May 29, 2024

By General Acknowledgement

What do authors write in their article acknowledgements? The answer may surprise you!

I found myself having a discussion with a colleague yesterday, one who hails from the STEM fields, about the role which acknowledgements play in academic papers. I had been commenting how intrigued I’d been by the extensive, structured and sub-sectioned series of acknowledgments I’d witnessed in a paper I was reading earlier that day. Now my colleague works in a medical-adjacent field these days and they were less surprised. They pointed out to me ‘Well, there is a standard form you’re expected to contribute – don’t the UKRI have rules about this?’

All that aside, this conversation got me thinking. While some journals or fields will have a particular tradition or requirement in terms of what must be stated in your paper’s acknowledgments we have no such requirement for acknowledgement in an Exchanges article. I do however encourage editors as they pass manuscripts through the final stages of copyediting, pre-publication, to remind and encourage authors to add them if wished. I have no figures, but if if I were to hazard an educated guess, I’d say less than half of our final papers have acknowledgements in them. This lack of directed imperative though might be emblematic of the Exchanges’ heritage. Some of our authors thank their reviewers and editors, some their non-directly-contributing colleagues, supervisors or general collaborators. A few do, it is true, directly thank their funders. A very few gracious souls even thank me [1]. Where funders are thanked, I’ve made it a policy to include this statement on the landing page of the article, so that hopefully search engines can easily find it, along with any casual readers. Afterall, very little research [2] is conducted without an injection of capital from some organisation or the other.

Now, Exchanges as a journal was founded by a multitude of interdisciplinary scholars. However, over the years for whatever reason, our editorial base has a pronounced tendency to skew more to the arts, humanities and social sciences. This said, when last I recruited actively for our Board, I made sure to add in more from the scientific disciplines to try and redress that balance a little more. Nevertheless, I suspect my colleague’s comments about acknowledgement practices were accurate more for the STEM disciplines than those with which I am personally more familiar would be no great surprise [3]. Science papers more commonly than those in the humanities for example have multiple authors, who likely contribute to different sections (results, analysis, methods etc.,). Where we do have multiple authors from the arts and humanities, my impression is such contributions are more evenly distributed throughout a manuscript. I could of course, be mistaken!

Nevertheless, the question remains what guidance, advice or requirements does the UKRI [4] set in place then? Hidden in their catchily titled UK Research and Innovation FEC grants: standard terms and conditions of grant document (item RCG 12.4) it reads:

Publications and other forms of media communication, including media appearances, press releases and conferences, must acknowledge the support received from Us [UKRI], quoting the Grant reference number if appropriate.

There’s also a link to a page which outlines guidance in terms of the specific phrasing too.[5] However, nothing there about declaring who wrote what, and how many people you should thank. I suspect in general practice this comes down to individual journals to make such stipulations or requirements. I would be loathed to do this for Exchanges, not for the extra workload in terms of defining the policy [6] – but rather because making additional requirements feels like adding yet another hurdle for authors. The more streamlined and effective we can make their publishing experience, the better, I would argue. Should we introduce more formal acknowledgement requirements for contributors though? I’d be interested in readers thoughts in the comments below – or drop me a line.

So, for now, who, what and how you acknowledge in your paper for Exchanges is very much in the author’s court. Keeping those who helped and supported you out on side is always a good plan, because who doesn’t like to see their own name in print? It’s also a handy guide, retrospectively as you pass through your career, to look back at earlier articles and spot names who once played a closer role in your research. [7] Although, as detailed above, you’d do well to double check with what your funder wants! Keeping them happy, could be the key to keeping a strong record of successful grant acquisition!



[1] Which I’ll acknowledge here, is very kind of them and I am deeply touched when authors do this.

[2] Some is though, and we’ve certainly published a few independent scholars over the years who have self-funded their efforts. Never in the sciences mind you!

[3] These days at least – I began my academic career as a biomedical research scientist, truth be told.

[4] The UK research councils, source of much of today’s research funding.

[5] Glancing at the Wellcome Trust, their acknowledgement phrasing is near identical. I suspect that means most, if not all, major UK funders follow a similar pattern. But don’t take my word for it – check your own funder!

[6] Ideally, putting an acknowledgement box as part of the submission wizard would be useful, but making changes to OJS’ implementation is, regrettably, still beyond us currently until the Warwick University Press sorts out a lot of long pending support and infrastructure questions.

[7] To the best of my knowledge, no one has, yet, thanked their pet gerbil or ferret for contributions above and beyond in our pages. I suspect this is a situation which may one day be challenged.

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