Attribution of credit and responsibility is central to the structure of science. Authorship is the most visible form of credit, but credit in publications is also given in the form of acknowledgments or appropriate reference citations. Because credit for publication is so important to disputes and allegations of research misconduct, it is worth considering why credit is more than a matter of personal gratification. The framework of science depends in part on the ability of institutions, policy makers, and the public to identify who is responsible for the work and its interpretation. Funding agencies consider past success, as evidenced by authorship, in the allocation of research grants. Research institutions often use authorship as evidence of creative contributions that warrant promotion. Scientists themselves may use credit for past work as a mechanism to attract both new trainees and willing collaborators. Finally, in an era of increasing emphasis on commercialization, authorship and credit help to define intellectual property rights. These, and other reasons, explain both scientists' desire for the credit of authors

Rules and Regulations

Other than copyright law and federal definitions of research misconduct, nearly all aspects of authorship and publication are covered only by guidelines and unspoken custom. These are discussed further in the section on Publication.


Authorship might be justified by significant contributions to the ideas that preceded the work, the design of the studies, execution of the study, analysis of the data, or drafting the manuscript. Yet some questions about who deserves authorship are not easily answered. Can simply performing the data collection ever be enough to justify authorship? Should every author be able to defend all aspects of a manuscript, or only some? Should all authors bear the same responsibility if any part of a manuscript is later found to depend on falsified or fabricated data? Because of questions like these, it is useful to explicate some core principles as a basis approaching these issues.

The credit of authorship is accompanied by responsibility for the work being published. If the work is later found to be irresponsible or misrepresented, then all authors will have their name associated with it. Thus, all authors share responsibility for assuring that the studies and findings have been represented truthfully.

Authorship is an important sign to others in the scientific community. Institutions, funding agencies, and researchers assess scientists in light of their publications. Thus, to include someone among the list of authors for a publication is to send a message to those groups.

The criteria for authorship should apply equally to everyone involved in the work. If a researcher who gathered the raw data is included as an author, for instance, then all researchers who did comparable work should be included. Because authorship is a matter of public credit and responsibility, everyone who meets the accepted criteria for authorship should be included as authors.


Authorship criteria

Methods of assigning authorship vary greatly in academia, even within the same institution or discipline. While it is widely agreed that authorship should be based on a substantial contribution, reasonable people can differ considerably over the definitions of 'contribution' and 'substantial.' Some emphasize the importance of having done the work as a criterion, or the only criterion, for authorship. Others put more emphasis on ideas, experimental design, and data interpretation. In some research groups, decisions about authorship are made solely at the discretion of the principal investigator, while in others decisions are made collectively by all who have had a significant role in the project. Some investigators expect authorship in return for providing access to key equipment, samples of an unusual reagent or cell line, or assistance with statistical methods or experimental design. Others argue that these contributions warrant only an acknowledgment not authorship.

One definition of authorship accepted by many medical journals is that adopted by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors(ICMJE) [1997]. Under this definition, someone is an author if and only if they have done all of the following:

  1. made substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data;
  2. drafted the article or revised it critically for important intellectual content; and
  3. approved of the final version to be published.

The ICMJE definition specifically excludes authorship for anyone whose contributions consist solely of arranging funding, collecting data, or supervising the research group. Although this definition is a valuable guideline because of its specificity, it is at odds both with common practice and with other views of authorship (Yank and Rennie, 1999). Such a model was proposed by an Authorship Task Force of the Council of Biology Editors (now the Council of Science Editors). In brief, the 'contributorship' model is less restrictive than the ICMJE model in defining authorship, but the contributions of each of the authors are to be identified to the journal and published with the manuscript (Horton and Smith, 1996; Smith, 1997; Rennie et al., 2000; Authorship Task Force, 2000). Several medical journals now use this model.

The American Physical Society guidelines state that authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the concept, design, execution or interpretation of the research study. All those who have made significant contributions should be offered the opportunity to be listed as authors. Other individuals who have contributed to the study should be acknowledged, but not identified as authors. The sources of financial support for the project should be disclosed. (APS statements and policy).

The Ecological Society of America states that authorship may legitimately be claimed if researchers:

  1. conceived the ideas or experimental design;
  2. participated actively in execution of the study;
  3. analyzed and interpreted the data; or
  4. wrote the manuscript

Although criteria for authorship might vary, an author ought at least minimally to have:

  • made a substantial and new contribution to the research.
    How new do substantial contributions need to be? They must add to the original scientific content of the research, to be sure, but how and to what degree is open to debate. Every scientist should give some consideration to this question of what counts as a new contribution.
  • agreed to take responsibility for at least some of the content of the manuscript, including a review of the relevant raw data.
  • read and agreed to the manuscript before publication.
  • agreed to be named as an author.

Transparency of authorship criteria Because criteria for authorship are not universally accepted, authorship is a frequent cause of disputes among scientists. The solution to such misunderstandings is for research groups and collaborators to be clear about the criteria and plans for authorship. For individual scientists, it is important to: discuss plans and criteria for authorship during the planning of any collaboration and to continue such discussion as the research project evolves. For the community of scientists, transparency could be accomplished by publishing the way in which individual authors contributed to the work.


Many elements essential for a publication should be credited, but do not warrant authorship. People who provide facilities or resources, for instance, should be credited in the Acknowledgments section. Authors have the ethical responsibility to acknowledge all of those who made the research and manuscript possible. Because agreement with the contents of a manuscript might be inferred, it is good practice, and sometimes required, that anyone who is acknowledged has given his or her permission to be listed.

UAF Specific Information

No applicable information available at this time.

Works Cited

  • Horton R, Smith R (1996): Signing up for authorship. Lancet 347(9004):780.
  • Rennie D, Flanagin A, Yank V (2000): The contributions of authors. JAMA 284(1): 89-91.
  • Smith R (1997): Authorship is dying: long live contributorship. British Medical Journal 315(7110): 696.
  • Yank V, Rennie D (1999): Disclosure of researcher contributions: a study of original research articles in The Lancet. Annals of Internal Medicine 130(8): 661-70.