Looking at a research article through the lens of the last author!


It was the time of the day to light the candles for prayer. Ma’s trained hands arranged the votive with usual nonchalance. As he was immersed in his mission, he came near the bright red one that he had a soft spot for.

Looking at it, he mused on

“How painstakingly I had scrapped you from bits and pieces in and around this temple. Melted you to shape and here you are! I have crafted and created you.”

As he turned

“Wonderful work” said Zen Master looking over the shoulders of Ma.

He looked at the arrangement of the candles. With a warm smile the Zen Master lit all of them, including the bright red one.

As the light threw away the surrounding darkness, the bright red candle glowed with radiance.

Invited by its beauty, Ma pondered

“Even though I had created, the flame does bring it to life!”

The first and the last:

lens of the last author“Publication is the flame that brings a research work to life!” It is an indispensable ingredient in research. From graduate students to senior research scientists, publication is conventional. When a body of research work is set to publish, the authors take place within the gamut of their contributions. The first author(s) takes away the credit for the work, publication and citations in literature. Rightly so! for the author labors and toils with the research question on bench or at the bedside. Controlled experiments in the lab and or surveys, data collection, analysis and interpretations become the author’s vision and mission for many a year. Often overcoming fear, anxiety and failures; the first author yearns to find joy and enthusiasm until a logical conclusion is established. And in many cases, that logical conclusion is a publication.

Seasoned minds with trained eyes do not fail to recognize an all important author who comes along the list at the end, “The last author”. The content of research, expertise, funding are key contributions the author provides and in many cases even the research question is designed by the last author. For these obvious reasons, the author’s imprint in the publication of the research work is indelible. Indeed! The last author does light the flame that brings the research work to life.

Finding the perspective

We pick up a research article for various reasons (that are relevant to our work or otherwise). General interests, breakthrough research articles, titles or for journal club presentations, the list could be endless. In any given situation, it is important to look through the lens of the last author to get a perspective of the article in hand.

This will serve us two main purpose:

  1. Understanding the complete story behind the research article.
  2. Learning and applying the ideas and concepts to our own work.
Conception and theory (body of research):

Theoretical concepts, experimental approach and contribution towards existing body of literature build on to contrast a seminal work from others. Foundation of ideas and the approach taken by authors to answer a research question becomes vital. To understand the conception of ideas, it becomes critical to study the last author’s previous publications. Many would argue that it is unnecessary, as the article we read provides the necessary background and discuss the implication of the research work. I would have to disagree, because seldom it furnishes the complete picture. When publishing their work the authors are limited by space and style. Therefore, summarizing the complete body of research leading to the conception of ideas are often ignored and more focus is given to explaining the results. Thus, research on the previous publications by the last author in essence will shed light into the rationale and objectives a priori of the work done.

Cohorts and experimental design:

In objective, the peer review process weighs the strength of the data. Furthermore, the last author’s previous publication and collaborations will provide insights to assess the strengths of the experimental design and the cohorts involved (in case of human studies) in the study. This information will aid in the characterization of the study and may provide foresight in understanding the authors subsequent experimental designs.

Funding sources and future directions:

One of the advantages of knowing the funding source is that it can trace us back to the outline of the grant. It can provide information on the projects and concepts the last author is working on and what to expect in the future.

Learning about the content of the research is why we read an scientific article. However, for an unabridged understanding of the article one should find the content’s theory, conception of the idea, experimental design and literature argument. These are key perspectives that could be acquired through the lens of the last author. These perspectives will help us in our own field of research.


It was the next day and the time for prayer was upon them.

After arranging the candles Ma came near the bright red one, with little thought he lit the candle saying

“Let me bring you to life today!”

Yet again the radiance filled the room and Ma was pleased.

As Zen Master entered the prayer hall he saw the candles lit. He smiled at Ma and signaled him to wait.

He disappeared into a small room across the hall and after a few minutes returned with verve.

He came close to the bright red one and covered the candle with a glass chimney and raised the candle to the pedestal above. Ma and Zen Master saw the bright red one’s radiance grow even more and witnessed the new glow filling the entire room.

Both were immersed in the aura of the bright red one. And after a few seconds, collecting his thoughts Zen Master broke the silence and remarked

“It is full of life”