While there are no universally accepted standards for assigning authorship, and principles, customs and practices will differ from one discipline to another, authorship provides credit for an individual’s contributions to a study and carries responsibility and accountability for published work.
Responsibility for decisions regarding the authorship of a publication lies with those who carried out the work reported in the publication. Researchers should always be aware of, and be guided by, the authorship practices within their own disciplines and should always abide by any requirements stipulated by the funders of their research and by journals as part of their instructions to authors.
To be included as an author on a paper, an individual should have made a substantial intellectual or practical contribution to a publication and have agreed to be accountable for that contribution. This would normally include anyone who has:
- Made a significant contribution to the conception or design of the project or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; and/or
- Drafted all or part of the manuscript or reviewed/revised it critically for important intellectual content.
Anyone listed as an author on a paper should approve the final version of the paper and accept responsibility for ensuring that he or she is familiar with its contents and can identify his or her contribution to it. Many journals also now encourage authors to include a statement of responsibility in the manuscript that specifies the contribution of every author which will be included in the published paper.
Where there are two or more co-authors involved in a study, it is suggested that one author takes responsibility for the scientific accuracy of the entire publication. This senior author is responsible for verifying that each co-author has reviewed the manuscript and has confirmed that their area of expertise is accurate to the best of their knowledge.
Individuals who contributed to the work, but whose contributions were not sufficient to be listed as authors should be acknowledged, usually in an acknowledgements section. Authors should be careful to make sure that these acknowledgements fully reflect the level of the input of each contributor. The help and support of technical staff should also be acknowledged, if relevant.
“Guest authorship” (the inclusion of an individual in the author list because of their respect or influence, in the hope that this will increase the likelihood of publication) and “gift authorship” (the inclusion of an individual who made little or no contribution to the manuscript in a way which exaggerates or gives a misleading impression of their contribution) are considered to be types of research misconduct.
Heads of Department are responsible for ensuring that members of the Department are not engaged in the publication of research which is not authentic, or does not add substantially to existing literature. This responsibility will in practice be delegated to principal investigators.
Researchers are advised to take account of specific guidance on practice within their own discipline and to consult the guidelines set by the funders of their research and by the journals in which they hope to publish. Examples include:
- UK Research Integrity Office Good practice in research: Authorship (March 2017) - this guidance note focuses on good practice in the authorship of research publications.
- Nature journals’ authorship policy
- International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE): Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors – A set of guidelines that have been adopted by a number of medical journals.
- Transparency in authors’ contributions and responsibilities to promote integrity in scientific publication, McNutt et al (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb 2018) – A paper which sets out criteria for authorship which have been widely accepted by journals.
- MRC principles and guidelines for good research practice (November 2014)
- Wellcome Trust, Guidelines on Responsible Conduct of Research (March 2022)
General Guidance for authors
Ethical behaviour and good practice is expected at all levels of the research process. Plagiarism is usually a very contentious issue, and a number of organisations provide guidance to authors and researchers. The library provides a range of information and resources for different groups of staff and students to avoid plagiarism in their work. Some specific guidance related to avoiding plagiarism when authoring journal articles is also available.