Authorship in Academic Publication – how does it work?


Researchers entering into a collaboration for the first time often ask, “how does one decide who gets authorship and who gets acknowledged in the publication?”. Authorship can be quite sticky seeing that career progression and other academic rewards are at stake.

The discussion around authorship needs to take place in the early phases of the project, where you agree on who will contribute in what way to the project and paper. This is also the time to confirm who will not be authors on the paper but will be acknowledged instead. This does not have to be an uncomfortable discussion. Refer to the guidance on authorship from the International Committee of Medical Editors. Give authorship where authorship is due, and you are covered.

Another aspect that needs to be discussed is the order in which the authors will be listed in the publication. Some research groups use the convention where the lead researcher is listed first, and the supervisor or lab chair is listed last. The remaining authors are then listed in order of their contribution as second, third, fourth and so on. Others use the convention where the order of authors are in terms of contribution listed as first, second, third and so on. And then, you find journals that require authors to be listed in alphabetical order.

Authorship often changes as the project progresses – the project may bring along unforeseen demands, some authors leave an institution or just prefer not to be involved any longer. The discussion may need to be rekindled closer to the time of writing up for publication.

This blog post refers to three videos on the Research Masterminds YouTube channel that explain authorship, the role of the corresponding author and how to describe the contributions of authors when it comes to publication.

Authorship in Research | Who is an Author and who gets Acknowledged?

When it comes to deciding who deserves authorship on a research paper and who will be added to the acknowledgement section, many uncertainties arise. Authorship is important because it gives credit to those who contributed to the new knowledge created, but it also implies responsibility and accountability. Who is an author? This video shows the criteria for authorship as stated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. I also expand on authorship issues such as guest authorship, honorary and gift authorship, ghost authorship, authorship for sale, anonymous authorship, group authorship, and deceased and incapacitated authors, as elaborated on the website of the Council of Science Editors.

Corresponding Author | What does it entail?

What does it mean to be the corresponding author of a research paper? I always thought that the role of the corresponding author on a research paper was just to handle the admin-related issues during the review process and to be available in case someone has a question about your research article. However, the corresponding author has more responsibilities, and there’s actually a formal description of the expectations of the corresponding author! This video will describe the corresponding author's role.

Author contributions statement | How to describe who did what on a research paper

Journals often ask authors to describe the authors' contributions i.e., how each of the authors contributed to the study. I always wondered how much detail is enough for an author contribution statement. Will others clearly understand what I mean if I said I was involved in the data analysis or that I’m a supervisor or whatever else? The “CRediT”, which stands for Contributor Roles Taxonomy, is exactly what we need to clarify this dilemma. If you wonder how to describe the contributions of authors, watch this video.

This taxonomy uses standardised definitions and descriptions for each of the major contribution categories: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal Analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Software, Supervision, Validation Visualization, Writing – original draft and Writing – review & editing.

References and further reading

CRediT – Contributor Roles Taxonomy  

Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in scientific publication

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors

Council of Science Editors

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