Corresponding author: Roles, responsibilities, and more
Nowadays, research is becoming increasingly collaborative due to factors, such as the spread of globalization and the growing expectations toward scientists to publish. As a result, more and more academic papers are being written by multiple authors, which triggers the need for a corresponding author, namely, a person selected from the group of authors to be in charge of duties pertaining to the pre-publication and post-publication phases of a paper. His/her identity is typically revealed on the first page of the article (Carmichael, 2020). Given the importance of this topic in scholarly publishing, in this blog article, we discuss the duties and responsibilities of a corresponding author during the pre-publication and post-publication phases.
The roles of a corresponding author
As the name suggests, a corresponding author is the primary contact for the publisher and readers alike (Carmichael, 2020). Based on this definition, a corresponding author’s duties can be broken down into two distinct phases: the pre-publication phase, in which one is in contact with the publisher, and the post-publication phase, in which one is expected to respond to readers’ questions and requests. The two phases come with quite varied responsibilities to the extent that they are not always managed by the same person (Helgesson, 2021). As such, it has been suggested by some stakeholders that the roles for the two phases be separated for the sake of transparency, a practice that, in fact, has already been adopted by some journals (Helgesson, 2021).
More specifically, during the pre-publication phase, a corresponding author’s duties constitute five key areas.
- Submission and handling of the manuscript: One submits the manuscript together with all the necessary auxiliary files (e.g., cover letter, figures, tables, anonymized title page, statements, permissions, certificates, etc.) as well as all potentially necessary revisions, and shares the referee report, the journal editors’ decisions, and galley proofs with all the co-authors (Weiss, 2012).
- Maintaining a close relationship with the publisher: One manages the article processing charge (APC) payment if it applies as well as all the communication with the journal editorial team, for example, orders extra services (e.g., color figures in print, offprints, posters), adds potentially missing files, clarifies any ambiguities (e.g., non-consistent numbering of figures or tables), and provides better quality figures.
- Obtaining permissions for the use of copyrighted material.
- Obtaining disclosures and statements from co-authors.
- Signing the license agreement on behalf of all the co-authors.
Regarding the post-publication phase, the communication between corresponding authors and readers involves three main activities.
- They forward readers’ scientific questions to the co-authors and send out the latter’s joint response.
- They receive and manage requests of data sharing.
- They represent all co-authors in copyright-related questions (e.g., concerning the re-use of some part from the given paper).
So, what is a corresponding author responsible for? It is important to emphasize that, while all authors share equal responsibility about the following points, the corresponding author will be addressed in case of any questions.
- Getting permissions, affirmations, certificates, etc.
- Dealing with the names of the authors (i.e., identifying first and last names), precise presentation of affiliations, acknowledgment of all support.
- Responsibility for the accuracy and integrity of the work.
- Responsibility to live up to the journal’s policies and ethical standards.
Why does your choice of the corresponding author matter?
The selection of a corresponding author matters for several reasons. As Hu (2009) points out, being the corresponding author of a paper entails considerable prestige. This is because many committees only consider first and/or corresponding authorship when evaluating grant and promotion applications, which, in fact, has led to an increase in the number of corresponding authors associated with an article (Ding & Herbert, 2022; Hu, 2009). Choosing the corresponding author wisely is also important because it is a long-term obligation. Although, in principle, it is possible to change the corresponding author after publication – it is up to the given journal’s discretion –, the change must be stated in a so-called corrigendum, which is quite unfortunate as this type of article is indicative of an error made on the part of an author/s.
Last, but not least, the identity of the corresponding author also matters from a practical point of view. This is because a corresponding author can be exempted from the payment of the expenses of Open Access publication, namely, the APC, depending on whether one’s institution is a member of the consortium with which the publisher has a Read and Publish agreement.
What makes a suitable corresponding author?
In light of the importance and prestige ascribed to the role of a corresponding author, the question inevitably arises, what attributes should one possess? As a corresponding author assumes primary responsibility for communication with a journal during the manuscript submission, peer-review, and publication process, one is expected to have great communication and organizational skills and accuracy. In addition, loadability can be regarded as another essential skill given the amount of tasks that can come with the role. Finally, a broad understanding of the research topic is expected as well, these days even more than before: Ding and Herbert (2022) found that, while between 2000–2001, a first-time corresponding author only had 4 publications on average, by 2020–2021, this number grew to 7.
Dilemmas about the authorship
The choice of the corresponding author is not the only dilemma when composing the authors’ list in an academic paper. As research has become an increasingly collaborative enterprise, occurrences of authorship-related controversies and misconduct have escalated as well. This is evidenced by the emergence of the following author types, each of which reflects some unethical practice:
- Ghost authors: those whose contribution to a work is not stated, typically, to conceal a conflict of interest.
- Guest authors: those who are listed as authors, but have made no real contribution to the paper.
- Orphan authors: those who have made material contribution to a work, but, deliberately, have not been given authorship credit by the drafting team.
- Forged authors: those who are listed as authors without their consent and despite a lack of contribution, to maximize the chances of the paper being published.
Some authorship-related disputes concern the distinction between an author and a contributor, so it is important to clarify what the criteria for authorship are. Essentially, being an author of a scientific paper presupposes that a person has made intellectual contribution to the work and agreed to take responsibility and accountability for any part of the work. Authors can have various possible roles, such as conceptualization, data curation, validation, project administration, and so on. In contrast, non-author contributors are those who provide assistance to authors on financial, editorial, conceptual, technical and even moral matters. Their identities should be acknowledged in the relevant section of the paper and the exact nature of their contribution be specified.
Authorship order has been another controversial issue. While, ideally, the order should reflect the extent to which the authors have contributed to the work, with the greatest intellectual contribution being made by the first author, alphabetical order is also common. Since the first position is the most prestigious one, it is the most likely to generate conflict; nevertheless, this may be solved by having multiple co-first authors. While corresponding authors are often first authors, this should not be taken as a general rule either (Mattsson et al., 2011). Although there are no standard policies across the scientific disciplines as to authorship order, there are various ways to avoid disputes over it. These include explicit and continuous discussions about it during the research project, consulting the given journal’s guidelines, and making quantitative or qualitative statements of each author’s contribution.
AKJournals to help authors worldwide
AKJournals is committed to helping its corresponding authors. Our relevant services include informative web pages online submission and peer-review platforms, and a team of professional and dedicated publishing editors. If you would like to read more about the topic of this blog article, we also recommend checking our journal, Scientometrics, co-published with Springer Nature, as it has several papers with “corresponding authors” as a keyword (e.g., Bigdeli & Gazni, 2012; Mattsson et al., 2011; Mendlowicz et al., 2011).
Bigdeli, Z., & Gazni, A. (2012). Authors’ sources of information: A new dimension in information scattering. Scientometrics, 92(3), 505–521. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-011-0609-1
Carmichael, S. W. (2020). Authorship. In M. M. Shoja, A. Arynchyna, M. Loukas, A. V. D’Antoni, S. M. Buerger, M. Karl, & R. S. Tubbs (Eds.), A guide to the scientific career: Virtues, communication, research, and academic writing (pp. 357–360). Wiley Blackwell.
Ding, A., & Herbert, R. (2022). Corresponding authors: Past and present. How has the role of corresponding author changed since the early 2000s? ICSR Perspectives. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4049439
Helgesson, G. (2021). The two faces of the corresponding author and the need to separate them. Learned Publishing, 34(4), 679–681. https://doi.org/10.1002/leap.1385
Hu, X. (2009). Loads of special authorship functions: Linear growth in the percentage of “equal first authors” and corresponding authors. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(11), 2378–2381. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.21164
Mattsson, P., Sundberg, C. J., & Laget, P. (2011). Is correspondence reflected in the author position? A bibliometric study of the relation between corresponding author and byline position. Scientometrics, 87(1), 99–105.https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-010-0310-9
Mendlowicz, M. V., Coutinho, E. S. F., Laks, J., Fontenelle, L. F., Valença, A. M., Berger, W., Figueira, I., & Azambuja de Aguiar, G. (2011). Is there a gender gap in authorship of the main Brazilian psychiatric journals at the beginning of the 21st century? Scientometrics, 86(1), 27–37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-010-0296-3
Weiss, P. S. (2012). Who are corresponding authors? ACS Nano, 6(4), 2861. https://doi.org/10.1021/nn301566x