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The involvement of multiple individuals in different capacities naturally evokes the question of who should be credited and held accountable for the research published, especially since careers, ethics, and scientific integrity are at stake. This article outlines the major concepts pertaining to authorship.

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  1. 1. Authorship Helping you get published
  2. 2. AuthorshipA century ago, defining an author was quite straightforwardin academia—most articles were written by single authorswho were solely responsible for the research conducted.Complexities have arisen in the last several decades with theincreasing scope of research, which has engenderedcollaboration between researchers and institutes acrossdisciplines and specializations and led to an increase in thenumber of authors per paper.1,2The involvement of multiple individuals in different capacitiesnaturally evokes the question of who should be credited andheld accountable for the research published, especially sincecareers, ethics, and scientific integrity are at stake. Thisarticle outlines the major concepts pertaining to authorship.
  3. 3. Who is an author?The need for definite guidelines on authorship is disparateacross fields. In some branches of the humanities, singleauthors are still common, and authorship issues surface rarely.In contrast, collaborations are the predominant trend in thesciences, and so there is a greater need for clarity. Therefore,authorities in scientific fields usually spell out authorshipcriteria.In broad terms, an author should make significantcontributions to the intellectual content of the paper and bewilling to take public responsibility for the entire study,including the data and results. The author’s role has beendelineated most precisely in the Uniform Requirements forManuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals—established bythe International Committee of Medical Journal Editors(ICMJE)—to which many top journals in the biomedical fieldsubscribe.
  4. 4. Who is an author? According to ICMJE’s guidelines, an author should have6:a. Contributed substantially to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of datab. Drafted the article or revised it critically for important intellectual contentc. Provided final approval of the version to be publishedAny individual who has contributed to the study in some way butdoes not meet the criteria for authorship should be mentionedunder Acknowledgements.
  5. 5. Who is an author?Who is not an author?According to ICMJE, completing any of the following tasksdoes not qualify you as an author:X Acquisition of fundsX Supervision of workX Minor laboratory supportX Administrative support
  6. 6. Contributorship / guarantorshipWith several people contributing to different aspects of a research project,the distinction between an author and someone acknowledged elsewhere isoften blurred. The unethical publication practices mentioned above only addto these problems. To solve this conundrum, journals are gradually driftingfrom the authorship model to the contributorship model.3Many journals now encourage or require authors to describe each person’scontribution to the study. This description is usually printed in a footnotethat will appear in the published article.Some journals, like the Journal of the American Medical Association, requirethese details in the authorship form. The Nature journals require authors toinclude a statement of responsibility specifying the contribution of eachauthor.
  7. 7. Contributorship / guarantorshipAnother concept that has evolved in response to the diluted accountability inmulti-author papers is guarantorship. An author (generally a senior member)is asked to serve as a guarantor of the paper, who will be held responsible forthe entire work. For example, the British Medical Journal requires at leastone author to be listed as a guarantor.
  8. 8. Order of listing authorsWhat is probably as important to a researcher’s career as the number ofpapers published is where his or her name appears in the author byline. Theorder of listing authors deserves a special mention, considering that it issometimes a bone of contention and can cause bitterness.In the sciences, and in related fields like psychology, authors are generallylisted in the order of the relative importance of their contributions, with thefirst author being the main author of the paper.An exception is the last author, who is often the head of the department inwhich the research was carried out. Friction arises when one or moreauthors think that the order does not reflect the significance of theircontributions.
  9. 9. Order of listing authorsIn some branches of humanities, like political science, the trend is to listauthors alphabetically4. While this convention may seem a simple measureto preempt any dispute, it has its own disadvantages.Readers get almost no information on who contributed the most, and if themain author’s name begins with a letter late in the alphabet, it’s very likely tobe overlooked, or hidden in the “et al” list when the paper is cited byothers—naturally, not an agreeable scenario.Since there is no foolproof system for the ordering author names yet andjournals do not normally arbitrate in such disputes, the onus is on authors todecide how best to resolve differences in opinion.
  10. 10. When should authorship/order of authors be decided? The best time to decide who should be named authors and in what order is before the research project itself is initiated.5,7 The group of individuals who will be involved in the project must ideally agree upon these points, with the person-in-charge assuming a bigger responsibility in clarifying them to junior researchers. Any changes in the level of involvement, or the addition or exclusion of some members, during the project should be approved by the individuals involved and reflected in the author byline. Changes to the author byline after a manuscript has already been submitted are rare, and if required, should be explained to the journal.
  11. 11. Unethical authorship practicesCertain questionable practices, described below, are frowned upon in most fields.Honorary/gift authorship: Naming the head of the department where the study iscarried out as an author of a paper when he/she has made no significantcontribution to the study. This practice may be more prevalent in cultures wheresupervisors and seniors are treated with respect and it is considered appropriateto include them in the byline.Guest authorship: Naming a certain person (generally a senior, well-knownresearcher) an author in the hope that it will boost the chances of a paper beingpublished, although his/her role in the research may be insignificant.Ghost authorship: Omitting the name of a significant contributor from the bylineas well as the Acknowledgments section. Such individuals may include those whowill be perceived as having conflicts of interest, medical writers, etc.
  12. 12. AuthorshipConcluding remarksSince an author shares not only credit but also scientific and, sometimes, socialaccountability for a paper, it is the primary responsibility of each author to preservescientific integrity. Those who had no significant contributions should desist from takingundue credit, and all those who had should ensure that they are duly credited. When indoubt, authors should consult the authorship guidelines provided by the journal theyhave chosen for submission and resolve any disputes amicably.
  13. 13. AuthorshipReferences1. Epstein R.J. (1993). Six authors in search of a citation: villains or victims of the Vancouver convention?British Medical Journal, 306, 765–767. (Abstract)2. Sacco W.P., & Milana S. (1984). Increase in number of authors per article in ten APA journals: 1960– 1980. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8, 77–83. (Abstract)3. Rennie D., Yank V., & Emanuel L. (1997). When authorship fails. A proposal to make contributors accountable. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 579–585.4. Lake D.A. (2010). Who’s on First? Listing Authors by Relative Contribution Trumps the Alphabet. PS: Political Science & Politics, 43, 43–47.5. Vollmer W.M. (2007). Responsibilities of Authorship. Chest, 132, 2042–2045.6. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Ethical Considerations in the Conduct and Reporting of Research: Authorship and Contributorship. Last accessed October 18, 2011. Available from: Albert T, Wager E. How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers. COPE Report 2003, Committee on Publication Ethics, London. Last accessed October 18,2011. Available from:
  14. 14. Connect