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Ilana Gershon asked eight anthropologists for their approaches to the many daunting tasks of publishing an article in a journal, based on questions generated by Sandhya Narayanan. This installment explores the following question:

Any suggestions for coauthoring articles? Are there useful strategies for dividing up the work? What kinds of agreements do you like to make when beginning the collaboration?

Deborah Gewertz: I do so all of the time with my husband, who is an anthropologist. The collaboration works because we have had very different training: he with Vic Turner in symbolic anthropology; I with Eric Wolf and Mervyn Meggitt in economic anthropology. It also works because he is at heart a philosopher, and I, a poet. It also works well because we respect one another’s competencies. There is synergy between us.

Jason Jackson: I have probably done more coauthored work than is typical in my two fields and I am a big fan of such work. That said, I have not yet entered into any formal or even quasi-formal agreements about it. I am aware of such agreements and I can see the advantages in them, but it just has not unfolded for me and my collaborators in that way or seemed necessary. I have been a minor partner in coauthored work and I have been the lead author. In two or three cases, my coauthor and I were pretty coequal in the effort. I have never taken up coauthoring with a stranger. Most often I have written and published with colleagues who I am close to and in ongoing relationship with, including research partnership. Having open and iterative conversations about the goals of the effort and the division of labor are certainly necessary. Your readers may be interested in efforts being pursued in scholarly publishing to differentiate and make more legible coauthored contributions. The Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) is an example of such efforts. With or without such schemes, it is important that those involved in co-authored work have a sense of existing standards for authorship for a particular journal, for their field, and for scholarly publishing as a whole.

Daniel Monterescu: Unless coauthoring is forced upon you (as sometimes happens in large in collaborative projects), it is a most enjoyable, insightful, horizon-expanding, and anxiety-sharing experience. As a tenured faculty, I usually allow the more junior partner to be placed first in the order of authors. In other cases, a footnote indicating equal contribution or an agreement about alternating leading authors in future publications often relieves the potential tension. Division of labor is a matter of preferences and relative strengths, but I really enjoy writing together simultaneously on the wonderful tool of Google Docs. Writing together forms a unique form of intimacy and intellectual partnership, which is evermore needed in times of COVID-19.

Janelle Taylor: Generally in fields where coauthorship is the norm, there are also some standard expectations about what it means to be first author, second author, and so on. My understanding is that at least in health sciences, the first author is responsible for drafting the article, incorporating feedback and revisions from all coauthors, managing correspondence with the journal, getting all the various pieces lined up, and keeping the whole thing moving forward. I’ve never been very good about formalizing things, but in principle I think that’s probably a good idea.

Matt Tomlinson: I love coauthorship, but have to say that it works out really differently each time. Some collaborations are true explorations: you don’t know how the article will develop, and you push each other to unexpected new thinking and writing. Some are complicated arrangements resulting from shared panels, collegiality, and friendship, and the hope that multi-voiced articles can gain depth and reach wider audiences. My only suggestion is that all coauthors should know as much as possible what’s expected of them, which will vary depending on the project.

Claire Wendland: Decide on the order of authorship first. In the past, coauthors and I have based this decision on a combination of career stage (who needs this article more?) and interest (who’s more passionate about getting this particular article out?). The first author is the final arbiter, although everyone else is expected to be involved throughout, and we’ve typically agreed that any author can have veto power. The most successful strategy I’ve pursued is to have the authors divide the article into chunks, draft each chunk to a point where they’re satisfied, and then circulate for rounds of feedback and revision—including, when possible, some done collaboratively on a shared document while speaking by phone or online. By the time those rounds are done the authorial voice generally feels fairly even.

Coauthoring is an adventure. I’ve learned a lot about both process and content from every piece I’ve coauthored: some of that learning has been pretty painful, some of it a delight.

Jessica Winegar: First, I would advise selecting a coauthor who is responsive and responsible. You should select one whose strengths complement your own in terms of expertise but also work ethic. Just because you share interests with someone or are friends with them does not mean they will make a great coauthor. Second, it helps to have several meetings to discuss ideas and map out the structure of the piece together. Then, you can decide on an equitable work plan and time frame. It often helps to divide up who does the initial draft of different sections. Then the other author can provide feedback on those sections and even help rewrite them. Coauthoring is more work than single-authoring, but it is extremely rewarding.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer: I’ve coauthored a couple pieces with then-current grad students, Celina Callahan-Kapoor and Chris Cochran, both of whom were a lot of fun to work on. Chris was enrolled in a graduate seminar with me and everyone had to coauthor a paper. He was the odd man out, so we teamed up to work on a paper together. Celina and I had talked about doing something together for a while. In both cases, I basically had a framework for an article I wanted to write, had written a pretty long introduction, and then worked with the coauthor on developing case studies to support the theoretical portion of the piece. In one case, it ended up being two parallel cases (one from me, one from my co-author); in the other case, it was a really long case from the coauthor. Cultural anthropologists don’t regularly coauthor stuff, but I found it a really important mentoring opportunity and hope more people take similar approaches.

I learned a lot about writing together through two pretty formative relationships—first, with a cohort mate in an MA program, Davin Heckman, then with my dissertation adviser, Karen-Sue Taussig. Davin and I wrote a ton together, particularly while we were editing an early online cultural studies journal, reconstruction. Later, Karen-Sue and I put together a special issue of Medical Anthropology and coauthored the introduction. In both cases, I really learned that it is key to give space for other people’s expertise—and really, to know who you’re writing with and what they bring to the table. That all said, I also learned to have a designated reviser: before peer reviews come back, make sure you know who’s going to take the first pass at revisions.

Credit: Joanna Kosinska
Photograph of two pencils

Deborah Gewertz is the G. Henry Whitcomb Professor at Amherst College and has been an associate editor of American EthnologistEthnos, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Jason Jackson is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at Indiana University, and the editor of Museum Anthropology Review.

Daniel Monterescu is associate professor of urban anthropology at Central European University.

Carolyn Rouse is chair of the Anthropology Department at Princeton University.

Janelle Taylor is a professor at University of Toronto.

Matt Tomlinson is an associate professor at Australian National University.

Claire Wendland is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Jessica Winegar is a professor at Northwestern and editor of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an associate professor at SUNY-Binghamton.


Ilana Gershon

Ilana Gershon is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. Her most recent monograph is on corporate hiring in the United States—Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Cite as

Gershon, Ilana. 2021. “Advice on Coauthoring.” Anthropology News website, August 13, 2021.