can I negotiate credit for future publications as part of a job offer?

A reader writes:

At an organization I used to work for, I contributed to several publications. For one of the publications, I was the first lead author, having drafted and edited the document and led the team working on the project for two years. This document was then sent to another person (who had not previously worked on it or the project in any capacity) to edit it, and this person was then listed as the first author. To me, this seems like the equivalent of conducting a research study and then having someone who only edited the text of the article without every participating in the design, conduct, or analysis of the study list themselves as the principal investigator, or a novelist submitting their manuscript and the editor publishing the document with his/herself as the author.

In another case, I co-authored a document which was then re-published in a subsequent edition after I left, with several authors listed but my name did not appear anywhere, even though a large portion of the text consisted of my exact words that I had written for the previous edition. In my contract with the organization, they owned anything I produced while working for them, so although I feel it is slimy, dishonest, and generally wrong, I don’t feel there is anything I can justifiably do about it.

However, I have just had a third-round interview with another organization, which may make me an offer soon. If they do, is it possible to request during negotiations some sort of clause that stipulates that any work that I produce, if it names authors, must carry my name and accurately represent my contribution (relative to the other authors’)? If so, do you have any advice about requesting this in a way that does not seem weird or petty?

On the one hand, although it may sound petty, I work in a field where authorship can make or break careers, and I think it has hurt my current job search that I am not a first author on any of my previous publications. On the other hand, I believe I am much less likely to have this issue at my future employer and I don’t want to turn them off by seeming overly focused on who receives credit for the work. Furthermore, there aren’t currently any publications planned by my future employer, so I don’t want them to think I don’t understand the job or that I’m self-interestedly trying to take them in a particular direction to further my career (which I’m not; I just don’t want a repeat of the previous situation if I am in a position to help it now).

There’s probably a field where this would be a normal thing to negotiate, but in every hiring context I’ve seen, it would come across strangely.

There are a lot of fields (law, think tanks, government, and lots of others) where what you described happening with your authorship would be totally normal — where the “editor” was more senior and you were essentially ghostwriting for that person (and where her editing wasn’t copyediting, but rather oversight/vouching for the content overall). In fields where it’s normal to release publications under the name of a higher-up even though they were written by more junior people, trying to negotiate specific authorship as part of a job offer would come across really strangely and out-of-touch. That goes double if they’re not even envisioning you working on any publications right now.

There are certainly other fields — like much of academia — where authorship would never work that way. In that case, though, that might be so obvious to them that it will seem like an odd thing to focus on as part of your offer, especially in a context where they’re not planning to have you work on publications anyway.

And even in a context where what you’d be asking for is aligned with how they’d normally do things, as a manager I’d be hesitant to make it a formal agreement because I wouldn’t want to bound to it if something came up where that arrangement didn’t make sense (like if you wrote something that clearly should come from the organization itself rather than a particular individual).

However, if you’re asked to author something for a job in the future, it’s certainly reasonable to ask at the start of the project how authorship will be handled so that you’re not surprised at the end of the project.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Helpful*

    You could consider negotiating this on a case by case basis– i.e. as you are working on a project, lobbying for credit. But it would help tremendously to know what field you are in, as this is completely relative.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      This was going to be my recommendation. This is how it’s done in academia – for each project you’d have an explicit conversation about the order of authorship when you work on a project. Not that shenanigans don’t occur, but they’re more clearly shenanigans in that case and less of a grey area.

      1. Anonymoose*

        And the ‘editor’, or lead investigator, is actually at the very end of authors. I hope OP isn’t in academia, otherwise is sounds like she’s getting screwed left and right. I mean, not even a thank you in the notes? Yeesh.

    2. Anonymoose*

      There are also authorship contracts out there that are used in the scientific community for just such this purpose.

    3. OP*

      In the first case, I was working at an interdisciplinary program at (without getting too specific- because there aren’t that many that fit this description) a multilateral inter-governmental organization. Now I have a degree in epidemiology, but the specific position I’ve been interviewing for is more generally in public health, but there is a possibility that epidemiological studies could be conducted as part of it, because on the one hand, we would be working with a rather unusual population from a public health and logistical perspective and there are some gaps in the scientific literature about program effectiveness in this context (so, compared to more mainstream settings, it would be even more important to evaluate the impact of our programs for our own program planning purposes, and at the same time, publishing the results could also contribute to the scientific body of knowledge about the effectiveness of public health programs in this population); and on the other hand, because the programs are funded by grants, and there may be a possibility to get a grant to fund some research that could be helpful to our mission. So when I say that lack of authorship has hurt my job search, that is probably more the case for the epidemiologist positions that I’ve applied for than for the job in question.

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    I’m so curious to see what the responses are from others in academia or nonprofits, since getting your name on your work is such a foreign concept in my industry!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s very common in nonprofits to write something that goes out with someone else’s name on it. The cases that I know of where that’s not so common are academia and peer-reviewed research.

    2. KG, Ph.D.*

      Academia checking in: this would be DEEPLY NOT COOL. There are strict rules about who should be an author/coauthor (contributed to the work, reviewed it in its final form, etc.). A friend’s paper was submitted by a coauthor without his knowledge (and without him having reviewed it first), and it was a Big Deal — caused a rift in the collaborative relationship, paper was yanked.

      1. KG, Ph.D.*

        I should add that I’ve heard horror stories about lower ranking folks (grad students, usually) being left off papers or being denied first authorship despite having done most of the work and writing, but I think it’s rare, and it’s definitely looked down upon. When I submit a paper, I have to certify that all authors contributed to the work in a meaningful way.

        1. PB*

          I’ve heard of this, too, although I’ve never encountered, fortunately. I have also heard horror stories about co-authors who don’t discuss the issue of first authorship until they’re ready to submit, only to discover that two of the authors both assumed they’d be first listed.

        2. unhappy gra*

          At my research assistantship this was par for the course. I technically worked at a research center which was housed inside the university (rather than directly for the professor), and I was in a professional master’s program, but this applied to the Ph.D. students at the center as well. My thesis advisor took my paper and repurposed it as a chapter in a book she and the center director published; a Ph.D. student who wrote probably about half of the book’s chapters as well as myself received no authorship credit. We were both named as “research assistants” in the book’s acknowledgements, but received no other credit.

          1. OP*

            Wow, that’s horrible! I’m so sorry. When I was doing my master’s degree, I felt like the professors took advantage of the grad students who did research for them and it made me decide not to do a PhD. (I mean, at least at my old job I was decently compensated for my work and it was up front with regard to the intellectual property rights in the contract I signed!) I really don’t get how this works, unless maybe the grad students don’t know what they’re getting into when they enroll and then once they realize how they’re going to be treated it’s too late/costly for them to change course so they just stick it out. It seemed like a lot of the grad students in this situation were foreign, so I felt they were especially vulnerable and maybe had the most to lose by pulling out of this kind of situation.

        3. Optimistic Prime*

          I have too, but they’re generally passed on as examples of asshole-ish-ness and not standard practice.

      2. Cassandra*

        A journal whose editorial board I am on asks for consent to publish from all listed authors for exactly this reason. It’s just not a situation we ever want to tangle with.

      3. Kit Cat*

        I can think of at least 3 friends and relatives off the top of my head who had their undergrad or grad thesis taken by an advisor after they graduated and published with no recognition. It seems pretty common.

        One had a co-author who was an international student, and he tried to track her down so they could pursue the matter, but he couldn’t find her.

        1. PB*

          Good lord, this shouldn’t be common! Any place I’ve worked, if this was discovered, would be cause for disciplinary action.

          1. L.Squared*

            For cases like a Master’s thesis, the PI can attempt to track down and encourage the student to publish, but if the student refuses or ghosts, it is actually well within the rights of the PI to take the work, edit, and publish it. In these cases the student is likely no longer be first author, but still needs to be somewhere in the list of authors.

            1. PB*

              This seems to be different from what Kit Cat is describing, however. She mentions both undergrad and grad work published by an advisor with no recognition.

            2. Anonymoose*

              I’m in academia and I had no idea advisors could do this. It just seems to shady. Yes, they help build the concept of it and then critique with a committee, but totally taking it over without recognition just sounds dirty to me.

            3. The New Wanderer*

              Yes – one of my cohort was asked for months by her advisor to write up her thesis work as a journal article. By the end the advisor basically said, you can do this and be first author, or I can do this and you’ll be second author. She chose the latter.

            4. Optimistic Prime*

              I’m not sure if that’s true. At every outlet I’ve published at, all of the authors have to agree to have the work published, and they also have to agree that the order of authorship reflects the actual work that’s been done on the paper. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think it’s well within their rights.

        2. KG, Ph.D.*

          Wow! That’s super messed up. Do you mind sharing what (approximate) field this happened in? I’ve truly heard only second- and third-hand internet stories of this happening, so I’m curious as to whether it varies based on subject area. I’m in engineering.

          1. Kit Cat*

            Two of them were at the same school (a small private college in the NE U.S. that prides itself on a medical school acceptance rate in the very high 90 percents). It’s near to me, so a lot of locals choose it when they have their sights set on medical school.

            Both biology majors (because pre-med), but different advisors. One studied amphibian populations, the other fungi.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’ve seen this happen, too. The worst was when a friend was on the academic market and shared the abstract for her dissertation with a conference to participate in a panel. The convener (someone more senior in the field) rejected her abstract and said some awful and demoralizing things to her, and then at the conference presented her paper as if it were his. That paper later won an award.

          It shouldn’t be common, and it’s vile. And yet it happens often enough in the academy that everyone I know in every department has a horror story like it.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Yeah, I’ve heard multiple of these stories. I even had a trusted mentor (a tenured associate professor in my department) advise me to be wary about what professors and researchers I trusted because it had happened to her and she didn’t want it to happen to anyone else. It’s kind of a sad day when professors are telling you not to trust their colleagues because the problem of intellectual theft is so rampant.

        4. Annie Moose*

          A professor at my university was caught stealing undergrad essays–not even theses, straight-up essays from his classes! He was found out when a student was doing some Google snooping on him and found an article under the professor’s name that was something the student himself had written. After doing some more digging and asking around, the student realized several other students’ work had been stolen too. (that’s how I found out–a friend of mine was one of them) I think in the end, the university allowed him to quietly resign and he agreed to put the students’ names on the articles as co-authors… but even for something as low-stakes as this, it was pretty outrageous to me.

          (he was terrible at teaching, too. Had him for two or three classes and couldn’t stand the guy even before I found out about this mess)

          1. Birch*

            Ok this is bizarre though. In what field are even top undergrads doing work that would pass as a professor’s? Or rather, how bad was this professor that he was doing undergrad level work? Where were the essays getting published? How would no one catch that?

      4. Fake old Converse shoes*

        Our high school biology project included a mandatory paper, poster and dissertation during the school Open Day. The teacher in charge made very clear that author(s) order is a big deal in academia, like career ending deal.

          1. Anonymoose*

            You’d think your teacher would at least inform you of the importance of ‘first author’. Way to coach those kids incorrectly! This actually reminds me of when I was told to ONLY use MLA, and then went to college and was told to ONLY use APA. This advice wasn’t even subject specific either (like APA for science, MLA for english).

            I’ve also had med students complain that the faculty will insist on APA and then tell them they’re doing it wrong, when it’s actually by-the-book correct.

            Teaching. Oy.

            1. minuteye*

              It can really vary by discipline (and even subdiscipline) in academia. I’ve encountered areas of academia where alphabetical order is pretty normal, others where the order reflects work done, and still others where it reflects status (e.g. the person whose lab it is going first, regardless of their contribution).

              So while it’s good for a teacher to explain the concept of author order to students, it would be equally misleading to tell them any one way was the only possible road.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                I was shocked when I found out that some disciplines use strict alphabetical order. It was in an article discussing issues of women in academia, and the finding that in the alphabetical case, people reading the article will tend to assume one of the male co-authors were the lead in the project, regardless of who did the work.

                In my field, the first few authors are listed by contribution – first author and major participants – followed by also-rans in alphabetic order (large projects tend to have a list of people who are on the paper due to project contributions, even if they weren’t actively involved in that particular paper). There are a few things (proposals, white papers) that sometimes have the most senior person as first author even if they didn’t write all the content, for political or management reasons. But proposals and white papers don’t go on the CV.

                For undergrad work it’s a bit tricky, because most undergraduates aren’t actually able to write a paper. So it’s typical for an undergrad to work on a summer project, and then not be involved after they leave. My rule of thumb is that if an undergrad can write a first draft of the paper, even if it’s not very good, and then work with their supervisor to polish it, they get first authorship. If they can’t (or don’t want to), they get a co-authorship and their supervisor or former supervisor writes the paper.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Agreed. In Development Economics, for example, the convention when I started (which may now be outdated) was alpha by last name unless someone contributed an outsized amount to the research design and/or analysis (i.e., served as first author). But even if you had been the primary contributor, sometimes you’d still frontload a “known name” before a grad student so that certain journals were more likely to review/publish the piece.

                1. Birch*

                  I’m in cognitive science and we “backload” a known name–as Anony says below. Order is descending by most work done on the paper, but the last name is the most senior supervisor. I love it because grad students get the first authorship they need, you can easily see the senior PI, and kind of judge how much input others in the middle have had.

                  For OP I guess it depends on what it means to “publish” in your field. If it’s something that is reviewed or edited or can be bought, you should definitely get credit. But if it’s something that usually isn’t credited in your field, you could just list the project on your CV and that could be enough?

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              Alphabetical order is normal when all authors are deemed to have contributed equally to a paper, although usually there’s a note on the paper mentioning that.

    3. PB*

      For academic writing, this would most often be an issue with published journal articles, book chapters, and books. Since we have to write and publish to receive tenure (and, by extension, continue to be employed), having your name on publications is very important, particular as reviewers will be able to check your track record and ensure that you have done the things you’re claiming you’ve done. To tie this in with the post, having lots of publications is good, but if you’re listed as a third or fourth contributor on all of them, it’s less good. It would almost definitely be raised by a Promotion & Tenure committee, particularly when getting closer to tenure.

      1. Anony*

        As a side note, authorship conventions vary widely even between different fields within academia. Math papers usually have one or a few authors, listed alphabetically. In my field (physical sciences), the first author is usually the grad student or postdoc who contributed most to the research, data analysis, and writing, the last author is the professor generated the original idea and got grant funding for the project, and all the more minor contributors wind up in the middle somewhere. So first-author or last-author papers are the priority, depending on career stage.

        1. PB*

          This is a very good point. Number of authors also varies greatly in different fields. I’m in the humanities, where papers are often written by one person, and usually no more than two or three people.

        2. Used to be a lurker*

          Was gonna say just this. There’s even fields where papers routinely have dozens of authors, who are usually then alphabetically ordered because first-authorship is already such a mess when you have 3-4 authors, I wouldn’t even want to think what you’d have to do to settle that with, say, 30 people. Maybe a free for all, Hunger Games-style?

    4. Anon for This*

      In medical fields, the position of authors’ names indicates their level of responsibility in the research and writing. This is true for articles in peer-reviewed publications, books and chapters, and posters presented at meetings. Their CVs are often 10-20 pages, listing every publication, research project, presentation, review, abstract, and lecture.

  3. Kathleen Adams*

    The way it works at my non-profit, as soon as you’re gone, your byline disappears. This includes writing and photography. The intent is not to steal anybody’s work or show any disrespect. It’s that even if it I write it, I wrote it in the name of my organization and I was being paid by that organization at the time it was written, so any credit for it after I leave goes to the organization or a successor. Also if someone has questions about it…well, they aren’t going to call me if I’m not there any more, are they?

    I agree with those who say that it would be helpful to know, at least in a general way, what field you’re in. But in general, it sounds to me as though asking for credit after you leave is not something that’s going to go over well.

    1. Lucky*

      I should hope that, at the very least, your org doesn’t put someone else’s name on articles once the original author leaves, as that could cause a future employer to assume the author is lying/taking credit for others’ work.

      1. H.C.*

        My OldJob org doesn’t assign it to another name, but does change it to “[[OldJob]] staff” as byline – this is to avoid people trying to contact the former employee if they want to follow up on said article (esp since our bylines are linked to our work contact info).

      2. Kathleen Adams*

        No – we would either rewrite it or run it with an organizational-type byline (e.g., “Teapot Inc. photo” or “by Teapot Inc. staff”) instead of an individual one.

    2. MK*

      Credit going to a successor is very problematic, in my view. It’s one thing to understand that the organisation owns the work and can do whatever they want with it; it’s another to falsely list a completely unrelated person as the author. It would be simpler to do away with bylines altogether.

      1. OP*

        This is how I feel. I would be totally fine if they just published it as being by [The Organization] but it’s another thing to list a number of authors but not the person who contributed the largest share of the text, whether he/she still works there or not. It’s inaccurate and misleading.

  4. Emily*

    You can ask how authorship is typically handled, you can say that you’d like to first-author some publications and ask whether that’s going to be possible, and you can search their publications to see whether first authors tend to be the most senior author vs. not. I think that’ll give you a good read on this. But an organization is unlikely to change how they handle authorship to bring someone on in this context.

    1. Murphy*

      This was my thought. Just have a conversation in general about how authorship is handled to inform yourself, rather than a negotiation.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      Yes, and even within some industries where authorship is taken very seriously (academia), there are organizations or departments that don’t subscribe to the overall industry standard. Better to have a discussion ahead of time.

    3. OP*

      See, at my previous organization, I don’t think leadership would have cared who got credit for the publications. I think the “stealing” of credit was a result of certain individuals trying to promote themselves over others, not a top-down organizational strategy or policy.

  5. Nephron*

    I am in academia and trying to negotiate authorship in advance would not work beyond a general idea of yes you can be first author theoretically. Pushing for a set policy in advance would actually be a bad idea as people would be concerned you might get first author in writing and then not pull your own weight.

    Ideal way authorship works: Each project is decided at the start and possibly adjusted based on what happened and what worked with the final decision being made hopefully before writing begins so no one is handing stuff over to a collaborator and then shocked by author order. I do not know about outside academia, but for academia they should have an informal policy and asking about that would be normal, negotiating authorship before work has been completed would be off putting and not work.

    1. Cj*

      Im also an academic and ive spoken to everyone of my pis about how authoship is assigned. in some fields the person who actually does the writing is first, others not, and it cuts down on a lot of misery later.

    2. Sarah*

      I agree, and it would seem beyond weird if someone raised this during an academic job interview. Among other things, how am I to control what order authors appear in on projects I may not even be involved in, possibly with professors at other universities — in fact, most of the projects I work on that have multiple coauthors involve multiple universities.

  6. Annalee*

    This definitely happens in academia, but is not usually considered a “norm,” per say. I’m in the early stages of a research career where authorship definitely makes or breaks you, and my colleagues have sometimes advised me to avoid working with specific people because they are known to have a graduate student/early career academic do all the work on a publication and still not allow that person to be first author. Fortunately, I have always worked for advisors and professors

    I would second the suggestion that you ask how authorship is typically handled. Sometimes you can negotiate this beforehand on specific publications.

  7. TootsNYC*

    Could a person state this as a -goal-, if not a requirement? “As you know, getting authorship of papers is important for career development. I’ve had the experience of being the instrumental voice and force on a paper and not been given the lead credit. That’s something I want to change in my next job–I want to be the person who does the work that gets them the official credit. What would that be like for me in this job?”

    And I might also think you could contact and old employer and say, “I saw that my name was not on the paper–it has so much of my work, I’d appreciate it if you could keep my name on there.” (they may take it off since the author can’t be reached through their org. anymore)

  8. Angie Angle*

    I’m curious how this works in business, as well: white papers, etc. I’ve never been in a authorship position, but I deal with the work adjacently.

    1. KTM*

      I’m in engineering and at least at our company it works a few different ways:
      – If it’s a white paper intended to be a marketing type document that’s going on our website, it’s usually just posted with our company’s name on it, regardless of who wrote it. ( ‘Teapots 101’ or something like that)

      – If it’s a white paper that is published on an industry website (like a magazine or aggregate site) that’s more tech – heavy (for example, ‘Teapot design rules of thumb for extreme environments’) usually one or two people are listed that are the main authors and point of contacts for any technical questions it generates

      -If it’s a formally published paper, it would have the main author first (who actually wrote the paper and did most of the research/development), with contributors listed next, and then the last person would be the lead (PI or manager, etc who oversaw the work)

    2. WordsAboutBiz*

      I’m a freelance business ghostwriter with a focus on white papers, long-form articles, and the occasional book. Some are for marketing purposes, some educational (think in-house libraries or reseller training), and others help position executives or subject-matter experts as thought leaders.

      My contracts specify that I retain the right to display projects in my portfolio, but beyond that, I neither receive nor request attribution.

      When I ghost pieces for a company, most are published under either the company’s name (as KTM noted) or authorship is attributed to one of its subject-matter experts. When I ghost for an individual (typically a C-level exec or a start-up founder), they are listed as author.

      1. Kit Cat*

        This is fascinating, thank you! I’ve always been curious about your field. It seems like the literary version of being a secret agent.

    3. YetAnotherFed*

      For patents, the order of the inventors doesn’t officially matter. The important thing is that everyone who’s listed on the patent application is truly a co-inventor, and that all the inventors are listed on the patent application. The real trouble comes in with leaving off inventors and/or listing non-inventors.

    4. Optimistic Prime*

      I’m a researcher in industry. My name goes on my reports, and in the case of multiple authors we generally follow the same convention as academic writing – whoever did most of the writing/work goes first, then the person who did the second-most amount of work goes next, etc. White papers are the same way.

      But it matters faaaaaar less here because reports themselves are not really what demonstrates impact, and that’s what we care about: what actually got changed? For white papers it matters a bit more because you get credit for preserving information in a lasting format, but there’s not really any incentive to steal a more junior person’s work in this field, at least internally.

    5. RNL*

      I’m in law, and when something is for a file, lead counsel signs it, no matter who wrote it. If it’s their client, and it is their name as counsel of record on the court file, they (almost always) sign it, or I will sign it on their behalf, over their name, using my initials (like “RNL for [counsel name]). If it’s my name, I sign it, even if I had a junior lawyer draft it. It’s 100% expected and understood in our profession.

      When I write for a journal or an external publication (which is most often a marketing exercise), I often have students or junior lawyers generate content under my supervision and control. I have lead authorship, and they will have co-authorship. Our in-house publication will not give co-authorship to a student – no matter how much work they did, they get an “assistance” credit as opposed to an authorship credit.

  9. ambivalent*

    I work in the biotech industry where publication is key. If the paper was your work, it would be understood that you would get first authorship. Last author is usually whether the senior person gets to put their name. I don’t really think in our company, people would be put off if you asked about getting first authorship if you did the work. I hired recently, and I would have welcomed such a question as a sign that you value your scientific career and contributions to the field – that you took pride in your work. But if you knew more about our culture, you’d know that you didn’t ‘need’ to ask such a question. Maybe best to see if you can talk to somebody who is not the hiring manager, and ask about the culture first.

  10. Tuxedo Cat*

    I’ve seen it vary so much. What my group does is whoever wrote the document gets to be first author. Typically, each project has several different research papers off of it so different people get to be different authors. Every author must contribute to the written document and/or analysis.

    Some groups, however, allow pretty much anyone who touches the document (e.g., light editing) to be a co-author. Because quite a few journals are not double-blind for peer review, I think some people will work hard to include a well-regarded author on the document regardless of how much they contributed.

  11. Safetykats*

    Where I work (government contractor, technical) if you had a major contribution you are generally listed as an author, regardless of seniority. It’s customary for us to try to get a publication for summer interns, so that they can have their name on a document.

    That said, it is also customary for your name to disappear from the next revision if you have left the org, or even the part of the org that has responsibility for the document. That’s because the author is the person primarily responsible for content and interpretation, and you can’t do that work if you’re not an employee or at least on contract. The previous revision, the one with your name, would obviously still exist and be retrievable.

    Interestingly, that is sometimes an issue for the new author too. I’ve been asked to take responsibility for content that I didn’t originate, and I’m not always happy about that. Where I’m particularly unhappy, I generally try to leave the previous author’s name on the title page as a co-author or contributor. So if you see that, it’s not always a good thing.

  12. Hank*

    In the pharmaceutical industry, it varies by company, but there are guidelines. The days of “ghost writing” are over where an employee of the company (or a vendor firm) essentially writes an article but lead author goes to a politically expedient physician that may have had little or nothing to do with the development of the paper. But, now, one must have made a “material” contribution to the development of the paper to be awarded authorship status or face sanctions from the official review bodies.

    That said, no company is obliged, either by law or convention, to award authorship to an employee of the company. Many perceive a company-sponsored article as being of lesser scientific credibility than those of an independent or academic origin. The term “company flack” gets thrown around a lot. Major journals may even refuse to review your paper if the lead authors are company folks. Other companies consider you exactly that, an employee, and your job (and salary) includes authoring papers, for which you may never receive acknowledgement aside from a “Thanks to the following …” statement that gets you zip as far as professional acknowledgement is concerned.

    So, maybe the company awards you authorship, or maybe they don’t. Ask in advance if it means this much to you. First author, for anything outside of basic science (i.e. rat) research, is rarely awarded, in any case.

  13. boo*

    I am actually a ghostwriter, meaning that my work is almost never credited to me, so this is all fascinating, largely because before I write anything for a client I sign paperwork making it very clear that I understand I won’t be credited, that I have no rights to what I produce for the client, etc.

    This is clearly a completely different scenario than the OP’s. My point is, though, that intellectual property rights and authorship are vitally important, and I can’t imagine writing anything without an ironclad understanding of who will be credited and who will own the work. Without a contract to the contrary, the ironclad default is to the actual author. The idea that I wouldn’t know, and moreover that it would be weird to ask, seems as odd as being expected to start work without knowing what my pay will be.

    Obviously, I know it’s not like that in a lot of fields! I work in a cottage industry (though I do not have a cottage).

  14. wayward*

    To me, it’s always seemed like a good idea to have everyone who significantly contributed to a research paper as an author so that they have some skin in the game. Having your name on the work would be a powerful incentive to refrain from plagiarism, fabrication, or falsification. I’ve noticed that more than one academic gets busted for plagiarism and then claims that it was the fault of the research assistant. Well, why wasn’t the RA’s name on the work?

  15. Government Mule*

    As an aside to the original question, how should I (or should I) list papers/ documents/ reports on my CV that I (a) contributed to, but am not credited as a co-author, and (b) authored or edited, but have no authors listed on them? As the name suggests, federal physical sciences area.

  16. nonegiven*

    My husband wrote a poem for an assignment in high school. Without his knowledge it was submitted by the teacher, along with others, to a contest. His was not chosen to be published.

    Three years later he read his poem in print with someone else’s name on it. He thinks one of the judges stole it. 50 years later, he is still pissed.

    1. Anonymoose*

      I would be pissed too! That’s dirty! (on the teacher’s behalf too as he didn’t consent to lose right to it). God, I hope karma kicked that judge in the ass.

  17. Mephyle*

    Translators sometimes want credit for published documents or works that they translated. Or they are urged to claim credit. This can be a dangerous thing, because the translator is often not the last person to lay their paws on a translated text. Many a translator has been dismayed to find that a text that they did good work on, and submitted to the client without errors was later “corrected” by a non-native speaker before it got published (whether online or in print).
    Another pitfall that can happen is that when it’s ready to be published, the client notices, “Oops, I never gave the translator the title/figure captions/section titles to translate.Well, I’ll just wing it on the basis of my high school language class. Or I’ll run it through Google Translate.” And if the translator had lobbied to have their name included in the credits, they sorely regret it.
    An example of this that I particularly recall was a colleague who told of how she had translated a lovely coffee table book with photographs of a region in Europe. The text was beautiful and poetic, worthy of the photos. But they never asked her about the title of the book. When it came out, the title in English was a word-for-word translation of the original title, and it made no sense in English.

  18. Anonymoose*

    I have another suggestion, and it’s something that I have done personally. Whenever I create something ‘mostly’ alone (eg, I design and create it, but it passes by my boss’ desk before release), I pop it into my Gmail Drive account. That way I have a timestamp and proof of early concept before it’s changed, so there’s less doubt about my skills and authenticity of later versions. I’ve also included some of these documents where my resume is posted (LinkedIn has this function) to show my work quality.

    Also, if any of this is in academia, you’ll want to speak up before going to print, not interview. Otherwise your interview panel may look at you funny. That said, it’s a wonderful time to ASK about authorship in the open position and how it works there. Then you can decide if there is any point to bring it up during negotiations.

  19. Jenny*

    Depending on what field you’re in, what you described might not be so unusual (though it’s crappy). In a lot of places, it’s very common for a lower-level person to do most of the actual work, even drafting the whole paper, but the primary authorship goes to a more senior person, usually whoever originally conceived of the project. Even within academia (if that’s where you are), authorship conventions vary substantially by discipline – some fields only list 2-3 authors, others list 8 or more, some are always alphabetical, some put the senior person’s name last, etc.

    I agree that you can’t really try to negotiate this in a job offer, but I also think that whether what happened was out of the ordinary depends on your field.

  20. Jean Lamb*

    This would actually be quite normal to negotiate on in academia, where the procedure to list authorship is probably advertised as being writ in stone, but is actually surprisingly…flexible (as many a poor graduate student has found to hir sorrow).

  21. Jean Lamb*

    There are also a few fiction writers (often older ones) who take first position on a book mainly written by the second one. In Star Trek novels, a popular actor sometimes provides the concept and the vetting, while most of the writing is done by the second authors. This also occurs in ‘as told by’ books by popular celebrities, but most of that kind of thing is in a contract anyway.

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