Who talks about authorship on scientific manuscripts?

Talking about authorship

As Editor-in-Chief of Austral Ecology (published by Wiley), I have been giving some ‘Writing for Publication’ workshops worldwide. Part of the workshop is talking about authorship guidelines. One thing that became clear was that Wrly Career Researchers (ECR’s) attending the workshop had not had a conversation about authorship with their supervisors or collaborators

So briefly a few things to think about in your lab groups, or to raise at a lab meeting:
(1) Talk to your research colleagues about the protocols you and your lab follow on guidelines for research paper authorship.
(2) There are lots of different guidelines on how authorship is determined and your lab should agree on what works for them. Whichever guidelines you establish, make sure they align with the authorship rules of your institution and the standards outlined by the publications you are sending your work to.
(3) Make sure everyone involved in the research process knows the expectations of authorship at the start of developing the research questions, during the process of data acquisition and analysis, and during the writing and editorial process. This is best written down and acknowledged by all researchers involved in a project and amended if there are authors added or removed.
(4) If there is a grievance about the method used to determine authorship, make sure it is resolved well before a manuscript is submitted for publication.

Have a look ar the ARC/NHMRC guidelines: Authorship – A guide supporting the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
download here:

If you do not have any authorship guidelines in your lab/research group, you can use the ones outlined here.

Here are Wiley’s authorship guidelines

If you have different guidelines (e.g. the “2/6 rule”), make these authorship expectations clear at the beginning of research projects, and also when new people may become involved – and everyone agrees!

Nature research is now following the guidelines set out in McNutt M. K., Bradford M., Drazen J. M., Hanson B., Howard B., Jamieson K. H., Kiermer V., Marcus E., Pope B. K., Schekman R., Swaminathan S., Stang P. J. & Verma I. M. (2018) Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in scientific publication. PNAS 115, 2557-60.

All follow a similar theme of attempting to make authorship guidelines and responsibilities as clear, and unambiguous, as possible

At the ‘Writing for Publication’ workshops I have been running, we covered the issue (amongst others) of authorship. There was a range of people with a variety of publication experience at these workshops, and it was quite clear that most of the audience had very different expectations of what constitutes authorship vs acknowledgement on research papers. In the most extreme cases, an authors name magically appeared on a manuscript when that named author that had no effective input into a manuscript.

Authorship is defined as substantial contributions in a combination of the following: conception and
design of the project; analysis and interpretation of research data; and drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the interpretation.

There is an international standard regarding authorship which many major publishing houses have adopted: I have appended the essentials below, and also the guidelines are found here.

Another common authorship guideline used in ecology is the “2/6 rule” when deciding who should be an author of a paper. If anyone makes a significant contribution to two of the following six steps, then a joint authorship is warranted. The six steps are:
(1) initial idea; (2) obtaining funds, (3) provision of resources, (4) collecting data, (5) analysing data (6) writing & publishing the paper.

In addition to this, another issue that was raised was: who should be the corresponding author on a publication? As a general rule, it is an important thing for the first author (especially an Early Career Researcher/ Student) to be the corresponding author. You can use a ‘generic’ email address so people can contact you after you have moved institutions (e.g., you do not have to use your university email address). It does make a positive impression on your career when you are applying for research jobs/ postdocs if you can say that you were the corresponding author on eight of you 12 publications: as it shows you truly led the research.

There are always differences of opinion on such guidelines, but I raise them as an initial conversation point that is worth having within research labs, and among collaborators. It is worth raising the issue of authorship at the start of projects, and at different points during the research, analysis and write-up stages: particularly if new people get involved or if there are substantive changes in the research directions. It can save a lot of pain and angst that may be caused when there are different expectations among authors that are not clear until the paper is ready to be submitted (or a manuscript is published and a researcher was not included when they expected to be)!

ICMJE guidelines: authors should qualify for ALL these criteria
1. Have made substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data
2. Been involved in drafting the manuscript or revising it critically for important intellectual content;
3. Given final approval of the version to be published. Each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content
4. Agreed 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

The criteria are not intended for use as a means to disqualify colleagues from authorship who otherwise meet authorship criteria by denying them the opportunity to meet criterion #s 2 or 3. Therefore, all individuals who meet the first criterion should have the opportunity to participate in the review, drafting, and final approval of the manuscript.

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