Tips for Determining Authorship Credit

Tips for Determining Authorship Credit
What is Authorship and How is it Determined?

Authorship entails a public acknowledgment of scientific or professional contribution to a disseminated piece of information. The APA Ethical 

Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2010, Section 8.12) offers the following guidelines for determining authorship:
  • Psychologists take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed or to which they have substantially contributed. 
  • Principal authorship and other publication credits accurately reflect the relative scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved, regardless of their relative status. Mere possession of an institutional position, such as department chair, does not justify authorship credit. Minor contributions to the research or to the writing for publication are appropriately acknowledged, such as in footnotes or in an introductory statement. 
  • Except under exceptional circumstances, a student is listed as principal author on any multiple-authored article that is substantially based on the student’s doctoral dissertation. Faculty advisers discuss publication credit with students as early as feasible and throughout the research and publication process as appropriate.
Negotiating Authorship

Discussion of authorship should ideally begin at the beginning of a project and involve a purposeful and thoughtful examination of expected contributions of the individuals who are involved in the project. Keep in mind that it is possible that several manuscripts will be planned, each of which could involve different authors or different authorship orders. It is also helpful for everyone to recognize that initial authorship and authorship order can change throughout the development of the project if necessary in order to better reflect the actual contributions of all investigators.

As a graduate student approaching a discussion of authorship, keep in mind your short-term and long-term goals, and how your involvement on this specific project will provide the opportunity to work toward these goals. Authorship can provide the opportunity to begin, enhance and advance your involvement on future and related projects, strengthen your affiliations with other graduate students and professors, and advance your overall career. At the same time, given that you will likely be involved in multiple projects simultaneously, it is optimal to “pick your battles” and advocate for greater leadership (and more prominent authorship) on projects that are most important to you.

If you are doing interdisciplinary research, it is important to know that other fields may have different authorship cultures. For example, in the biomedical field it is customary for the adviser (as head of the lab) to be the last author. It is therefore all the more important to start authorship discussions early so that all the contributors’ expectations are aligned.

Resources for Negotiating Authorship

Common Reasons for Changes in Authorship

Several reasons for why authors might be added to a manuscript include: 

  • The project has expanded beyond the original purpose, conceptualization or scope.
  • The added author may possess valuable expertise necessary for the completion of the project or to address major concerns expressed by a reviewer of the submitted manuscript. 
  • A contributor to the project who originally was intended to be thanked in the acknowledgement section of the manuscript became significantly more involved to the extent that their contributions warranted authorship. 

Several reasons for why an author may be later omitted from authorship include: 

  • The author did not contribute to the project as originally expected or agreed upon.
  • The author graduated or relocated before a project could be significantly undertaken, and the author’s relocation prevented her or him from reasonably or substantially contributing to the proposed project.

Several reasons for why authorship order may be revised include: 

  • The actual contributions of authors differed significantly from the originally expected contributions at the beginning of the project.
  • An author would like to accept increased responsibility, or would like to delegate a portion of her or his responsibility to other authors.

As a graduate student, you will also want to consider several specific situations when becoming involved in certain projects. For longitudinal projects, it's helpful to discuss with the primary investigator whether she or he intends to produce manuscripts only at the end of the investigation, or if several manuscripts are planned throughout the process. You will also want to discuss if or how your authorship would be affected if you graduate before the completion of the project or manuscript.

Concerns Regarding Authorship

Open communication, understanding and revisiting of expectations are essential, and provide a basic way to identify any early development of disputes. Discussing authorship at regular intervals or at major developments in the project can help minimize the potential for the development of a disagreement later on in the project. However, if an authorship disagreement has developed, as a graduate student, you have several options for recourse.

Generally, the first level at which disagreements should be attempted to be resolved is between the contributors on the project. This can occur through additional discussion or by joint completion of a post hoc authorship determination worksheet. If the process of authorship determination was not explicit at the beginning of the project, it could be that collaborators have been unaware of the actual level of involvement of others on the project.

As a graduate student, you might also find it helpful to consult with other individuals outside of the project in order to gain an objective perspective, or to receive suggestions on how you might best approach the situation. 

If the initial concern cannot be appropriately resolved, you may wish to directly consult your university’s handbook or discuss the situation with your program or department chair.