The Society for Research into Higher Education

Are two authors better than one? Or even three?

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By James Hartley

There is much debate in the scientific literature about whether or not two authors are better than one – where ‘better’ usually equates to receiving a higher number of citations. Most of the contributors to this debate do indeed conclude that co-authorship leads to more citations than does single-authorship – but not always (see for example Gazni and Thelwall, 2014; Hartley 2016; Hartley and Cabanac, 2016a; Hartley and Cabanac, 2016b; Thelwall and Sud, 2016).

However, few, if any of these studies, keep one author constant and compare the citation rates for that author writing alone with the citations he/she acquires when writing with one or more co-authors. The focus is more on the number of citations awarded to papers written by single, dual and joint authors.

In this note, however, I compare (using data from Google Scholar) the median number of citations for 21 papers written by myself, 21 written with a colleague, and 21 written with two colleagues.   Table 1 shows the results.

Table 1

The median number of citations for each of twenty-one papers written by the author alone, with one colleague, and with two colleagues.

Author alone   Author + 1 colleague Author + 2 colleagues
Papers 21 21 21
Median Citations 66 75 36
Range 141-39 413- 38 428-20


This table shows (with these data) that my papers written in pairs have been cited more than my single and triple authored ones, suggesting an advantage for co-operative writing. Why might this be so? Here are three possible reasons:

  1. Working with a colleague helps to ensure that what is written makes sense.
  2. Working with more than one colleague requires more interaction (which takes more time and discussion) than does working with one colleague.
  3. Writing to accommodate the views of more than one or two colleagues can make the writing cumbersome. For example, working with more than one colleague may lead to more equivocations and ‘hedges’ in the text, making it less readable.

Of course there is another assumption here that needs further examination: this is the assumption that single authors do not discuss their papers with other colleagues who are not listed as authors.  This, however, is unlikely. Indeed, I once reported that single authors acknowledged the contribution of others to their papers more than did joint authors writing in pairs (Hartley, 2003), and others have commented on the importance of informal collaboration in academic writing and research (eg Georg and Rose, 2016).

A final (untenable) assumption is that all 63 papers studied for this article were published in journals with similar impact factors. Any paper (be it joint or single-authored) may well receive a higher number of citations if it appears in a journal with a high impact factor compared to a low one. Nonetheless, the data presented here do suggest that writing in pairs can be a profitable activity.  Why not try it!

 SRHE member James Hartley is emeritus professor, School of Psychology, Keele University.


Gazni, A. & Thelwall, M. (2014).  The long term influence of collaboration on citation patterns. Research Evaluation, 23, 3, 261-271.

Georg, C-P & Rose, M. E. (2016).  The importance of informal intellectual collaboration with central colleagues. http//

Hartley, J. (2003).  Single authors are not alone: Colleagues often help.  Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 34, 2, 108-113.

Hartley, J. (2016).  Is it true that papers written by joint-authors are cited more than papers written by single ones?  What else matters?  Scientometrics, 106, 2, 817-817 (plus supplementary materials).

Hartley, J. & Cabanac, G. (2015). An academic odyssey: Writing over time.  Scientometrics, 103, 3 1073-1082.

Hartley, J. & Cabanac, G. (2016).  Are two authors better than one? Can writing in pairs affect the readability of academic blogs?  Scientometrics, 109, 3, 2119-2122 (plus supplementary materials).

Thelwall, M. & Sud, P (2016). National, disciplinary and temporal variations in the extent to which articles with more authors have more impact: Evidence from a geometric field normalised citation indicator. Journal of Informetrics, 10, 1, 363-389.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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