Authorship provides credit for an individual’s contributions to a study and carries accountability. There are no universally accepted standards for assigning authorship. Principles, customs and practices differ significantly from one discipline to another.
Responsibility for decisions regarding the authorship of publications lies with those who carried out the work reported in the publication. Researchers should be aware of the authorship practices within their own disciplines and should always abide by any requirements stipulated by journals as part of their instructions to authors.
The University of Cambridge’s School of Clinical Medicine have published their own Code of Practice on Authorship, which members of that School should consult in addition to these guidelines.
Planning for authorship
Where no journal or discipline-specific norms apply, authorship criteria should be agreed by all investigators at an early stage of the research. Where possible, it is advisable to keep written records of decisions regarding authorship and these should be revisited where roles and contributions change over the lifecycle of the study.
Normally, an author is an individual judged to have made a substantial intellectual or practical contribution to a publication and who agrees to be accountable for that contribution. This would normally include anyone who has:
- made a significant contribution to the conception or design of the project or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND/OR
- drafted the work or reviewed/revised it critically for important intellectual content.
This is general guidance only and may not apply to all disciplines or journals which may set different standards.
Anyone listed as an author on a paper should approve the final version of the paper and accept responsibility for ensuring that he or she is familiar with its contents and can identify his or her contribution to it.
Individuals who contributed to the work, but whose contributions were not of sufficient magnitude to be listed as authors should be properly acknowledged, usually in an acknowledgements section.
Authors should be careful to ensure fair and proper acknowledgement of contributions from individuals who have not been listed as an author and make sure that acknowledgements fully reflect the level of the input of the contributor.
Researchers are advised to seek guidance on practice within their own discipline and to consult guidelines set by the funders of their research and the journals in which they hope to publish. Examples include:
- Academy of Management, Code of Ethics, (February 2006)
- British Educational Research Association, Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2011)
- The British Psychological Society, Statement of Policy on Authorship and Publication Credit (July 2011)
- Medical Research Council, Good Research Practice: Principles and Guidelines (July 2012)
- Nature, Nature journals’ authorship policy (May 2014)
- Wellcome Trust, Guidelines on Good Research Practice (November 2005)
- University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Code of Practice on Authorship (October 2014)
More general guidance is provided by the following groups:
- International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly work in Medical Journals – A set of guidelines that has been adopted by a number of medical journals.
- Council of Science Editors, White Paper on Publication Ethics – A paper designed to offer general guidance across the sciences.
- The Committee on Publication Ethics – COPE provides advice to publishers and editors on publication ethics and has produced a Code of Conduct for journal editors and guidelines on handling authorship disputes.