Who deserves authorship?

Research projects most often require a team of staff and students to complete a study for publication and study involvement can be credited with authorship or an official acknowledgement in the publication.

Research careers are highly dependent on authorship of a publication in the international peer-reviewed literature, but too many authors on a publication can devaluate the significance of the credit received for academic input. Authorship can be contentious and requires carefully consideration from an early stage of the project, so that appropriate credit is given where it is due.

The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, endorsed by the University, outlines the responsibilities of researchers on authorship in section 5.

Notre Dame's policy on authorship (page 4 of the University's Code of Conduct for Research) further aligns with international recommendations available to guide research teams and assist in credible authorship assignments.

Consensus exists on the following requirements for authorship:

  • Substantial contribution to the conception or design of a study,
  • Substantial contribution to acquisition, analysis or interpretation of the data
  • Substantial contribution to drafting or critically revising the research manuscript for publication
  • Providing final approval of a manuscript to be submitted to a journal for publication.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) considers the substantial contribution to all these criteria as essential for credible authorship. The ICMJE advises that a researcher be acknowledged as a contributor or collaborator instead of being given authorship, if only some -but not all - criteria are met by a research team member. This view is endorsed by many international academic journals.  Researchers should consider Notre Dame's policy on authorship, potential funder-specific rules on authorship and the guidelines by the journal they consider for the publication of their study.

The widely regarded UK-based Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) has developed a discussion document on what constitutes authorship, in which authorship on academic output from various academic disciplines is considered. It addresses concerns like gift or guest authorship, which reflect no or marginal intellectual input along the life course of a research study. It also presents situations where some common sense needs to prevail for appropriate attribution. COPE has also published advice on how to prevent and resolve authorship issues.

Researchers are advised to think about authorship of a research publication as early as possible, preferably at the start of a project but ideally before drafting the first manuscript version. The meaning and impact of the order of authors on a publication varies per academic discipline. However, irrespective of the norm, it requires similar careful considerations as it can trigger similar disputes on fair attribution within a research team.

What is contributorship?

As part of sensible authorship decisions, support for recognised contributorship is growing in the international research community.

Contributorship can provide a means to appropriate attribution for a research team member who does not meet the full set of criteria for authorship. Their contribution may be significant but not substantial enough to qualify as an author, however, an acknowledgement may understate their contribution.

In such cases, contributorship may create a suitable option. CRediT presents a contributor role taxonomy model, which makes contributorship transparent and justifiable. Credible contributions beyond authorship can be attributed with contributorship to give credit to specialist research involvement, yet to a lesser degree than authors. This is conceivable, for example, in multidisciplinary research projects. Another example is a research or specialist group listed as one author on the title page. Here, all group members of the research or specialist group can be given individual contributionship elsewhere in the manuscript.

To attribute collaboratorship, the names of contributors or collaborators are most often listed in the 'Acknowledgement' section of a manuscript. If appropriately presented in a research publication according to the journal's instructions, indexing of the publication by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) can result in non-author contributions being identified and included in a byline to authorship in PubMed's Abstract Plus display. An example is available from the NLM. In addition, an informative section on multi-author groups and other non-author contribution types is included in the ICMJE recommendations on author and contributorship.