The Publishing Code.

Paula, a young assistant professor, and two graduate students have been working on a series of related experiments for the past several years. During that time, the experiments have been written up in various posters, abstracts, and meeting presentations. Now it is time to write up the experiments for publication, but the students and Paula must first make an important decision. They could write a single paper with one first author that would describe the experiments in a comprehensive manner, or they could write a series of shorter, less complete papers so that each student could be a first author.

Paula favors the first option, arguing that a single publication in a more visible journal would better suit all of their purposes. Paula’s students, on the other hand, strongly suggest that a series of papers be prepared. They argue that one paper encompassing all the results would be too long and complex and might damage their career opportunities because they would not be able to point to a paper on which they were first authors.

  1. If the experiments are part of a series, are Paula and her students justified in not publishing them together?
  2. If they decided to publish a single paper, how should the listing of authors be handled?
  3. If a single paper is published, how can they emphasize to the review committees and funding agencies their various roles and the importance of the paper?


“The Publishing Code” is Part 10 of our “On Being a Scientist” series, where we explore the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 11.

Further Reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press


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