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Successful Coordinating Authorship: a 12-Step Program

Assuming the role of coordinating author of a volume or series of volumes of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology can be a daunting task. Inevitably, the administrative and organizational style of each coordinating author will differ. Moreover, the nature of the taxonomic group being revised systematically and the community of paleontological scholars involved in the project will each add its own flavor to the project and dictate in part the style of management that must be applied to it. Nevertheless, commonalities exist among all Treatise projects. In hopes of helping the coordinating authors meet their administrative challenges and organizational goals, we have asked one of the most successful coordinating authors, Alwyn Williams, coordinating author of the revision of Part H (Brachiopoda), to prepare some notes describing the steps he took and recommending procedures for others to follow. This manual is derived from his notes.

1. Select specific objectives, a deadline, and a deputy

At the outset, the coordinating author should establish the specific objectives to be accomplished in the Treatise volume he is coordinating. The format of Treatise volumes is largely specified both by tradition and by the Manual for Authors. Nevertheless, the contents of the parts differ. It seems that each higher taxon that is the target of a Treatise volume has characteristics that are peculiar to it and that have governed the approaches that paleontologists take to the group. Preparing a Treatise volume requires recruitment of experts or apprentices to deal with all the taxa in the group being covered. Recruiting a team of specialists, most of whom are already fully occupied with other professional activities, will be made easier by having a sound list of objectives in mind.

Establishing a deadline is one of your first responsibilities and it could be tricky. First, recruit a deputy coordinating author, someone who is well respected among specialists in the field and whom you like well and trust implicitly. Unless you are young yourself, your deputy ought to be someone younger than you are so that if you are hit by the proverbial bus the project will be seen to be in safe hands for progress to completion. Determine the deadline in consultation with your deputy, but make the final decision yourself. In promoting a project of this kind consultation rather than consensus collaboration is the better way to conduct business.

2. Prepare a detailed outline

Organization is the key to success of such a project as a Treatise volume. The Manual for Authors (1997, p. 2) provides a sample outline, while allowing flexibility for the volumes to include topics of special interest. In the outline, the item Systematic descriptions, of course, implies a hierarchical, Linnaean classification. In revising some higher taxa, a suprageneric classification can be specified at the outset. In other instances, however, the classification must await extensive systematic revision. If so, the coordinating author needs to be doubly sure that all the genera ultimately find a place in the hierarchy and find an author willing to accept responsibility for themãand that the genera are not inadvertently included more than once.

3. Select a team of authors to address topics in the outline

Consult widely in selecting your team of contributors, especially in regard to those potential authors whom you do not know personally. Most coordinating authors throw in their hands (or contemplate doing so) because they have had enough of procrastination from colleagues. Such heartache can be averted if, in consultation with one's deputy, one judiciously screens the list of potential contributors. With your deputy, sound out a younger generation of workers on their potential commitment to Treatise work. In particular, home in on high flyers who will have to live with their mistakes well into the 21st century but who have everything to gain in being seen in the future as senior authors of a definitive work. In this respect, always bear in mind that, once a volume is under way, no one person merits special consideration over and above the progression of the volume.

4. Negotiate with members of your team of authors

Having targeted your team of contributors, negotiated with them, and arrived at an agreed workload, issue a letter that is virtually a contract. Establish a hierarchy of senior and junior authors. The senior authors should be directly responsible to you, but you may well allow them limited rights to recruit juniors sparingly. By establishing this hierarchy of management, you will have devolved operational procedures but not responsibility. In effect, you will always carry the can. Note that the Treatise editor always writes a formal letter of invitation to each author, once the coordinating author has enlisted the author to join the team. This ensures that the contributor receives a current Manual for Authors and is added to the family of Treatise authors in a number of other ways. It is worth noting that some authors have been able to use the letter of invitation from the Treatise editor to get their employers to commit time for their work on the Treatise and even to secure funding for their participation in the project.

5. Condense the time scale by about 25 percent

Having determined the scope of the revision and the realistic deadline, condense the latter by about 25 percent because academics tend to put off commitments until the last possible moment. It is better to be hurrying people along for tomorrow than encouraging them to complete assignments by a year from tomorrow.

6. Establish a newsletter as a top priority

A newsletter is critical for circulating information relevant to the progression of your Treatise volume. Matters for discussion include points raised by contributors as well as proposals from you or your deputy for collective approaches to the wider ranging problems of the volume. The first newsletter should, of course, be circulated as an announcement of participants in the project once the list has been put into final form.

Compile for general circulation a compendium of annual reports. A deadline should be set each year for the submission of an annual report by each contributor. These reports are best compiled as sets of easily deciphered columns of ticks and crosses. Provided every contributor has been supplied with an exhaustive list of taxa for which he is responsible, nearly all assignees quickly enter into the spirit of things and indeed benefit from receiving copies of an integrated compilation of all annual reports. In this way a fairly precise estimate of the progress of the volume can be made generally available.

7. Establish a database of all genera

A database covering all past and present genera, morphological terms, and other such information is vital for the success of the operation. These data should be made available on computer and, of course, updated from one month to the next. The database can then be sorted into lots ready for allocation to preferred contributors. But you should always have stand-ins ready to take overãthe younger the better.

8. Prepare a definitive glossary of terms

Very early in the planning process a glossary of terms, especially morphological terms, should be circulated to all authors for their additions and comments. A great deal of discussion may ensue, some of it time wasting. This you can reduce by announcing deadlines for definitions of terms and by having everyone understand that you and your deputy will be the final judges on the precise meanings of terms to be used in the Treatise volume. Inevitably, amendments to the glossary will trickle in, some of them worthy of acceptance. It will, therefore, be expedient to float a second circulation of the glossary so that contributors can have a final say before it is published.

9. Encourage publications of interim papers

Authors should publish their results in widely circulated journals well in advance of the publication of the Treatise volume, especially those works that spring from collaboration among contributors working on closely related groups. This hardly needs encouraging in today's academic climate. At the outset, authors should be made to realize that the Treatise is ill suited for the publication of new genera; and new suprageneric classifications are often best tried out on the paleontological community before they are incorporated into the Treatise.

10. Be prepared to act as referee for grant and research proposals

Authors should be encouraged to apply for grants to support their work, including travel grants. Where appropriate, the coordinating author should consider applying for a comprehensive grant to fund the work of several contributors. Experience has shown that research councils, royal societies, academies, and other granting agencies are receptive to requests for support of this kind of international cooperation, especially when it can be shown that other countries are already contributing funds to the project.

11. Be prepared to sack tardy contributors

Sacking a colleague is never pleasant. One who is patently falling behind through lack of interest or effort, however, can sometimes have a deleterious effect on the morale of the whole team and cause a Treatise project to grind to a halt. One retains such team members at the peril of failure of the whole project. Experience has shown it to be much better to have a section less than expertly done by newly recruited, young contributors than to tolerate strings of empty promises from senior paleontologists who have not accorded high priority to their assignments.

12. In the event of an emergency ...

Disasters happen. Having assembled a team of fifteen to twenty senior scientists to work over a period of five to seven years, one can almost guarantee that the death or failing health of a contributor or a family member, a change of employment status or career goals, or even a promotion to the university administration will bring an end to productive work. One can help bridge such chasms by having kept careful records of what each author is supposed to do and has accomplished. You should ensure that your deputy has access to your database at any time and that the Treatise editor receives copies of all circulated matter relevant to the progression of the volume. The editor, of course, also has to authorize recruitment of contributors, and his background involvement will greatly promote the general drive to the completion of the work.