Choosing who you work with plays an important role in who you become as a scientist. Every grad student knows this is true about choosing a supervisor, and we’ve all heard the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to student-advisor stories. But writing a paper with collaborators is like dealing with the supervisor-supervisee relationship writ small. Working with coauthors can be the most rewarding or the most frustrating process, or both. Ultimately, the combination of personalities involved merge in such a way as to produce a document that is usually more (but sometimes less) than the sum of its parts. The writing process and collaborative interactions are fascinating to consider all on their own.
Field Guide to Coauthors
The Little General
The Little General is willing to battle till the death for the paper to follow his particular pet idea. Regardless of the aim or outcome of an experiment, a Little General will want to connect it to his particular take on things. Two Little Generals on a paper can spell disaster.
The Silent Partner
These are the middle authors, the suppliers of data and computer code, people who were involved in the foundations of the work, but not actively a part of the writing process.
These are the coauthors who disagree, seemingly on principle, with any attempt to generalize the paper. Given free rein, such authors can prevent a work from having any generality beyond the particular system and question in the paper. These authors do help a paper become reviewer-proof, since every statement left in the paper is well-supported.
The Grammar Nazi
The Grammar Nazi returns your draft of the paper covered in edits, but he has mostly corrected for grammar and style rather than content. This is not the worst coauthor type, although it can be annoying, especially if these edits are mostly about personal taste.
This is the coauthor that you just don’t hear from. You can send them reminder emails, give them a phone call, pray to the gods, but they will take their own sweet time getting anything back to you. (And yes, they are probably really busy).
The Cheerleader can encourage you through a difficult writing process or fuel an easy one. These are the coauthors who believe in the value of the work and will help motivate you through multiple edits, rejections, or revisions, as needed.
The Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan is a special type of person. They aren’t authors of your manuscript, but they read it for you out of pure generosity They might provide better feedback and more useful advice than any of your actual coauthors. They always end up in the acknowledgements, but you often feel like you owe them more.
The Sage is probably your supervisor or some scientific silverback. They read your manuscript and immediately know what’s wrong with it, what it needs, and distill this to you in a short comment that will change everything. The Sage will improve your work infinitely, and make you realize how far you still have to go.
There are probably lots of other types that I haven't thought of, so feel free to describe them in the comments. And, it goes without saying that if you coauthored a paper with me, you were an excellent coauthor with whom I have no complaints. Especially Marc Cadotte, who is often both Cheerleader and Sage :)
Thanks to Lanna Jin for the amazing illustrations!