Turning a solo research project into a collaborative manuscript

By Alexandra E. Wink, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Brought to you by the Committee for Early-Career Anatomists (CECA)

If you’re a full-time educator, you likely have a few unfunded education research projects under your belt. These may be small, solo studies that you presented at a regional or annual meeting. Rather than consign those studies to your pile of dusty old conference posters (because we all have a pile of dusty old conference posters), you may wish to develop a project further and work toward a publishable manuscript. To achieve the level of rigor required for publication, you may consider adding a collaborator and co-author to your study. This article will discuss the benefits of collaboration and provide a few tips for successful co-author relationships.

There are many benefits to adding a collaborator/co-author to your project. Your data may require a second analyst to validate your results. Alternately, a co-author may bring their own skills in instrument development or data analysis to the paper. Importantly, writing a paper with a co-author means an additional set of eyes when drafting, editing, and polishing your manuscript prior to submission and additional accountability when setting timelines for completing your work.

Finding collaborators may be a challenge if you’re an early-career researcher or if you don’t have colleagues with similar research foci at your institution. Luckily, there are many avenues through AAA and elsewhere to connect with potential co-authors. Consider reaching out through Anatomy Connected with a call for collaborators, or search through recent papers in AAA journals to find authors with similar interests or required expertise. Social media is also a great place to connect with potential collaborators. If your time and other responsibilities permit, consider student collaborators for assistance with data analysis or literature reviews — this can be a great mentorship opportunity for you as well!

The most important piece of advice I can offer for a successful working relationship with co-authors is to establish expectations and roles immediately upon forming the relationship. Using resources such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommendations on authorship and the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT), agree on authorship order and what each author will contribute to the manuscript. Not every author is required to contribute to every aspect of the study (e.g., you may have been solely responsible for study conception and design, while another author was solely responsible for statistical analysis), but be sure that authorship criteria is met for each contributor. Taking this step early will also save time during the submission process, as many journals require authors to declare their contributions prior to publication.

Another tip for success is to establish clear timelines for the paper’s development. Set regular meetings with co-authors to work on the paper and have objectives for what will be accomplished prior to the meeting as well as during the meeting. This is especially important when working with students who may have limited time to meet research experience requirements, but it will also move your paper toward submission in a timely manner!

Finally, decide with your co-author(s) if and how your relationship will continue following your paper’s submission and eventual acceptance. Will you expand on future directions identified in your paper together? Regardless of whether you’ve formed a short-term or a long-term collaboration, working with co-authors on a paper can be a valuable experience!

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