Conference paper Open Access

The relationship between corresponding authorship and author position

Chinchilla-Rodríguez, Zaida; Costas, Rodrigo; Larivière, Vincent; Larivère, Vincent; Robinson-García, Nicolas; Sugimoto, Cassidy R.

Authorship is a marker of scientific capital and prestige, and corresponding authorship is associated with higher scientific status. Several studies have examined the relationship between corresponding author and author order; however, these studies often focus on small datasets, covering a limited number of research fields or time period. This study presented an empirical analysis of corresponding authorship as indexed in two major bibliometric databases (WoS and Scopus).

We found that although the number of documents with reprint author has increased steadily over time, WoS indexed more papers with reprint author metadata than Scopus, while the number of documents with more than one reprint author is larger in Scopus than in WoS. Besides, there are significant differences in documents where only one database identifies a reprint author or the reprint author is not the same. Therefore, there is an important need of future research to further understand these differences in indexing strategies between these two databases.

In our analysis of corresponding author in WoS, we found that WoS started registering consistently reprint author metadata from 2005 onwards and more than one reprint author in 2016, including author email data. We also found that first authorship is the most common position of the corresponding author, although this is declining in favour of middle and last author as corresponding authors, especially in MED and NSE fields. The average of percentage of papers with no corresponding author remain steady over time (around 20%).

There are also some country differences. Although first authorship is more likely to serve as corresponding author in most countries, there are exceptions such as South Korea, China or Taiwan, suggesting that different scientific cultures may also play a role in the choice of the corresponding author. Moreover, the percentages of articles with more than one corresponding author or “equal first authors” has risen over time. This might also point that funding incentives have implications on the raise of more than one corresponding author in publications, which open new research questions to be further investigated.

Given the value of bibliometric metadata for science policy, it is important to assess their strengths and weaknesses in order to guarantee the bibliometric relevance of the sources. This is particularly relevant nowadays, with more bibliometric databases being developed (e.g. Dimensions.ai or OpenAlex). How these databases operationalize specific metadata elements may differ substantially among them, and sometimes important metadata elements like the corresponding authors may even be overlooked (e.g. the current version of OpenAlex does not include corresponding author identification). It is therefore important to continue studying these differences among data sources and provide better evidence for researchers to choose those which better represent their ultimate goals.

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