Writing and Publishing: Resources for Researchers and Scholars

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Authorship: Allocating Credit and Ensuring Accountability

February 2018

Are you working with a large research team or a handful of collaborators? Are you concerned about receiving – and giving – due recognition?

When many individuals contribute to a project, determining who should receive credit as an author can be challenging. Although there’s no equation for making this determination, there are generally accepted principles. *NOTE:  These guidelines do not represent an official University of Arkansas policy. Rather, they bring together the best practices described in the authoritative sources listed under References; specific citations have been provided for direct quotations and close paraphrases. These best practices will help you and your collaborators to allocate credit and ensure accountability in an equitable, transparent way.

Start the Conversation

Start the conversation with your collaborators at the beginning of your research project. Members of an interdisciplinary or multicultural team may have differing expectations so you want to prevent misunderstandings at the outset. Discuss the criteria you will use to determine whose names will appear on the list of authors and the order of those names.

Find out if your employer, funding agencies, professional societies, or journals have authorship guidelines.  If not, follow the recommendations developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) which many journals use as a model.

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

• Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

• Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

• Final approval of the version to be published; AND

• 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. (ICMJE 2015)

Also, discuss how you will recognize contributions from other participants (e.g., research assistants, lab directors, researchers who contribute materials). Instead of naming these organizations and individuals as authors, give them credit them in the acknowledgments section.

When you reach a consensus about the criteria for authorship and the order of the authors’ names, write down the terms upon which you’ve agreed, put a date on the document, and ask every one of your collaborators to sign it.

Keep Records

Throughout both the research and the writing phases of your project, document each individual’s contributions. 

Continue the Conversation

Revisit the conversation about authorship at critical points during the project, such as when individuals join or depart your team.

Review a Manuscript before the Initial and the Final Submission

All designated authors should review and approve a manuscript before submitting it for peer review and again before submitting the final version for publication. Has anyone who deserves credit as an author been left out? Has anyone who does not deserve such credit been added by mistake? Do the authors’ names appear in the correct order?  

Accept Accountability

As the Council of Science Editors (CSE) points out, “The ultimate reason for identification of authors and other contributors is to establish accountability for the reported work.” (CSE 2012) If you accept credit as an author, are you also willing to accept responsibility for the integrity of both the research and the resulting publication? 

A journal may require the authors and the individuals named in the acknowledgments section to specify their contributions and may even ask acknowledged individuals for written permission to include their names.  Therefore, you want to provide clear information about which authors (and other participants) are responsible for specific portions of the research and sections of the publication.


Benson, Philippe J.; and Susan C. Silver. 2013. What Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to  Scientific Journal Publishing.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy of Sciences, National  Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available at www.nap.edu; accessed 9 September 2016.

Council of Science Editors. 2012. CSE’s White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific  Journal Publications, 2012 Update. http://www.councilscienceeditors.org/resource- library/editorial-policies/white-paper-on-publication-ethics/  Accessed 8 September 2016.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. 2015. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/ Accessed 8 September 2016.

Roig, Miguel. 2003. Avoiding Plagiarism, Self-Plagiarism, and Other Questionable Writing Practices:  A Guide to Ethical Writing. http://ori.hhs.gov/avoiding-plagiarism-self-plagiarism-and-other-questionable-writing-practices-guide-ethical-writing  Accessed 10 September 2016.