Our Recommendations

Help Notes on Publication and Citation Analysis using First (or Primary) Author Only, with Bibliography

First-author counting is a form of straight countingClosed used to describe schemes where sole credit is given to a single author: first, last, or corresponding that is frequently requested by customers and made available for informed comparisons, but it does not represent analytical best practice. Bibliometric analysts generally agree that publication and citation analysis should not be restricted to a single author (and their institutional and national affiliation(s)): “We are convinced…that there is neither strong empirical evidence nor theoretical rationale to support using straight counts.” (Rousseau et al., 2018)

First-author counting should be seen as a sampling procedure but, because it is non-random sampling, it introduces bias (Lindsey, 1980). The erroneous supporting assumption is that the first-listed author has the greatest share of responsibility for the publication, but this is not always the case: economics, high-energy physics, and mathematics conventionally list authors alphabetically; in biomedicine, there is an increasing trend to publications with more than one primary author (Lapidow & Scudder, 2019); and the procedure is particularly harmful to secondary authors of highly cited papers.

There is no universally accepted solution for allocating credit for research publications in bibliometric analysis and whole counting remains the dominant methodology. Without specific descriptions of the role of each author, such as promoted in the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) initiative, the choice between whole counting and fractional counting is similar in that both make assumptions in the absence of evidence. There are many variations on fractional counting including arithmetic, harmonic, and geometric distribution of fractional shares, mainly dependent on author ordering. Reasons for choosing one or the other depend on the study and the experience of an analyst.


Gauffriau, M. (2017). A categorization of arguments for counting methods for publication and citation indicators, Journal of Informetrics, 11(3): 672-684.

Lapidow, A. and Scudder, P. (2019). Shared first authorship, Journal of the Medical Library Association, 107(4): 618-620.

Lindsey, D. (1980). Production and citation measures in the sociology of science: The problem of multiple authorship, Social Studies of Science, 10(2): 145-162.

Rousseau, R., L. Egghe, and R. Guns. (2018). Becoming Metric-Wise: A Bibliometric Guide for Researchers, Chandos, (see p. 120).

Todeschini, R. and Baccini, A. (2016). Handbook of Bibliometric Indicators: Quantitative Tools for Studying and Evaluating Research, Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH. (see pages 54-74 on “coauthorship-weighted indices”).

Waltman, L. and van Eck, N.J. (2015). Field-normalized citation impact indicators and the choice of an appropriate counting method, Journal of Informetrics, 9(4): 872-894.