Wednesday, 11 February 2015

How to be a lead author: Part II

In a previous post 'How to be a lead author: five key practices', I emphasised the importance of communication and leadership as traits of a lead author. Soon after, I got an email from the lead author about a research manuscript that we were working on. This was from a close colleague of mine with whom I've worked for many years, and is a nice example of effective communication from a lead author to co-authors.

Here, a draft manuscript had been circulated and feedback returned by all four co-authors. Some of the features to watch out for are:
- praise of work to date, and motivation of the team
- clear explanation of the process so far
- clarifications on important changes to the manuscript
- identifying a cause of confusion, and explaining how this has been remedied
- directly addresses some ambiguities and differences in approach that appeared in the previous draft
- specific requests for feedback with clear deadlines

Here is the email:

Hi everyone,

Thank you all very much again for the excellent engagement and discussions on the last draft of our paper. Aine and I have taken all the comments on board and tried to deal with them in the attached draft. The draft does not have track changes in it (as this gets quite messy) but a second document is attached (titled 'track changes version') to show you where most of the changes have been made in case you want to see this. If you are making any additional comments or edits, can you please make them in the version with no track changes in it?

There are some specific comments embedded in the draft that are in response to your previous comments where we have some doubts or outstanding questions about what we have done but other than that your comments have been dealt with (or at least we think they have).
JC [Co-author]: I spoke to you in December about a few of your comments (the criticisms of the two-stage approach being the main one) and think we are in agreement now so these comments have not been dealt with in this draft but you can let me know if there is anything outstanding.

A few things to note in particular:

1. I have changed the transformation to be the average of the top 10% of values rather than the maximum.

2. The original computation of Ntot was % N content x total biomass putting on the t per ha times 100 scale which didn't make sense and was part of the reason for the confusion on scales (it appeared that it was a % on the original scale). This has been changed to be Ntot = proportion x total biomass. There are no inferential changes, just the scale of Ntot now makes sense. This likely added to the confusion you all had in the last draft about scales but hopefully this change and the new notation in the attached makes things a lot clearer.

3. Appendix A and B are new, A is a very brief summary of previous multifunctionality methods while B outlines the problems associated with them, what aspects our framework takes from them and how our framework improves on them. Feedback on these two appendices would be greatly appreciated, especially Appendix B.

4. Remember the 20 page limit (including tables and figures but excluding appendices)! If you want anything else added in at this stage, please make suggestions for what should go to make room for it!

We are very hopeful that this paper is now ready for or at least very close to submission and are keen to get it submitted before the end of February. Would it be reasonable for you to provide feedback within three weeks (by Feb 13th)? We will then have a two further weeks to make any final revisions ourselves and will aim to submit by Feb 27th.

All the best,


PhD Skill post: 'How to be a lead author: five key practices'

Many thanks to Caroline Brophy for permission to use the text of this email. Caroline is a statistician who has been working on quantitative ecology for several years. Follow her on Twitter at


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