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Thinker, Soldier, Scribe: cross-sectional study of researchers' roles and author order in the Annals of Internal Medicine
  1. Thomas V Perneger,
  2. Antoine Poncet,
  3. Marc Carpentier,
  4. Thomas Agoritsas,
  5. Christophe Combescure,
  6. Angèle Gayet-Ageron
  1. Division of Clinical Epidemiology, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas V Perneger; thomas.perneger{at}


Objective How researchers’ contributions relate to author order on the byline remains unclear. We sought to identify researchers’ contributions associated with author order, and to explore the existence of author profiles.

Design Observational study.

Setting Published record.

Participants 1139 authors of 119 research articles published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Primary outcomes Presence or absence of 10 contributions, reported by each author, published in the journal.

Results On average, first authors reported 7.1 contributions, second authors 5.2, middle authors 4.0, penultimate authors 4.5 and last authors 6.4 (p<0.001). The first author made the greatest contributions to drafting the article, designing the study, analysing and interpreting the data, and providing study materials or patients. The second author contributed to data analysis as well and to drafting the article. The last author was most involved in obtaining the funding, critically revising the article, designing the study and providing support. Factor analysis yielded three author profiles—Thinker (study design, revision of article, obtaining funding), Soldier (providing material or patients, providing administrative and logistical support, collecting data) and Scribe (analysis and interpretation of data, drafting the article, statistical expertise). These profiles do not strictly correspond to byline position.

Conclusions First, second and last authors of research articles made distinct contributions to published research. Three authorship profiles can be used to summarise author contributions. These findings shed light on the organisation of clinical research teams and may help researchers discuss, plan and report authorship in a more transparent way.

  • Authorship order
  • Author contributions
  • Research assessment

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors Conception and design of the study: TVP, AP, MC, TA, CC and AGA.

    Acquisition of data: TVP, AP and AGA.

    Analysis and interpretation of results: TVP, AP, MC, TA, CC and AGA.

    Drafting of the manuscript: TVP.

    Critical revision for important intellectual content: AP, MC, TA, CC and AGA.

    Approval of the submitted manuscript: TVP, AP, MC, TA, CC and AGA.

    Acceptance of responsibility for all aspects of the study in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved: TVP, AP, MC, TA, CC and AGA.

  • Competing interests None

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No unrestricted data sharing at this time; other analyses of the dataset are ongoing. Interested parties may contact the corresponding author to gain access to the dataset.

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