Crouching Authors, Hidden Pitfalls: Collaboration in Research

Abstract

Academic research has become increasingly collaborative, not just in the hard sciences and engineering but also in the social sciences. In this paper, we review studies that have documented this increasing collaboration, showing that collaboration, especially in the form of co-authorship, has risen across the board in almost all academic disciplines and across institutions and geographic regions of the world. What accounts for this rise? We identify four potential benefits to collaboration: greater learning opportunities, gains from a more complex division of labor, enhanced motivation and discipline, and reductions in the development cycle of projects. However, four potential pitfalls can hinder the collaborative process: decreased individual productivity, partner opportunism, communication and coordination challenges, and conflicting time horizons. Because we think these problems can ruin a research project, we offer strategies on how to overcome them: clearly defining the scope and logic of the project, agreeing upon responsibilities, enforcing deadlines and giving and receiving timely feedback, and using coordination mechanisms that facilitate the collaborative process. We conclude by discussing the implications our review has not only for aspiring academics but also for the organization of academic enterprises.

Publication
Studi di Sociologia