General principles in authorship
Authorship is not only an acknowledgement of public accountability for the content of the output, but it also constitutes a credit to you as an author. It can be used in promotions and career progression. However, what counts as sufficient contribution to warrant authorship and what accountability each author assumes varies across disciplines. While it is not realistic to provide advice and guidance on authorship which would apply across all research fields, the following sections outline general recommendations on best practice, with links to further discipline-specific resources where they are available.
COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) (2019) defines authorship as follows: “The term authorship can refer to the creator or originator of an idea (e.g., the author of the theory of relativity) or the individual or individuals who develop and bring to fruition the product that disseminates intellectual or creative works (e.g., the author of a poem or a scholarly article).”
Authorship applies to journal articles, conference abstracts, posters, oral presentations, proceedings, and other similar research and professional outputs.
Commonly the minimum requirements to merit authorship are:
- Substantial intellectual contribution to the work
- Accountability for the work that was carried out and its presentation in the output
The University’s Code on Good Research Practice states that:
“iii. A publication must contain acknowledgement to all who have made a significant contribution to the relevant research, who are not authors.
iv. Any person who has participated in a substantial way in conceiving, executing or interpreting a significant part of the relevant research should be given the opportunity to be included as an author of a publication derived from that research.
v. Any person who has not participated in a substantial way in conceiving, executing or interpreting a significant part of the relevant research should not be included as an author of a publication derived from that research.”
Below we expand on these guidelines to help you determine who should be an author of an output, how to decide authorship order and other tips relevant to authorship.
Determining authorship is an important part of conducting collaborative research. Authorship disputes can often be avoided if criteria for determining authorship and authorship order are discussed and agreed at the research planning stage.
These conversations should continue throughout the project lifecycle, as both the initial authorship and the authorship order can change as the project progresses (e.g., an author could be added if the scope of the project expands, or an author can be removed if they do not assist in the project as initially agreed).
There are a number of resources that can help you determine who should be listed as an author on an output. Some of them are discipline specific, but many can be used across disciplines:
As a primary consideration, you should check the specific requirements of your funders as well as journals that you are planning to publish in. Useful information is provided by the National Academy of Sciences through a list of journals that commit to setting authorship standards, including criteria for authorship.
The American Psychological Association (APA) have created the following documents, which can help with discussing authorship:
- Contract Regarding Publication Intent (PDF)
- Authorship determination scorecard (PDF)
- Authorship Tie-breaker scorecard (PDF)
- Publication contract (PDF)
Further suggestions on how to determine authorship can be found on the APA website.
Nearly all medical journals endorse authorship criteria recommended by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) (also called the Vancouver Group). The Vancouver criteria are widely accepted among medical researchers internationally (as well as some other non-medical disciplines) and state that: “authorship credit should be based only on a) substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND b) Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND c) Final approval of the version to be published; AND d) Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.” (ICME, 2022, p.2)
For humanities and social sciences, Taylor & Francis Group have published a Co-authorship in The Humanities and Social Sciences white paper (PDF) with results of a survey on co-authorship in these disciplines, where collaborative research is becoming increasingly common. The results highlight that there is a lot of disagreement within humanities and social sciences when it comes to assigning authorship, but in general researchers tend to follow the Vancouver criteria (see above).
Recognising a range of contributions: CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy)
A new model of recognising all contributions to an output, the Contributor Roles Taxonomy CRediT, has been gaining popularity. We recommend that you use this taxonomy for your outputs, where permitted by the publisher. The taxonomy includes traditional authorship roles, but is not limited to them. Instead of aiming to define what authorship is, its main goal is to capture all the substantial work that goes into the production of an output.
The model allows contributors to share a description of their input to the project, using 14 pre-defined contributor roles: conceptualization; data curation; formal analysis; funding acquisition; investigation; methodology; project administration; resources; software; supervision; validation; visualization; writing – original draft; writing – review & editing.
- All contributors should be listed and assigned a role, and multiple roles are possible. This provides a detailed description of diverse contributions to the work
- If multiple contributors are assigned the same role, the degree of contribution can be quantified, by including ‘lead’, ‘equal’ or ‘supporting’ next to the role
- All contributors should be able to review and approve the assigned roles
- It is the responsibility of the corresponding author to assign and confirm the roles.
Many journals and publishers have adopted the CRediT system in their submission process.
A.T.K.: conceptualization (lead), data curation (lead), formal analysis (lead), investigation, methodology (lead), project administration (lead), resources (lead), visualization, writing—original draft and writing—review and editing (equal); J.S.: conceptualization (supporting), formal analysis (supporting), methodology (supporting), supervision (lead), writing—review and editing (equal); H.R.: conceptualization (supporting), data curation (supporting), project administration (supporting), validation and writing—review and editing (supporting); D.R.: conceptualization (supporting), formal analysis (supporting), methodology (supporting), resources (supporting), supervision (supporting), validation and writing—review and editing (supporting)
All authors gave final approval for publication and agreed to be held accountable for the work performed therein.
Determining authorship order, author, affiliations and contributions
Increasingly outputs are a result of collaborative work. This means that a discussion of the authorship order and the assignation of the corresponding author role needs to be discussed.
Unless authors are presented in alphabetical order (which is common in some fields, e.g., economics, accounting or physics, or when a large number of authors are involved), the position in the authorship order can be used as a metric of scientific contribution (with first- and last author positions being the most significant in some disciplines).
- The first author is commonly the person who makes the most significant intellectual contribution to the work, by, for example, designing the study, collecting and analysing data and writing the manuscript
- The last author is often a senior academic or the principal investigator, who appears in that position due to their lead role on the project, e.g., designing the study, managing/supervising the project, editing the manuscript
- The middle authors are determined by their relative overall contributions to the final output
- Shared first authorship might be considered in situations where two or more authors have worked and contributed equally to an output. This is indicated in the publication in a manner appropriate to the journal (e.g., a footnote statement might be added which states that the indicated authors contributed equally to the project).
While these are some commonly applied rules when determining authorship order, different disciplines have additional guidelines. As authorship order can be used to judge an author’s relative contribution to an output in some fields, but not in others, the assessment of your research portfolio might be evaluated differently by different fields (e.g., for inter-disciplinary work). Unless a taxonomy such as the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) is used, this can be problematic.
The APA have created the author tie-breaker scorecard (PDF) which can assist you in discussions over the order of authorship of an output.
Being a corresponding author is an important function and comes with many responsibilities (see below). Identifying the corresponding author is also a crucial factor for publishers as the corresponding author’s institutional affiliation helps determine whether a paper is covered by an Open Access transitional agreement. While some publishers allow more than one corresponding author, currently only the author who has been in communication with the publisher is considered eligible to be covered under a transitional agreement signed between the publisher and the author’s institution.
As a corresponding author your duties include:
- Handling submissions, revisions and resubmissions to publisher’s platforms
- Providing details of authorship (e.g., using the CRediT model), ethics committee approvals, any relevant registration documents (e.g., for clinical trials)
- Providing the conflict-of-interest statements, funding statements, signing the copyright transfer agreement, making your paper Open Access
- Making sure that all listed authors have approved the final manuscript before it is submitted
- Making sure all the authors are included in the correspondence regarding the submission, revisions and any other substantive correspondence with the editor
- Ensuring all the authors are aware of and comply with the journal’s best practices
- Making sure that all data, code and materials (even if developed and provided by another author) comply with transparency and reproducibility standards of the journal
- Communicating with readers who contact you post publication.
Many journals give authors an opportunity to include their ORCID ID when submitting an output for publication. We recommend that you include an ORCID ID on all outputs. This will ensure that your work is correctly attributed to you (for more about ORCID see our guidance on making your research more discoverable and visible).
Additionally, you should use your institutional address for identification. In situations where you have moved institutions or have dual affiliation, you should list both the institution where you are currently based and the institution where your research was conducted.
In the acknowledgement section, you can mention:
- The funder who has supported the research (if a funding statement is not required; you should determine your funders’ requirements on this)
- Gatekeepers to participant groups such as schools or support groups
- Facilities or instruments used in the underlying research
- Any contributors to the output that do not satisfy the authorship criteria.
It is important that you ask permission from contributors for their names to be included in the acknowledgement section, as the acknowledgement might in some situations be seen as endorsement of the output and consequently put some individuals at risk.
Ethical considerations, author accountability and misconduct
All authors should follow the same code of conduct and agree on the rules regarding the content of the output, the way changes are made and agreed, and the dissemination of the published work.
This must include making sure that the content of the output is believed to be factually correct, the research was conducted according to ethical and legal expectations, the authors did not hide any conflicts of interest or engage in any other questionable research practice (see the Misconduct section for more details). The authors must ensure the output does not contain any personalised criticism or disparagement, derogatory statements regarding race, gender, religious belief, ethnic origin, citizenship or political philosophy.
Other unethical and detrimental practices that should be avoided include:
- Ghost authorship (where authors who contributed to the work are not listed to, for example, hide a conflict of interest)
- Guest/gift or honorific authorship (where individuals who did not contribute to the work gain authorship by virtue of, for example, their role within the institution or friendship with the authors of the output)
- Orphan authorship (where authors who made a material contribution to the work are omitted from the authorship list unfairly)
- Forged authorship (where authors who had no part in the work are unwittingly added to the authors list to increase the likelihood of publication).
All authors must be given an opportunity to participate in critically revising the work for publication, and all must approve the final version to be published.*
*Note, intellectual contribution is also possible without contributing to writing the final output, such as a researcher who contributed data collection and associated procedural decision-making. In these situations, so long as intellectual contribution can be established, and the author approves the final version, participating in critically revising the work is not essential.
All authors must:
- Take public responsibility and accountability for the full content of the output
- Adhere to the copyright requirements and appropriate citation of prior work
- Give appropriate credit to all supporting contributors
- Defend a publication as a whole or in part (where they are responsible for a specialised part of the research)
- Be confident in the work of their co-authors where their own expertise is limited to their specialist contribution.
It is the responsibility of the corresponding author to make sure all the contributors to the output are aware of these requirements (for more details see the Determining authorship order, corresponding order, affiliations and contributions section).
Some examples of misconduct that can arise in the publication process include:
- Collusion (to the detriment of another author)
- Coercion or bribery
- Fabrication, falsification and intentional misrepresentation of data
- Use of stolen or misappropriated data
- Duplicate submissions to journals
- Improper conduct in peer-review (e.g., impersonating another author, non-disclosure of competing interests, or misleading the editor).
More information on what constitutes misconduct, how to report misconduct, and what action is taken when there is a suspicion that misconduct has taken place can be found on our research webpages.
Authorship to-do list
What to consider at each stage of planning and running your project and publishing your output.
- Check your funder and journal requirements on authorship and acknowledgements
- Check if any discipline or cultural discrepancies exist between authors, especially for multidisciplinary or international collaborations, and discuss them at this stage
- Determine contributions to the output and who satisfies criteria for authorship (according to the journal, funder or discipline-specific criteria)
- Determine authorship order
- Determine the corresponding author
- Check the funders and institutional Open Access requirements and discuss any actions regarding copyright retention at this stage.
- Make sure authors adhere to their agreed roles throughout the project
- Authorship order can still change and discussions may continue depending on the changing contributions of authors.
- Make sure everyone who is an author has a chance to contribute to writing and editing of the output as previously agreed.
- All authors need to approve the final manuscript for submission
- All authors need to agree on the choice of licence (for example, the choice of Creative Commons licences) and any other decisions related to copyright, being mindful of funder or institutional requirements
- Decide who will be acknowledged and ask their permission to include their name on the output
- The corresponding author makes sure all of the authors’ affiliations (including institutions where the research was conducted even if the author has moved institutions), ORCID IDs and other details are correct at submission
- The corresponding author makes sure the manuscript, data, a data access statement (see the University’s Research Data Management Policy (PDF) on what this should include), code, materials etc. are submitted correctly and adhere to the journal’s transparency and reproducibility standards
- The corresponding author lists author contributions using the CRediT taxonomy if permitted by the publisher
- The corresponding author makes sure all the authors are included in communication with the publisher.
- All authors contribute to reviewing the manuscript and approving the final version resubmitted to the journal
- All authors are kept in the loop on the communication with the editor during review and resubmission.
- The corresponding author should make sure that all authors have a copy of the final accepted manuscript to help them disseminate their work
- All authors should be aware of copyright rules relating to their publication and follow these when disseminating their published work
- The corresponding author needs to make sure they are responding to any queries from readers in a timely fashion.
- Authorship issue explained (Bhattacharya, 2010)
- Corresponding Author (Cambridge University Press, 2022)
- Discussion Document: Authorship (PDF) (Committee on Publication Ethics, 2019)
- What is a corresponding author? (Elsevier)
- Determining and negotiating authorship (Gaffey, 2015)
- Authorship order and effects of changing bibliometrics practices (Helgesson, 2020)
- Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals (PDF) (ICMJE, 1988)
- Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors (ICMJE, 2022)
- Shared first authorship (Lapidow, 2019)
- Authorship, Contribution and Publishing Policy (PDF) (Library and Research Integrity and Governance Team, University of Southampton, 2021)
- Co-authorship in Humanities and the Social Sciences: A global view (Macfarlane et al., 2017)
- Transparency in Author Contributions in Science (TACS) (National Academy Of Sciences, 2022)
- Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in specific publication (McNutt et al., 2018)
- Authorship policies of scientific journals (Resnik et al., 2016)
- The order of authorship: Who’s on first? (Riesenberg & Lundberg, 1990)
- Good Practice in Research: Authorship (PDF) (UK Research Integrity Office, 2017)
- Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals (PDF) (ICMJE, 2022)