Although journal and professional society customs and policies governing authorship vary widely across disciplines, there are general principles that should be followed in assigning authorship and resolving authorship disputes. The following guidelines reflect the principles articulated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2017) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2018), while maintaining the flexibility to apply to a broad range of research, scholarship and creative activity. In this context, publication refers to any publicly shared piece of scholarship or creative work that conveys new knowledge and can be explicitly documented.
To merit designation as an author, one must make significant intellectual contribution to conceiving, designing or executing the work, or analyzing/interpreting the primary data, and drafting or critically revising the work for intellectual content. All authors must approve the final version of the work, account for its integrity and be able to explain and defend appropriate portions of the work.
Contributions that do not merit authorship but may deserve acknowledgment and/or citation include:
- Financial support or securing funding
- Supervision or administrative support
- Technical skill
- Writing or editorial assistance
- Statistical advice
- Data collection or coordination thereof
- Providing materials, specimens or data
All individuals acknowledged should grant permission to be listed on the publication.
Gift or honorary authorship, coercive authorship and ghost authorship are detrimental practices and unacceptable. Gift or honorary authorship is awarded out of respect or appreciation, or in the belief that the individual’s expert standing will increase the likelihood of publication, credibility or status of the work. Coercion involves the use of intimidation tactics, seniority or supervisory status over subordinates to gain authorship status. Ghost authorship is the failure to identify as an author someone who made substantial contributions to the work. Omitting authors who have met the articulated standards is also unacceptable.
In the case of publications with multiple authors, one author should be designated as the lead author. The lead author often serves as the managerial and corresponding author, as well as providing a significant contribution to the work. A lead author may be any member of the team and is not necessarily the principal investigator or project leader.
The lead author is responsible for:
- Taking overall responsibility for the publication.
- Including as co-authors all and only those who meet the authorship criteria.
- Providing a draft to each contributing author for review. The lead author should obtain from all co-authors their consent to be designated as such and their assent of the content of the work.
- The integrity of the work as a whole, and ensuring that reasonable care and effort has been taken to determine that all the data are complete, accurate and reasonably interpreted.
All co-authors are responsible for:
- Understanding the publication and taking responsibility for it.
- Acknowledging that they meet the authorship criteria.
- Acknowledging that they have reviewed and approved the work.
- The content of all appropriate portions of the work, including its integrity.
An individual retains the right to refuse co-authorship. The roles and contributions of all authors should be specified, including which authors or groups of authors are responsible for which aspects of the work.
- Authorship Order
The order of authors is a collective decision of the authors. In conjunction with the lead author, coauthors should discuss authorship order at the onset of the project and revise their decision as needed.
All authors must work together to make these informed judgments. If unsuccessful, mediation may be addressed by the Research Dean of the lead author’s college. In cases that cannot be resolved, the lead author, in consultation with the Dean, will have the final authority to determine author order.
Collaborators should initiate authorship conversations with each other early in the creative process.
Team members should understand what activities yield authorship credit and which lead to an acknowledgment. To avoid disputes, groups are encouraged to create a written agreement that specifies author order, who will be acknowledged, who owns project data/materials and conditions that must be adhered to when presenting or publishing the project. [Sample form available here.]
Should authorship disputes arise, the parties must first attempt to resolve it within the group. If disagreement persists, internal or external complainants should contact the Research Dean of the lead author’s college. The Dean may convene a peer panel to review the facts of the dispute and provide recommendations to the disputants for resolution. The panel will generally comprise three investigators with relevant expertise and no conflicts of interest. Disputants may appeal the recommendations made by the panel to the appropriate Dean, whose decision will be final.
- The National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine, Fostering Integrity in Research
- International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals
- Committee on Publication Ethics
- Sample documents from Michigan State University, Washington University of Saint Louis and George Mason University