In a previous post, I discussed factors that can guide who is listed as an author for publications stemming from collaborative projects. In this follow-up post, I share strategies for establishing author order.

Different group members may take the lead on different presentation or publication goals, so discuss timelines and expectations for group members often. Include authorship discussions – preferably in the context of personal and professional goals – as part of your planning. In “Working with Coauthors,” Ann Nevin, Jacqueline Thousand, and Richard Villa highlight the importance not only of setting shared goals, but also of being attentive to individual goals:

Each coauthor needs to honestly share any individual goals. One author may have a personal goal of getting the product completed within the shortest amount of time; another may have as a goal to produce the most polished document that will have the greatest possibility of being accepted by a top internationally respected peer-reviewed journal. One author may be motivated to reach a researcher audience, while another may want to reach a practitioner audience. Goal conversations can spare coauthors from experiencing the distress that can occur when unspoken agendas, that is, hidden agendas, are not shared.

Nevin, Thousand, and Villa 2010, 280

Understanding these individual goals can help shape agreements about who might take leadership roles (and be listed as first author) on different publications. They also can guide conversations about how to acknowledge collaborators across publications. For example, you might agree to:

  • List everyone who collected and/or analyzed data on every publication and then promote active writers in the author order, listing remaining members alphabetically; or
  • List everyone who collected and/or analyzed data on every publication and then promote active writers in the author order, listing remaining members in reverse alphabetical order; or
  • Alternate between these strategies so that someone’s last name does not consistently position them first (or last) among the alphabetical listings; or
  • List everyone who collected and/or analyzed data on every publication, listing members in an agreed upon order that accounts for collective publication needs/individual goals.

Here are a few examples:

  • For one multi-institutional project, co-authors who take the lead on drafting, revising, and editing a manuscript are listed first, and most remaining co-authors are listed alphabetically after those lead authors. The team’s statistician is listed last.
  • In a smaller collaborative team, junior colleagues who need publications for promotion are listed first, since team members typically contribute evenly to the research and writing processes.
  • For publications related to the Center’s work, the director’s and executive director’s names often are listed last (and only if they contributed to a publication) so that the Center’s leaders for a topic area (e.g., undergraduate research, global learning, etc.) are better positioned for name recognition within the associated scholarly community.

Author order discussions also can be guided by disciplinary traditions. As one example, the American Psychological Association has a heuristic to help guide discussions about author order in psychology. While the APA tool has a discipline-specific lens that guides how it allocates value to different tasks, it might serve as a helpful conversation starter for teams as members take stock of how they have contributed (or not) to specific team products.

Further complicating author order discussions for multi-disciplinary teams, some disciplines place more value on the first position in author order, while others place more value on the last position. As a result, multi-disciplinary teams might wish to develop shared language for explaining their author order decisions in annual reviews and promotion materials.

In the supplemental resources for Writing about Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Mick Healey, Kelly Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather offer helpful strategies for negotiating research and writing responsibilities over the lifespan of a project. Their Project Plan for Research for Chapter 7, “Writing Alone or With Others,” prompts research teams to consider not only research deadlines and responsibilities, but also opportunities to share research locally, at conferences, in journal articles, and via other publications. Depending on team members’ individual and collective goals, different team members could take the lead for each of these presentation and publication venues.

Since individual goals and professional careers change over time, teams should revisit their shared goals and expectations regularly.


Healey, Mick, Kelly E. Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather. 2020. Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Creating and Contributing to Scholarly Conversations across a Range of Genres. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

Nevin, Ann I., Jacqueline S. Thousand, and Richard A. Villa. 2010. “Working with Coauthors.” In the Handbook of Scholarly Writing and Publishing, edited by Tonette S. Rocco, Tim Hatcher, and Associates, 274-292. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric. With Peter Felten, she edits the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching and the Center for Engaged Learning Open Access Series.

How to Cite this Post

Moore, Jessie L. (2021, June 24). Publishing Engaged Learning Research: Establishing Author Order [Blog Post]. Retrieved from