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How to Order Authors in Scientific Papers

author order in research paper

It’s rare that an article is authored by only one or two people anymore. In fact, the average original research paper has five authors these days. The growing list of collaborative research projects raises important questions regarding the author order for research manuscripts and the impact an author list has on readers’ perceptions.

With a handful of authors, a group might be inclined to create an author name list based on the amount of work contributed. What happens, though, when you have a long list of authors? It would be impractical to rank the authors by their relative contributions. Additionally, what if the authors contribute relatively equal amounts of work? Similarly, if a study was interdisciplinary (and many are these days), how can one individual’s contribution be deemed more significant than another’s?

Why does author order matter?

Although an author list should only reflect those who have made substantial contributions to a research project and its draft manuscript (see, for example, the authorship guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors ), we’d be remiss to say that author order doesn’t matter. In theory, everyone on the list should be credited equally since it takes a team to successfully complete a project; however, due to industry customs and other practical limitations, some authors will always be more visible than others.

The following are some notable implications regarding author order.

  • The “first author” is a coveted position because of its increased visibility. This author is the first name readers will see, and because of various citation rules, publications are usually referred to by the name of the first author only. In-text or bibliographic referencing rules, for example, often reduce all other named authors to “et al.” Since employers use first-authorship to evaluate academic personnel for employment, promotion, and tenure, and since graduate students often need a number of first-author publications to earn their degree, being the lead author on a manuscript is crucial for many researchers, especially early in their career.
  • The last author position is traditionally reserved for the supervisor or principal investigator. As such, this person receives much of the credit when the research goes well and the flak when things go wrong. The last author may also be the corresponding author, the person who is the primary contact for journal editors (the first author could, however, fill this role as well, especially if they contributed most to the work).
  • Given that there is no uniform rule about author order, readers may find it difficult to assess the nature of an author’s contribution to a research project. To address this issue, some journals, particularly medical ones, nowadays insist on detailed author contribution notes (make sure you check the target journal guidelines before submission to find out how the journal you are planning to submit to handles this). Nevertheless, even this does little to counter how strongly citation rules have enhanced the attention first-named authors receive.

Common Methods for Listing Authors

The following are some common methods for establishing author order lists.

  • Relative contribution. As mentioned above, the most common way authors are listed is by relative contribution. The author who made the most substantial contribution to the work described in an article and did most of the underlying research should be listed as the first author. The others are ranked in descending order of contribution. However, in many disciplines, such as the life sciences, the last author in a group is the principal investigator or “senior author”—the person who often provides ideas based on their earlier research and supervised the current work.
  • Alphabetical list . Certain fields, particularly those involving large group projects, employ other methods . For example, high-energy particle physics teams list authors alphabetically.
  • Multiple “first” authors . Additional “first” authors (so-called “co-first authors”) can be noted by an asterisk or other symbols accompanied by an explanatory note. This practice is common in interdisciplinary studies; however, as we explained above, the first name listed on a paper will still enjoy more visibility than any other “first” author.
  • Multiple “last” authors . Similar to recognizing several first authors, multiple last authors can be recognized via typographical symbols and footnotes. This practice arose as some journals wanted to increase accountability by requiring senior lab members to review all data and interpretations produced in their labs instead of being awarded automatic last-authorship on every publication by someone in their group.
  • Negotiated order . If you were thinking you could avoid politics by drowning yourself in research, you’re sorely mistaken. While there are relatively clear guidelines and practices for designating first and last authors, there’s no overriding convention for the middle authors. The list can be decided by negotiation, so sharpen those persuasive argument skills!

As you can see, choosing the right author order can be quite complicated. Therefore, we urge researchers to consider these factors early in the research process and to confirm this order during the English proofreading process, whether you self-edit or received manuscript editing or paper editing services , all of which should be done before submission to a journal. Don’t wait until the manuscript is drafted before you decide on the author order in your paper. All the parties involved will need to agree on the author list before submission, and no one will want to delay submission because of a disagreement about who should be included on the author list, and in what order (along with other journal manuscript authorship issues).

On top of that, journals sometimes have clear rules about changing authors or even authorship order during the review process, might not encourage it, and might require detailed statements explaining the specific contribution of every new/old author, official statements of agreement of all authors, and/or a corrigendum to be submitted, all of which can further delay the publication process. We recommend periodically revisiting the named author issue during the drafting stage to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the list is updated to appropriately reflect changes in team composition or contributions to a research project.

The Ethics of Manuscript Authorship: Best Practices for Attribution

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), has established four criteria that each author of a paper should meet. This article and our free white paper, Credit Where Credit Is Due, detail and explore these criteria.

Updated on July 25, 2013


Authorship is becoming an increasingly complicated issue as research collaborations proliferate, the importance of citations for tenure and grants persists, and no consensus on a definition is reached. This issue is fraught with ethical implications because clearly conveying who is responsible for published work is integral to scientific integrity.

Many journals currently adhere to the guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which has established four criteria that each author of a paper should meet:

  • Significant involvement in study conception/design, data collection, or data analysis/interpretation;
  • Involvement in drafting or revising manuscript;
  • Approval of final version of manuscript for publication; and
  • Responsibility for accuracy and integrity of all aspects of research.

Download our free white paper on authorship for a copy of these criteria and our suggestions for choosing authors appropriately.

Moreover, by the ICMJE definition, authors “should be able to identify which co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work...[and] have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.” Based on this description and the fourth criterion, authorship implies not only past individual contribution to a research project but also ongoing joint accountability for that project. As a result, authors may share fame or infamy, depending on the validity of the work.

The ICMJE also notes that an author must have made “substantive intellectual contributions” to the manuscript. Creative input is thus more eligible for authorship than purely mechanical work. A technician merely acquiring data, a senior researcher only obtaining funding or providing supervision, a collaborator solely providing a new reagent or samples, and other research-related but non-creative tasks do not merit authorship on their own. These individuals and their contributions could be cited in an acknowledgments section instead.

Despite this clearly outlined definition, numerous issues (including ethical concerns) have arisen regarding authorship attribution. These issues have emerged partly because many journals continue to adhere to their own guidelines or to various modified versions of the ICMJE criteria (see, for example, Table 2 in this EMBO reports article ) and partly because the ICMJE guidelines may be insufficient, as argued at the 2012 International Workshop on Contributorship and Scholarly Attribution . A selection of topics that is specifically pertinent to academia is as follows:

Contribution ambiguity

The specific roles of individual authors in a research project are not always clear, especially when a manuscript is attributed to a large group. To address this problem, several journals (such as PNAS ) require public disclosure of the specific contributions of each author. Some have also suggested the establishment of a database or the use of existing research community networks (such as ResearchGate ) to track contributions. This tracking is particularly relevant because scholarly output is increasingly defined by metrics beyond paper citations (also known as altmetrics ). To further clarify the roles of authors and encourage integrity, certain journals require a public guarantor for each article, or an author who takes responsibility for the entire research project, including conception, data acquisition and analysis, and publication. Ambiguity surrounding authorship may also arise from the publication of papers by researchers with the same name but could be minimized by the use of an ORCID identifier .

Authorship order

The meaning of the list order of authors on a paper varies between fields. In certain areas, the list is alphabetical, whereas in others, the convention includes citing every person who contributed in some way to the project (which may conflict with the ICMJE guidelines). In many disciplines, the author order indicates the magnitude of contribution, with the first author adding the most value and the last author representing the most senior, predominantly supervisory role. In this model, disputes may arise regarding who merits sole or shared first authorship. The Committee on Publication Ethics recommends that researchers discuss authorship order from project initiation to manuscript submission, revising as necessary, and record each decision in writing. Furthermore, contributions could be quantified, such as based on a points system (subscription required) , to facilitate authorship decisions.

Honorary authorship

Honorary authorship is given to an individual despite a lack of substantial contributions to a research project. One form, gift authorship , is bestowed out of respect for or gratitude to an individual. For example, in Asian cultures, departmental heads or senior researchers may be added to a paper regardless of their involvement in the research. Another form, guest authorship , may be used for multiple purposes, including to increase the apparent quality of a paper by adding a well-known name or to conceal a paper's industry ties by including an academic author. Additional issues regarding honorary authorship are the inclusion of an author on a manuscript without his or her permission (which is often prevented by journal guidelines that require the consent of all authors) and coercive authorship , which typically consists of a senior researcher (such as a dissertation advisor) forcing a junior researcher (such as a graduate student) to include a gift or guest author.

Honorary authorship is a major ethical issue in scholarly publication, as this dishonest practice was found in approximately 18% of articles in six medical journals in 2008. From the standpoint of journals, lists of specific contributions may help to minimize this practice, as could reminders that all authors are accountable for the integrity of a published work. The institution of double-blind peer review could also decrease the influence of authors' prominence in the field on journal acceptance. At research institutions, guidelines could equate honorary authorship with research misconduct. Additionally, the donation of resources to a project without the expectation of automatic authorship could be encouraged by the use of contributions, including those listed in acknowledgments sections, as a measure of output, as discussed above.

In all cases described here, more universal standards for manuscript authorship will be critical for fostering good practices. As you write and review manuscripts, remember the best practices found in this white paper , and consider ways to bring authorship credit and accountability to the attention of your colleagues and readers.

Michaela Panter, Writing Support Consultant at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, PhD, Immunobiology, Yale University

Michaela Panter, PhD

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What author order can (and cannot) tell us: Understanding contributorship

People on a staircase

Written by Lindsay Morton

Welcome back to the second in our three-part series on academic credit. In this post, we focus on identifying researchers’ specific contributions to a research project, and explore how those contributions are reflected on a published paper. Authorship is central to the reward system of science and directly impacts each researchers’ career prospects. Yet standards for allocating authorship are variable, and often opaque. What types of contributions merit inclusion on an author list? How are we to understand the contributions of each researcher who is included on the list?

Identifying specific author contributions

In the biological and medical sciences, the degree of public credit a researcher receives for a publication is based on their position within the author list. While the significance of author order varies across disciplines and cultures, traditionally, there are two highly valued and much-coveted positions: first author, credited with conceptualizing and executing the central parts of the study, and last author, occupying the most senior, supervisory position. That can be problematic, because it does not provide a consistent and fair way to acknowledge the essential contributions of midlist authors. An average author list cannot communicate, for example, who developed critical methods, collected the data, ran the analysis, or wrote the first draft. In some cases, an author list may also include honorary authors, either as an expression of esteem, in an attempt to leverage a famous name, or because the honorary author has asked to be included in all publications within their sphere.

The inadequacy of the author list as a vehicle for expressing author contribution is also evident in team science. As research becomes increasingly cross-disciplinary and complex, in many cases, it’s no longer possible for one person to lead and execute all aspects of a study. In team science, instead of organizing themselves hierarchically, researchers work together, with two or more equal partners taking on the responsibilities of a senior researcher within their specific areas of expertise, for example data collection and stewardship, statistics and design, coding, or methodological development. Our systems for allocating and representing academic credit have not kept pace with the ways researchers work today.

The importance and yet the ambiguity of the author list creates, at the very least, inaccurate and unfair perceptions about the contributions and capabilities of the researchers involved. It can also conceal bias and work to keep researchers from under-represented groups in midlist, junior roles. Because the allocation of credit is so central to how a research scientist is perceived, and to the future of their career, a fair and accurate representation of each author’s contribution is vital.

Solution: Tracking all author contributions with CRediT

CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) is a universal, community-developed open classification system that uses 14 different roles to describe the aspects of scientific authorship, from conceptualization to review and editing. Each author listed on a manuscript is assigned one or more taxonomic roles. Role assignments appear on the final published research article and are encoded into article meta-data where they can be harvested by databases and indexers.

The granularity of the CRediT taxonomy diminishes the importance of author order. For example, tenure applicants need not be evaluated on how many times they were listed as first author, but on their specific contributions to each work. The CRediT taxonomy also reinforces the author qualification guidelines by clearly highlighting instances of honorary authorship to authors at submission, giving them the opportunity to pause and consider the composition of their author list.

The CRediT taxonomy distinguishes itself from other, publisher- or discipline-specific author taxonomies in that it is both broadly applicable within the sciences and widely accepted, enabling it to establish norms and shared understanding across publishers, funders, and universities.

PLOS was part of the working group that originally developed and tested the CRediT taxonomy. When the system was finalized , PLOS transitioned from our previous, publisher-specific taxonomy to the new tool.

A meta-analysis of the CRediT taxonomy

CRediT has opened new avenues for meta-research, enabling scientists to better understand not only how each other contributed to the work, but to begin to identify and interpret patterns in contributorship that expose larger truths about the way science operates, and can point the way toward more efficient, robust and inclusive scientific practices. In the video below, we chat with Dr Cassidy Sugimoto and Dr Vincent Larivière about their recent study “Investigating the division of scientific labor using the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT)” and discuss ideas for future studies.

Investigating the division of scientific labor using the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT)  Vincent Larivière, David Pontille, Cassidy R. Sugimoto 

More opportunities for authorship

As the CRediT taxonomy helps to illustrate, writing articles is just one small part of conducting research. In addition to properly allocating credit for traditional research articles and peer review, Open Science also offers new opportunities to surface, share, and receive credit for more of the research process, including both open data and open methods, such as Registered Reports, Lab and Study Protocols, Methods Research Articles, and linked code. Sharing these research outputs as stand-alone resources allows them to accumulate citations in their own right, independent of the main research article, and increases discoverability by creating more points of entry. At the same time, making research artifacts public enhances trust in related research articles. Over time, a pattern of openness can help to build a reputation for high-quality research, collaborative sharing, and leadership.

In the next post in this series, we’ll discuss the importance of peer review, and how we can better acknowledge and reward the contributions peer reviewers make to published research. 

Written by Lindsay Morton In the sciences, credit counts. As a research scientist, your personal record directly determines your future opportunities in…

Written by Lindsay Morton In this third and final entry in our three-part series on academic credit, we turn our attention to…

Written by Lindsay Morton Over 4 years: 74k+ eligible articles. Nearly 85k signed reviews. More than 30k published peer review history packages…

The meaning of author order in medical research


  • 1 University of Toronto Radiology Residency Training Program, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
  • PMID: 17651671
  • DOI: 10.2310/6650.2007.06044

Background: Manuscript authorship and author placement have important implications for accountability and allocation of credit. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between an author's place in the author list and the type of contribution reported by that author. This pattern was then used to develop a method by which author responsibility and accountability can be clarified.

Methods: The published contributions of each author of original research articles with a minimum of four authors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal in a 3-year period after author contribution forms were required were coded into 1 of eleven contribution categories. The contributions were grouped according to first, second, middle, and last author and compared by position.

Results: For most categories of contribution, the levels of participation were highest for first authors, followed by last and then second authors. Middle authors had lower levels particularly in conception, drafts of the manuscript, supervision, and being a guarantor.

Conclusions: Current patterns of author order and contribution suggest a consistent theme. Based on the results, a proposal is put forth by which author accountability is clarified. In this proposal, authors are classified as either "primary," "contributing," or "senior or supervisory," each with specified contributions. More than one author may be classified into each author category.

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author order in research paper

Who’s on first? Duking out scientific paper authorship order

It's been over 80 years, but Abbott and Costello's famous comedic skit " Who's on First" lives on in our collective memories. Their increasingly ridiculous conversation about baseball and the name of the player on first base can still reliably produce a giggle in many circles.

But in the lab , questions about order can be anything but a laughing matter -- particularly when it comes to the list of authors on a scientific paper. Many nonscientists don't realize that, traditionally, the most important places on the roster are the first -- indicating the person who conceived of and performed most of the research discussed in the paper -- and the last -- a hallowed place reserved for the senior scientist in whose laboratory the research was conducted.

In the biomedical research world, having many "first authorship" papers is largely seen as an indication of a scientist's skill and tenacity; researchers with many "senior authorship" papers often garner a reputation of strong leadership and high productivity.

But as the National Institutes of Health and other funders increasingly reward collaborative research, and scientific projects grow more complex, determining authorship order is becoming less clear. Some are even venturing outside the lab to do so.

Authorship smash down

Recently Stanford researcher Garry Nolan , PhD, tweeted about an unconventional way two researchers in his laboratory who had each contributed equally to a study decided who should be listed first on the print version of the paper.

The researchers, graduate students Bokai Zhu and Yunhao Bai , played three games of Mario Kart's Super Smash Bros. ; the winner, Bai, was awarded top billing, and was permitted to list himself as the first author on his resume (called a curriculum vitae , or CV, in science circles). A footnote to the authorship list notes that Zhu and Bai contributed equally to the paper's contents and can consider themselves co-first authors on their CVs.

"All the important results are already in the paper itself . We thought, why not use this opportunity to have some fun?" Zhu said, in a recent conversation with my colleague Lisa Kim for her new video series " 90 seconds with Lisa Kim ."

"As science has become more multidisciplinary and collaborative, it becomes more difficult to determine who should receive credit for a group's findings," Nolan said. "It's not unusual for a scientific paper to have a dozen or more authors from multiple labs or institutions, and assigning authorship order becomes increasingly difficult."

In response, scientists like Zhu and Bai are becoming more creative. As on their paper, footnotes are increasingly used in print or online versions of a study to indicate authors (both first and last) who contributed equally to the paper's findings. "There's also a movement toward agreeing that each co-first or co-last author may list themselves as first or last author on their own CV," Nolan said.

Agreeing to ... agree

But as long as the "first or last" rubric remains, researchers are going to have to come to ways to agree. Much hinges on the ability of the authors to collaboratively decide whose careers could benefit the most from the extra boost. Sometimes that might mean that a lab leader cedes last authorship to a senior lab member who will soon be launching a job hunt, or for a postdoctoral researcher to allow a soon-to-graduate PhD student to list themselves first.

"To me, a key purpose of an academic institution is to advance the careers of your students, teach them the ways of science, and hopefully impart some wisdom while also doing important scientific work," Nolan said. "If a funding institution is going to demand cooperation and collaboration, we as scientists need to adapt. Right now, it depends on people being gracious."

Or, perhaps, a friendly video game smackdown? Maybe next time they'll play Mario Super Sluggers , instead!

Photo by  Ryan Quintal

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How to Order and Format Author Names in Scientific Papers

David Costello

As the world becomes more interconnected, the production of knowledge increasingly relies on collaboration. Scientific papers, the primary medium through which researchers communicate their findings, often feature multiple authors. However, authorship isn't merely a reflection of those who contributed to a study but often denotes prestige, recognition, and responsibility. In academic papers, the order of authors is not arbitrary. It can symbolize the level of contribution and the role played by each author in the research process. Deciding on the author order can sometimes be a complex and sensitive issue, making it crucial to understand the different roles and conventions of authorship in scientific research. This article will explore the various types of authors found in scientific papers, guide you on how to correctly order and format author names, and offer insights to help you navigate this critical aspect of academic publishing.

The first author

The first author listed in a scientific paper is typically the person who has made the most substantial intellectual contribution to the work. This role is often filled by a junior researcher such as a Ph.D. student or postdoctoral fellow, who has been intimately involved in almost every aspect of the project.

The first author usually plays a pivotal role in designing and implementing the research, including the formation of hypotheses, experimental design, data collection, data analysis, and interpretation of the findings. They also commonly take the lead in manuscript preparation, writing substantial portions of the paper, including the often-challenging task of turning raw data into a compelling narrative.

In academia, first authorship is a significant achievement, a clear demonstration of a researcher's capabilities and dedication. It indicates that the researcher possesses the skills and tenacity to carry a project from inception to completion. This position can dramatically impact a researcher's career trajectory, playing a critical role in evaluations for promotions, grants, and future academic positions.

However, being the first author is not just about prestige or professional advancement. It carries a weight of responsibility. The first author is generally expected to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data presented in the paper. They are often the person who responds to reviewers' comments during the peer-review process and makes necessary revisions to the manuscript.

Also, as the first author, it is typically their duty to address any questions or critiques that may arise post-publication, often having to defend the work publicly, even years after publication.

Thus, first authorship is a role that offers significant rewards but also requires a strong commitment to uphold the principles of scientific integrity and transparency. While it's a coveted position that can be a steppingstone to career progression, the associated responsibilities and expectations mean that it should not be undertaken lightly.

The middle authors

The middle authors listed on a scientific paper occupy an essential, albeit sometimes ambiguous, role in the research project. They are typically those who have made significant contributions to the project, but not to the extent of the first author. This group often includes a mix of junior and senior researchers who have provided key input, assistance, or resources to the project.

The roles of middle authors can be quite diverse. Some might be involved in specific aspects of data collection or analysis. Others may bring specialized knowledge or technical skills essential to the project, providing expertise in a particular methodology, statistical analysis, or experimental technique. There might also be middle authors who have contributed vital resources to the project, such as unique reagents or access to a particular patient population.

In some fields, the order of middle authors reflects the degree of their contribution. The closer a middle author is to the first position, the greater their involvement, with the second author often having made the next largest contribution after the first author. This order may be negotiated among the authors, requiring clear communication and consensus.

However, in other disciplines, particularly those where large collaborative projects are common, the order of middle authors may not necessarily reflect their level of contribution. In such cases, authors might be listed alphabetically, or by some other agreed-upon convention. Therefore, it's crucial to be aware of the norms in your specific field when deciding the order of middle authors.

Being a middle author in a scientific paper carries less prestige and responsibility than being a first or last author, but it is by no means a minor role. Middle authors play a crucial part in the scientific endeavor, contributing essential expertise and resources. They are integral members of the research team whose collective efforts underpin the progress and achievements of the project. Without their diverse contributions, the scope and impact of scientific research would be significantly diminished.

The last author

In the listing of authors on a scientific paper, the final position carries a unique significance. It is typically occupied by the senior researcher, often the head of the laboratory or the principal investigator who has supervised the project. While they might not be involved in the day-to-day aspects of the work, they provide overarching guidance, mentorship, and often the resources necessary for the project's fruition.

The last author's role is multidimensional, often balancing the responsibilities of project management, funding acquisition, and mentorship. They guide the research's direction, help troubleshoot problems, and provide intellectual input to the project's design and interpretation of results. Additionally, they usually play a key role in the drafting and revision of the manuscript, providing critical feedback and shaping the narrative.

In academia, the last author position is a symbol of leadership and scientific maturity. It indicates that the researcher has progressed from being a hands-on contributor to someone who can guide a team, secure funding, and deliver significant research projects. Being the last author can have substantial implications for a researcher's career, signaling their ability to oversee successful projects and mentor the next generation of scientists.

However, along with prestige comes significant responsibility. The last author is often seen as the guarantor of the work. They are held accountable for the overall integrity of the study, and in cases where errors or issues arise, they are expected to take the lead in addressing them.

The convention of the last author as the senior researcher is common in many scientific disciplines, especially in the life and biomedical sciences. However, it's important to note that this is not a universal standard. In some fields, authors may be listed purely in the order of contribution or alphabetically. Therefore, an understanding of the specific norms and expectations of your scientific field is essential when considering author order.

In sum, the position of the last author, much like that of the first author, holds both honor and responsibility, reflecting a leadership role that goes beyond mere intellectual contribution to include mentorship, management, and accountability.

Formatting author names

When it comes to scientific publishing, details matter, and one such detail is the correct formatting of author names. While it may seem like a minor concern compared to the intellectual challenges of research, the proper formatting of author names is crucial for several reasons. It ensures correct attribution of work, facilitates accurate citation, and helps avoid confusion among researchers in the same field. This section will delve deeper into the conventions for formatting author names, offering guidance to ensure clarity and consistency in your scientific papers.

Typically, each author's full first name, middle initial(s), and last name are listed. It's crucial that the author's name is presented consistently across all their publications to ensure their work is correctly attributed and easily discoverable.

Here is a basic example following a common convention:

  • Standard convention: John D. Smith

However, conventions can vary depending on cultural naming practices. In many Western cultures, the first name is the given name, followed by the middle initial(s), and then the family name. On the other hand, in many East Asian cultures, the family name is listed first.

Here is an example following this convention:

  • Asian convention: Wang Xiao Long

When there are multiple authors, their names are separated by commas. The word "and" usually precedes the final author's name.

Here's how this would look:

  • John D. Smith, Jane A. Doe, and Richard K. Jones

However, author name formatting can differ among journals. Some may require initials instead of full first names, or they might have specific guidelines for handling hyphenated surnames or surnames with particles (e.g., "de," "van," "bin"). Therefore, it's always important to check the specific submission guidelines of the journal to which you're submitting your paper.

Moreover, the formatting should respect each author's preferred presentation of their name, especially if it deviates from conventional Western naming patterns. As the scientific community becomes increasingly diverse and global, it's essential to ensure that each author's identity is accurately represented.

In conclusion, the proper formatting of author names is a vital detail in scientific publishing, ensuring correct attribution and respect for each author's identity. It may seem a minor point in the grand scheme of a research project, but getting it right is an essential part of good academic practice.

The concept of authorship in scientific papers goes well beyond just listing the names of those involved in a research project. It carries critical implications for recognition, responsibility, and career progression, reflecting a complex nexus of contribution, collaboration, and intellectual leadership. Understanding the different roles, correctly ordering the authors, and appropriately formatting the names are essential elements of academic practice that ensure the rightful attribution of credit and uphold the integrity of scientific research.

Navigating the terrain of authorship involves managing both objective and subjective elements, spanning from the universally acknowledged conventions to the nuances particular to different scientific disciplines. Whether it's acknowledging the pivotal role of the first author who carried the project from the ground up, recognizing the valuable contributions of middle authors who provided key expertise, or highlighting the mentorship and leadership role of the last author, each position is an integral piece in the mosaic of scientific authorship.

Furthermore, beyond the order of authors, the meticulous task of correctly formatting the author names should not be underestimated. This practice is an exercise in precision, respect for individual identity, and acknowledgement of cultural diversity, reflecting the global and inclusive nature of contemporary scientific research.

As scientific exploration continues to move forward as a collective endeavor, clear and equitable authorship practices will remain crucial. These practices serve not only to ensure that credit is assigned where it's due but also to foster an environment of respect and transparency. Therefore, each member of the scientific community, from fledgling researchers to seasoned scientists, would do well to master the art and science of authorship in academic publishing. After all, it is through this collective recognition and collaboration that we continue to expand the frontiers of knowledge.

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Deciding authorship order

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  • P M Brennan , clinical lecturer in neurosurgery 1 ,
  • A Jubb , clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine 2 ,
  • J K Baillie , clinical lecturer in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine 2 ,
  • R W Partridge , clinical lecturer in paediatric surgery 3
  • 1 University of Edinburgh, Department of Neurosurgery, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK
  • 2 University of Edinburgh, Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4SA, UK
  • 3 Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh EH9 1LF, UK
  • Correspondence to: J K Baillie  j.k.baillie{at}ed.ac.uk
  • Accepted 8 November 2013

The order of authors on this article was determined by an indisputable rule developed in the school playground, the “bagsy”

Authorship of academic papers has become increasingly problematic in recent years. Many ambitious studies require large consortia in which the contributions of individuals are difficult to discern from a simple list of authors, 1 leading some groups to do without authors altogether and others to call for wholesale reform of the system. 2 3 Funding decisions place increasing reliance on publication records, and research quality measures place particular weight on authors’ positions. 4 This can lead to many problems. 5 Authors can be jostled out of their deserved position by the spurious elevation of minor contributors to the prestigious last (senior) authorship position. 6 Confusing attempts to share credit can also occur through use of the inevitably misleading phrase “these authors contributed equally to this work.” 7

Human interaction in many fields encounters the problem of how to allocate a perceived future reward. We report one solution originating from a highly conserved social environment with an innate sense of fairness, in which a near-ubiquitous set of rules has gained close to universal peer acceptance: the school playground. 8 The rule developed herein for the allocation of reward has been refined over centuries, spanning multifarious social, cultural, and language barriers; it seems to be based on unassailable logic and rapidly produces incontrovertible decisions. It is the “bagsy.”

Bagsy (US: “Dibs,” “Yoink;” Fr: “Prems”), deriving from the phrase “bags I,” is an informal word to indicate success in securing something for oneself. 9 Its utterance indicates an irrefutable claim to the object sought by the speaker. The bagsy may be an effective and readily accepted solution to the problem of authorship ordering. ⇓

A highly conserved social environment with an innate sense of fairness and where a near-ubiquitous set of rules has gained close to universal peer acceptance

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Two of us (JKB, AJ) inadvertently put this hypothesis to the test, and the outcome of this test is described here. AJ and JKB (both anaesthetists) contacted colleagues by email suggesting a neat and straightforward study with a high probability of publication in a prestigious journal. No authorship claim was discussed at that stage. We retrospectively recorded key measures of “bagsy activity” (time to first bagsy, mean bagsy delay, and interval to global acceptance).

The time to first bagsy was five hours. The first colleague (neurosurgery) to respond made some fairly pedestrian alterations to the study design and bagsied the first author position. The second responder (paediatric surgery) replied after a further 14 minutes (mean bagsy delay five hours seven minutes) and bagsied the last (most prestigious) spot. After a brief confusion when another author (anaesthesia) called “shotgun” to no avail (in some cultures, shotgun is thought to usurp bagsy), this arrangement was accepted as irrefragably fair after a further delay of 184 minutes (interval to global acceptance: eight hours eight minutes).

This study shows the potential utility of the bagsy system as a solution to the increasingly intractable problems of allocation of authorship on research papers. Long term follow-up studies will be needed to identify adverse effects and explore the potential for harm. So far, we are all still on speaking terms. Although this study was not designed to determine specialty specific effects, the trend towards faster bagsying among surgical colleagues is of interest and consistent with previous, albeit catastrophically flawed, work showing the superior efficiency and intellect of surgeons. 10 11 We recognise that one limitation of the study is the uncertain generalisability of our findings to other populations. We cannot rule out significant cultural biases affecting this system, as the two surgeons were both brought up in Yorkshire. The proposal for authorship agreements to be made before the start of a study is sage, but a danger remains that, especially in larger studies, multi-author blindness will prevent effective control of jostling behaviours less equitable than the bagsy.

Bagsy 12 —To claim something for yourself by uttering the word “bagsy” followed by the object of your desire

Shotgun 12 —First person to call “shotgun!” earns the privilege of sitting in the front passenger seat of an automobile

Yorkshireman 12 —A man from Yorkshire. A highly coveted attribute achievable only by having a mother with sufficient foresight. Known for generosity of spirit in all matters financial

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7182

Contributors: JKB conceived and conducted the study. PB got in first with a bagsy. RWP bagsied second but in many respects more wisely. AJ made a cultural misjudgment and attempted to claim shotgun. It’s not shotgun. It’s bagsies. JKB and AJ abandoned the original study and wrote this article instead, preserving the original author list out of respect for the magnificently shameless presumption of their coauthors. All authors, in one way or another, contributed equally to this work (see text). All authors approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests: We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

Provenance: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • ↵ Chatrchyan S, Khachatryan V, Sirunyan AM, Tumasyan A, Adam W, Bergauer T, et al. Search for the standard model Higgs boson in the decay channel H→ZZ→4ℓ in pp collisions at √s=7 TeV. Phys Rev Lett 2012 ; 108 : 111804 . OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed
  • ↵ The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium. A map of human genome variation from population-scale sequencing. Nature 2010 ; 467 : 1061 -73. OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed Web of Science
  • ↵ Molla M, Gardner T. Roll credits: sometimes the authorship byline isn’t enough. 2007. http://blogs.plos.org/plos/2007/11/roll-credits-sometimes-the-authorship-byline-isnt-enough/ .
  • ↵ Research Excellence Framework. Panel criteria and working methods. 2012. www.ref.ac.uk/pubs/2012-01/ .
  • ↵ Zhao D, Strotmann A. Counting first, last, or all authors in citation analysis: a comprehensive comparison in the highly collaborative stem cell research field. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol 2011 ; 62 : 654 -76. OpenUrl CrossRef
  • ↵ Baillie JK, Thompson AAR, Bates MGD, Schnopp MS, Simpson A, Partridge RW. The Chacaltaya High Altitude Laboratory. J R Coll Physicians Edinb 2004 ; 34 : 130 -3. OpenUrl
  • ↵ Baillie JK, Barnett MW, Upton KR, Gerhardt DJ, Richmond TA, De Sapio F, et al. Somatic retrotransposition alters the genetic landscape of the human brain. Nature 2011 ; 479 : 534 -7. OpenUrl CrossRef PubMed Web of Science
  • ↵ Rund S. The lore of the playground: one hundred years of children’s games, rhymes and traditions. Random House Press, 2010.
  • ↵ Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • ↵ McCain RS, Harris AR, McCallion K, Campbell WJ, Kirk SJ. The barrier method as a new tool to assist in career selection: covert observational study. BMJ 2010 ; 341 : c6968 . OpenUrl Abstract / FREE Full Text
  • ↵ Subramanian P, Kantharuban S, Subramanian V, Willis-Owen SAG, Willis-Owen CA. Orthopaedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study. BMJ 2011 ; 343 : d7506 . OpenUrl Abstract / FREE Full Text
  • ↵ Urban Dictionary. Bagsy. www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bagsy .

author order in research paper

Office of the Provost

Guidance on authorship in scholarly or scientific publications, general principles.

The public’s trust in and benefit from academic research and scholarship relies upon all those involved in the scholarly endeavor adhering to the highest ethical standards, including standards related to publication and dissemination of findings and conclusions.

Accordingly, all scholarly or scientific publications involving faculty, staff, students and/or trainees arising from academic activities performed under the auspices of Yale University must include appropriate attribution of authorship and disclosure of relevant affiliations of those involved in the work, as described below.

These publications, which, for the purposes of this guidance, include articles, abstracts, manuscripts submitted for publication, presentations at professional meetings, and applications for funding, must appropriately acknowledge contributions of colleagues involved in the design, conduct or dissemination of the work by neither overly attributing contribution nor ignoring meaningful contributions.

Financial and other supporting relationships of those involved in the scholarly work must be transparent and disclosed in publications arising from the work.

Authorship Standards

Authorship of a scientific or scholarly paper should be limited to those individuals who have contributed in a meaningful and substantive way to its intellectual content. All authors are responsible for fairly evaluating their roles in the project as well as the roles of their co-authors to ensure that authorship is attributed according to these standards in all publications for which they will be listed as an author.

Requirement for Attribution of Authorship

Each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for its content. All co-authors should have been directly involved in all three of the following:

  • planning and contribution to some component (conception, design, conduct, analysis, or interpretation) of the work which led to the paper or interpreting at least a portion of the results;
  • writing a draft of the article or revising it for intellectual content; and
  • final approval of the version to be published.  All authors should review and approve the manuscript before it is submitted for publication, at least as it pertains to their roles in the project.

Some diversity exists across academic disciplines regarding acceptable standards for substantive contributions that would lead to attribution of authorship. This guidance is intended to allow for such variation to disciplinary best practices while ensuring authorship is not inappropriately assigned.

Lead Author

The first author is usually the person who has performed the central experiments of the project. Often, this individual is also the person who has prepared the first draft of the manuscript. The lead author is ultimately responsible for ensuring that all other authors meet the requirements for authorship as well as ensuring the integrity of the work itself. The lead author will usually serve as the corresponding author.


Each co-author is responsible for considering his or her role in the project and whether that role merits attribution of authorship. Co-authors should review and approve the manuscript, at least as it pertains to their roles in the project.

External Collaborators, Including Sponsor or Industry Representatives

Individuals who meet the criteria for authorship should be included as authors irrespective of their institutional affiliations. In general, the use of “ghostwriters” is prohibited, i.e., individuals who have contributed significant portions of the text should be named as authors or acknowledged in the final publication. Industry representatives or others retained by industry who contribute to an article and meet the requirements for authorship or acknowledgement must be appropriately listed as contributors or authors on the article and their industry affiliation must be disclosed in the published article.


Individuals who do not meet the requirements for authorship but who have provided a valuable contribution to the work should be acknowledged for their contributing role as appropriate to the publication.

Courtesy or Gift Authorship

Individuals do not satisfy the criteria for authorship merely because they have made possible the conduct of the research and/or the preparation of the manuscript. Under no circumstance should individuals be added as co-authors based on the individual’s stature as an attempt to increase the likelihood of publication or credibility of the work. For example, heading a laboratory, research program, section, or department where the research takes place does not, by itself, warrant co-authorship of a scholarly paper. Nor should “gift” co-authorship be conferred on those whose only contributions have been to provide, for example, routine technical services, to refer patients or participants for a study, to provide a valuable reagent, to assist with data collection and assembly, or to review a completed manuscript for suggestions. Although not qualifying as co-authors, individuals who assist the research effort may warrant appropriate acknowledgement in the completed paper.

Senior faculty members should be named as co-authors on work independently generated by their junior colleagues only if they have made substantial intellectual contributions to the experimental design, interpretation of findings and manuscript preparation.

Authorship Disputes

Determinations of authorship roles are often complex, delicate and potentially controversial. To avoid confusion and conflict, discussion of attribution should be initiated early in the development of any collaborative publication. For disputes that cannot be resolved amicably, individuals may seek the guidance of the dean of their school or the cognizant deputy provost in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences.

Disclosure of Research Funding and Other Support

In all scientific and scholarly publications and all manuscripts submitted for publication, authors should acknowledge the sources of support for all activities leading to and facilitating preparation of the publication or manuscript, including, but not limited to:

  • grant, contract, and gift support;
  • salary support if other than institutional funds. Note that salary support that is provided to the University by an external entity does not constitute institutional funds by virtue of being distributed by the University; and
  • technical or other support if substantive and meaningful to the completion of the project.

Disclosure of Financial Interests and External Activities

Authors should fully disclose related financial interests and outside activities in publications (including articles, abstracts, manuscripts submitted for publication), presentations at professional meetings, and applications for funding.

In addition, authors should comply with the disclosure requirements of the University’s Committee on Conflict of Interest.

Alphabetic order of authors in scholarly publications: a bibliometric study for 27 scientific fields

  • Published: 02 September 2020
  • Volume 125 , pages 2773–2792, ( 2020 )

Cite this article

  • João M. Fernandes   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1174-1966 1 &
  • Paulo Cortez   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7991-2090 2  

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Paper authorship and author placement have significant consequences for accountability and assignment of credit. Moreover, authors in different scientific fields tend to follow distinct approaches towards their ordering in scholarly publications. This manuscript presents a bibliometric study aiming to characterize the trends in the adoption of alphabetically ordered lists of authors in scholarly publications for 27 scientific fields. The study is supported by two different datasets (with 83 and 32 thousand papers that have two or more authors) and uses two indicators that measure the degree of order of the authors list of a set of articles. The main results show that three fields (Economics; Mathematics; and Business, Management and Accounting) have a strong alphabetic ordering usage, while other five scientific areas present some tendency to use lists of authors in alphabetic order.

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This work has been supported by FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia within the R&D Units Project Scope: UIDB/00319/2020. We would like to thank Rui Mendes (from U. Minho) for the initial version of the Python program that was used to automatically calculate the various metrics for our datasets. We also acknowledge Jorge Sousa Pinto and José Nuno Oliveira (from U. Minho) for discussions on how to measure the order degree of a list. We thank the anonymous reviewers for the insightful comments that helped improving the contents of the manuscript.

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J. M. Fernandes performed the conceptualization, methodology, software, investigation, resources, formal analysis, writing—original draft, writing—review and editing. P. Cortez contributed with methodology, validation, formal analysis, writing—review and editing, and visualization.

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Fernandes, J.M., Cortez, P. Alphabetic order of authors in scholarly publications: a bibliometric study for 27 scientific fields. Scientometrics 125 , 2773–2792 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-020-03686-0

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Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications

A transparent, simple, and straightforward approach that is free from any arbitrary rank valuation is required to estimate the credit associated with the sequence of authors' names on multiauthored papers.

The increasing tendency across scientific disciplines to write multiauthored papers [ 1 , 2 ] makes the issue of the sequence of contributors' names a major topic both in terms of reflecting actual contributions and in a posteriori assessments by evaluation committees. Traditionally, the first author contributes most and also receives most of the credit, whereas the position of subsequent authors is usually decided by contribution, alphabetical order, or reverse seniority. Ranking the first or second author in a two-author paper is straightforward, but the meaning of position becomes increasingly arbitrary as the number of authors increases beyond two. Criteria for authorship have been discussed at length, because of the inflationary increase in the number of authors on papers submitted to biomedical journals and the practice of “gift” authorship [ 3 , 4 ], but a simple way to determine credit associated with the sequence of authors' names is still missing [ 4–7 ] ( http://www.councilscienceeditors.org ).

The situation in our area of research—the ecological and environmental sciences—has changed in recent years. Following informal practices in the biomedical sciences, the last author often gets as much credit as the first author, because he or she is assumed to be the driving force, both intellectually and financially, behind the research. Evaluation committees and funding bodies often take last authorship as a sign of successful group leadership and make this a criterion in hiring, granting, and promotion. This practice is unofficial, and hence not always followed, meaning that sometimes last authors “mistakenly” benefit when they actually are not principal investigators. Moreover, there is no accepted yardstick in assessing the actual contribution of a group leader to given scientific publications [ 8 , 9 ], so interpretation of author sequence can be like a lottery. Hence, one really does not know if being last author means that the overall contribution was the most or least important.

Although reducing evaluation of authors' complex contributions to simple metrics is regrettable, in reality it is already in practice in most evaluation committees. Hence, in our opinion, we need a simple and straightforward approach to estimate the credit associated with the sequence of authors' names that is free from any arbitrary rank valuation. In multiauthored papers, the first author position should clearly be assigned to the individual making the greatest contribution [ 4–6 ], as is common practice. However, authors often adopt different methods of crediting contributions for the following authors, because of very different traditions across countries and research fields, resulting in very different criteria that committees adopt to quantify author's contributions [ 8 , 9 ]. For example, some authors use alphabetical sequence, while others think that the last author position has great importance or that the second author position is the second most important. Still others detail each author's contribution in a footnote.

We suggest that the approach taken should be stated in the acknowledgements section, and evaluation committees are asked to weigh the contribution of each author based on the criteria given by the authors. This would make reviewers aware that there are different cultures to authorship order. The usual and informal practice of giving the whole credit (impact factor) to each author of a multiauthored paper is not adequate and overemphasises the minor contributions of many authors ( Table 1 ). Similarly, evaluation of authors according to citation frequencies means often overrating resulting from high-impact but multiauthored publications. The following approaches may be identified.

Comparison of the Credit for Contributions to This Paper under the Four Different Models Suggested in the Text

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Object name is pbio.0050018.t001.jpg

(1) The “sequence-determines-credit” approach (SDC). The sequence of authors should reflect the declining importance of their contribution, as suggested by previous authors [ 4–6 ]. Authorship order only reflects relative contribution, whereas evaluation committees often need quantitative measures. We suggest that the first author should get credit for the whole impact (impact factor), the second author half, the third a third, and so forth, up to rank ten. When papers have more than ten authors, the contribution of each author from the tenth position onwards is then valuated just 5%.

(2) The “equal contribution” norm (EC). Authors use alphabetical sequence to acknowledge similar contributions or to avoid disharmony in collaborating groups. We suggest that the contribution of each author is valuated as an equal proportion (impact divided by the number of all authors, but a minimum of 5%).

(3) The “first-last-author-emphasis” norm (FLAE). In many labs, the great importance of last authorship is well established. We suggest that the first author should get credit of the whole impact, the last author half, and the credit of the other authors is the impact divided by the number of all authors [as in (2)].

(4) The “percent-contribution-indicated” approach (PCI). There is a trend to detail each author's contribution (following requests of several journals) [ 7 ]. This should also be used to establish the quantified credit.

The SDC approach (as a new suggestion), the EC norm (alphabetical order), the FLAE norm, and the PCI approach may be combined (e.g., FLAE and SDC), but need to be explicitly mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Our suggestion of explicit indication of the method applied, including the simple method of weighing authors' rank in publications in a quantitative way, will avoid misinterpretations and arbitrary a posteriori designations of author contributions. Multidisciplinary scientific collaboration indeed must be encouraged, but we need to avoid misinterpretations so that current and future scientific communities can evaluate author contributions.


We applied the SDC approach for the sequence of authors. We are grateful for the stimulating discussions and comments by Jan Bengtsson, Charles Godfray, Bradford A. Hawkins, Christian Körner, William F. Laurance, Bernhard Schmid, Wim van der Putten, and Louise Vet.

Teja Tscharntke is Professor and Tatyana A. Rand is Postdoc with the Agroecology Group, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany. Michael E. Hochberg is Research Director at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, University of Montpellier II, Montpellier, France. Vincent H. Resh is Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California, United States of America. Jochen Krauss is Postdoc with the Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, and the Department of Animal Ecology, Population Ecology, Bayreuth, Germany.

Funding. The authors received no specific funding for this article.

Competing interests. The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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Two Factors that Determine When ESG Creates Shareholder Value

author order in research paper

New research suggests that high-ability managers and applying ESG practices to supply chains set successful initiatives apart.

The paper “Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality,” published in 2016, marked a significant shift in perceptions of corporate sustainability. It demonstrated that focusing on financially material ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors positively impacts portfolio returns and shareholder value. Despite its influence in popularizing ESG investing, the topic remains controversial with mixed academic consensus and political debate in the U.S. Recent research by the author has further explored this field, highlighting two critical aspects: the role of high-ability managers in selecting profitable ESG projects and the long-term value of ESG practices in supply chains. The study found that companies with high-ability CEOs and strong ESG investments outperform others, and firms with fewer supplier ESG incidents yield higher returns. These findings underscore the importance of ESG efforts in resource allocation and their potential to attract investment by demonstrating a tangible impact on shareholder value. The ongoing challenge lies in enhancing disclosure, transparency, and effective use of ESG information by investors and regulators.

A main criticism of corporate sustainability has long been that it results in firms not putting shareholders first, thus contradicting managers’ fiduciary duty. In 2016, however, I published a paper, “ Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality ,” with George Serafeim and Mo Khan, that began to overturn that narrative. We documented that considering financially material ESG factors (i.e., those sustainability activities that are related to the core sector practices of the firm) improve portfolio returns, which is consistent with financially material sustainability activities creating shareholder value.

  • AY Aaron Yoon is an assistant professor of Accounting & Information Management at Northwestern Kellogg.

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  1. How to Order Authors in Scientific Papers

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