This year, I am writing three different articles together with three different people, in addition to two other projects I have on my own. I am also involved in writing two grant applications for the Horizon 2020 (the European Union research scheme), for two different calls with two different teams of scholars. In one of the applications, I am partly responsible for the text of the final proposal, whereas in the other, my contribution is to one of the work packages (more limited in scale). I am also co-organizing and co-chairing a conference panel.
What I just described will probably resonate with many of the readers of this page: co-authorship is increasingly the norm in the social sciences and the humanities (having been so in the natural sciences for ages). As my own case exemplifies, it is not just the production of research articles that is now increasingly collaborative; the structure of the funding requirements pushes also for a strong element of team work and coordination among many scholars (both in writing the application and, if successful, in performing of the proposed research).
So, what are the advantages of co-authorship? I will list them in brief below.
It is intellectually stimulating. Many new ideas are generated through intense discussions among two (or more) writers fully dedicated to the joint exploration of a common theme. Creativity and experimentation are also encouraged.
It is methodologically more complex. As multiple authors bring a diversity of skills to the table, chances are there will be a more methodologically sophisticated approach to the research theme in comparison to a one person job.
It is time-effective. Writing together with other authors diminishes the amount of hours that one must contribute to the article, because time-consuming tasks are distributed among the authors rather than falling on one person alone.
It contains a built in feedback apparatus. By having several critical minds evaluating the final product even before it is submitted for conferences and journals, the risks of not having covered some important aspects of the examined theme or not addressing some critical reservations against the research is reduced. This may in turn lead to shorter waiting times on the peer review lists of journals and quicker publication times.
It is motivating. Knowing that another colleague is depending on your input for the project to move further is an extra motivation to get the work done within the agreed timeframe. The risk of procrastination is lower under peer pressure.
Most certainly the above points are not always and automatically true. The ultimate precondition or premise for a successful co-authorship is a well-functioning team. So, what could be the qualities of a good co-authorship group?
All writers must be equally motivated. Even though motivation may fluctuate individually throughout the research process, the sum of motivations for the project as a whole should be constant. Both writers must perceive it in their own best interest to contribute their best work to the common goal.
The co-authors should possess matching skills at similar levels. There is not one single model of successful co-authoring teams. Some teams follow a principle of diversity and complementarity (one author covers areas of expertise that the others do not). Others follow a principle of similarity and convergence (all authors master the same subject equally well; thus, delegating or sharing the research tasks is easy and gives faster results). The important point is that the authors have skills matching the type of research they work together on and matching the organizational structure of the team.
The co-authors should share the same work ethic. The interpersonal relations within the team may take a blow if there is no agreement on the values that should guide the joint work and research in general. Issues such as partner drop-out, delays, or stealing intellectual property can easily be avoided by establishing at the outset a set of ethical principles that all co-authors agree upon.
How has your experience with co-authoring conference papers, articles, co-organizing panels and co-writing grant applications been?
Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.