyond this number, they usually include only the first one or three names, and use et al. for the rest.

When many people all have contributed more or less equally to the research, alphabetical or reverse alphabetical name order is sometimes used. Alternatively, if more than one paper logically comes from a cooperative project, authors sometimes rotate as first author on successive publications.

Many research reports result from the efforts of large cooperative teams. Perhaps the greatest number of coauthors on a single publication to date is the 488 individuals from 39 institutions for an article in Physical Particle Physics! For other examples of unwieldy multi-authorship, see Yang (1995).

Although authors generally would like to see their individual names appear, when this many people are involved, editors may like to see authorship credited by group titles. Rather than listing the names of individuals, none of whom can really take responsibility for the whole, the group could coin a designation, such as "The National Cooperative Atherosclerosis Study" A footnote would list group members, and each could legitimately list the paper on their personal resumes.

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