Documenting a lead author’s contributions for a cumulative dissertation

Since 2021, my Ph.D. students have been able to submit cumulative dissertations for promotion rather than the traditional monographs. A cumulative dissertation is a set of published research papers, logically stapled together, and lead by an introduction that puts the research papers into context. This way, a graduate-level researcher can work incrementally towards their dissertation, one paper at a time.

For this to work, my university requires that the co-authors of each paper

  1. sign off on the lead author’s contribution so that it is clear why they are in first position, and
  2. provide the lead author the permission to use the article in their cumulative dissertation.

The second part is needed because the co-authors hold copyright in the text, which is an exclusion right. So any publication needs their permission. The first part is more tricky: How to determine what the lead author did and how to document it? Fortunately, you only have to document the lead author’s work and not everyone’s, so it is not a zero-sum game. For this, we are using this model.

Contribution model for research publications

With this model, I can now discuss a lead author’s publications, agree with them, and document it. There is no need to agree on every dimension. There just needs to be enough in the green space of “solely or majorly created”. The lead author will get the needed sign-off without me having to facilitate a more lengthy discussion with other authors. (Their sign-off is still needed though.)

Of note may be the use of specific research design (templates). These two forms (analytical and design science research) are the predominant forms of research design in my group. The evaluation part of design science research may naturally be analytical research. In other disciplines, you may want other research designs in your model, obviously.

There is also the CRediT model, but in a separate blog post, I explain why I don’t use it (yet).



  1. […] overlaps strongly with existing work. Sorting this out can be fraught with stress. I recommend our contribution model and the associated allocation process for this. This contribution model cannot only be used for the […]

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