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Publish: Authorship

Authorship

Authorship demonstrates that an individual has made what would be deemed a significant contribution to the publication.

Assigning authorship ethically and accurately preserves in the academic record who was involved in the creation of a work, as well as who has both the credit and responsibility for the publication. All individuals listed as an author should meet the criteria for inclusion as an author, and everyone who meets the criteria should be listed.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) resources on authorship and contributorship has guidelines and resources outlining how publishers who are members are expected to handle authorship.

Various institutions, committees and publishers may have their own guidelines as to who meets the criteria for inclusion as an author, as research often looks different across disciplines and there may be differing roles. Care should be taken to ensure that you are meeting best practice for your discipline. In addition, publishers may have information that outlines how they handle potential authorship disputes, and contact information for authors who may have concerns.

Defining the role of authors and contributors, from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)

Co-authorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences from Taylor and Francis

Authorship guidelines at ECU

Researchers at ECU are expected to follow the Authorship, Publication of Research, and Peer Review policy. Policies and guidelines at ECU are built on the foundation of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Researchers have a responsibility to follow the code and should familiarise themselves with both the code and the associated guides, including that on authorship. Authorship should be granted when the individuals role is such that they are able to take public responsibility as well as credit for the work. According to the policy, authorship is based upon substantial contributions to the publication, comprised of a combination of the following (with some considerations given to discipline specific roles):

i. conception and design of the project;

ii. analysis and interpretation of research data;

iii. drafting or revising significant parts of the work.

The order of authors should be decided within the author group, with one author serving as the corresponding or executive author. The corresponding author should enure that anyone who meets the criteria for authorship has been offered it. If authorship is declined this must also be retained in writing.

 

Considerations around authorship as a research student at ECU often come into play if you are planning to publish from your thesis, or are undertaking a thesis by publication. For guidance on how to reach an agreement with your supervisor on authorship, and how to discuss what the plan is both during and after your candidature with authorship on publications, visit the ECU Publication, authorship and IP page. In order for a supervisor to be recognised as an author, they must meet the requirements for co-authorship. Supervision itself is not sufficient. According to the ECU Authorship Publication of Research and Peer Review policy and its associated guidelines: when a student undertakes the majority of the research and/or has made substantial authorship contributions to the publication, they should be named as first author, or given a position in the author list that is recognised in the relevant discipline as an indication of their major contribution.

If you require advice or if a dispute arises over authorship, the relevant School Dean is able to decide on an appropriate course of action; and all queries should be referred to the School Dean. In the instance that there may be a conflict of interest, an alternative recommendation will be made by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research). For further information please visit the working with others page, which covers support available to researchers at ECU and the continued development and communication of policy and guidance. Authorship information and resources for training are also a component of the Researcher Professional Development Framework here at ECU, with authors needing to ensure that authorship is ethically assigned to all of those who have made an appropriate level of contribution to the work.

Issues of authorship

There are many issues around authorship which vary in severity, and could lead to disputes or breaches of ethical research guidelines. Ideally, authorship and how this should be assigned should be discussed and planned at the beginning of the project, with any potential changes or deviations discussed as they occur. Potential issues include:


Disagreements on author order

One of the most common issues are disagreements that arise over who is listed as first, last and corresponding author. Whilst specific author order has differing conventions across disciplines, these types of disputes can have a serious impact when it comes to receiving credit for work. This can have serious consequences for students who are publishing work from their thesis. The order of authors is always the decision of the authors involved, and may be difficult to finalise when author contributions are similar. Ideally, the contributions of the individuals and the author order should be worked out early in the project to minimise delays prior to publication. Some solutions may include using alphabetical order, or developing an authorship agreement within the team, when a publication will result in multiple publications.


Gift or honorary authorship

Also known by terms such as 'guest authorship', this is a broad category of including individuals who did not have a significant contribution to the publication as authors. This is often done to include individuals that the other author/s feel they have an obligation to include, such as a supervisor or the lead researcher in the lab. Other instances where this can occur, is when researchers 'trade' authorship on their publications to boost the metrics and output measures of themselves and colleagues. Those who have a role in the research but do not meet the requirements for authorship, should be included in the acknowledgements section instead.


Ghost authorship

The exclusion of an individual who should have been included on the publication as an author. This mostly occurs with junior researchers who may not feel confident speaking up about the situation. However, it can also occur when an individual leaves an institution and is no longer affiliated, or when another author wishes to downplay the contribution or type of contribution. The paper Authors, Ghosts, Damned Lies, and Statisticians by Elizabeth Wager discusses the missing statisticians in medical research papers, and the issues around how authorship is granted or denied to certain roles, including writers.


Author included as author without their consent

Known as authorship without authorisation. Whilst rarer than other types of issues, this can occur for numerous reasons and is also one of the most sever levels of ethical breaches. In some instances a grant may have been received by a group of researchers, which specifies that all names must be included on all resulting publications (or researchers may believe this is a requirement). When a researcher leaves the group, that authors name may be retained on author lists in order to continue receiving the funding allocated to that author, even if they were not involved in the continued research. In other cases this may be to increase the prestige of the author list; with an author being listed as having provided what they thought was informal or general advice between colleagues, and having no knowledge of, or making no contribution to the publication.


Fabricated or falsified authors

The fabrication of authors usually occurs when an author has fabricated other parts of their research. They may require co-authors in order to make the research appear legitimate as a single author could not have produced the work. Another form of this is authorship brokering sites, where authorship is purchased by, or sold to, someone who has made no contribution to a publication.

COPE guide on how to recognise potential authorship problems