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Interprofessional Practice Based Research


Who should be an author on this manuscript? Name: Not enough time to list all co-authors. Role: Help determine who should be an author on  your paper. Research interest: Publishing ethically, assigning appropriate credit,  accountability. Quote of the day: I'm  not interested in what this blog is  about, I just want to be an author.

July 31, 2019

Who should be an author on this manuscript?

You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car! Remember in 2004 when Oprah gave everyone in the audience a supposedly free car? While many of you might remember this story, what you probably did not know was that to actually receive the car, people had to be pay federal and state income taxes of a few thousand dollars … so technically the car was not free. The old adage, “nothing in life is free” comes to mind. The same applies to authorship on a scientific paper – realistically speaking, authorship should not be gifted, but rather you should be contributing something before being given the reward of a coveted authorship spot.

Authorship is not a gift, but rather a reward for effort and work contributed to a research project.

So, who should be an author on the manuscript?

Good question – and one that you should ask early on in the research process! However, there is no clear cut consensus on what constitutes authorship on a manuscript. Authorship gives credit for work and can have important academic, social, and sometimes financial implications. For example, given that authorship on a scientific research paper is meant to prove involvement in the research project, adding a paper to your CV can show your efforts in going above and beyond your expected duties. If a person who did not do the research gets an authorship position and adds this to their CV, they now receive credit for work they did not put time or effort into, and are falsely indicating they went above and beyond their responsibilities. Authorship also implies responsibility and accountability for a piece of published work in its entirety, meaning that the individual stands behind the quality of the work and understands the research. As you can see, it is crucial to be intentional about determining authorship.

So what do leading authorities on authorship have to say? Well, that’s the thing – they each have slight variations in their criteria.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2019) recommends that authorship be based on all of the following 4 criteria:

  • 1) Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work
  • 2) Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  • 3) Final approval of the version to be published
  • 4) 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.

The NIH has a somewhat less stringent definition and states the following:

  • “For each individual the privilege of authorship should be based on a significant contribution to the conceptualization, design, execution, and/or interpretation of the research study, as well as on the drafting or substantively reviewing or revising the research article. Authorship also conveys responsibility for the study. Authorship also conveys responsibility for the study. Individuals who do not meet these criteria but who have assisted the research by their encouragement and advice or by providing space, financial support, reagents, occasional analyses or patient material should be acknowledged in the text but not be authors.” (NIH, 2016)

The Council of Science Editors (2012) stated that:

  • 1) Those who completed the research are responsible for identifying authors and other contributors, based on sufficient contributions to the work.
  • 2) Individuals with insufficient contributions to the work should be listed by name in the acknowledgments section, not as authors.
  • 3) Authors are responsible for reviewing and approving the manuscript before publication.
  • 4) To establish accountability, authors and those acknowledged should be able to identify their contributions and be accountable for reported work.

Between these three organizations, we see common threads in ideas for accountability for the work, and a sufficient significant contribution. All these recommendations indicate no support for the idea of gift authorship, where a person who did not make a significant contribution is still awarded an authorship spot. Reasons people give gift-authorship can include feeling pressured to include a (typically senior) person, wishing to help a person increase their number of publications, or the belief that a paper will gain more recognition when a well-known author is listed. Other scenarios for which authorship is not justified can include:

  • Professional writers who participated only in drafting the manuscript but had no role in the design or conduct of the study or the interpretation of results
  • Assisting the research by providing advice
  • Providing research space
  • Departmental oversight
  • Obtaining financial support
  • Isolated analyses
  • Providing reagents/patients/animals/other study materials

In these cases, the appropriate individuals could be thanked for their contribution in the acknowledgments section.

So how can you incorporate these suggestions about authorship into your next project? We’ve compiled our own list of suggestions for establishing a research team and clarifying authorship:

  • 1) Choose collaborators with whom you can work well and speak openly
  • 2) Discuss authorship early, and establish criteria for including any new authors who may join a research team. Put this in writing. (Tip: We have a template agreement to help guide you through this process – just reach out and ask us!)
  • 3) Document – keep a log of who is doing what and when.
  • 4) If briefly consulting with someone who will not be making a significant contribution to the work, clarify that the consultation alone does not promise authorship

Any don’t worry, if you ever have questions about this – the IPBR team is always here to help!

CSE. (2012). Authorship and Authorship Responsibilities. Retrieved from
ICMJE. (2019). Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. Retrieved from
NIH. (2016). Conduct of Research in the Intramural Research Program at NIH. Retrieved from

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