Authorship criteria

What is this about?

A well known criteria of authorship states that an author must have contributed substantially to a work’s: conception or design; data acquisition, analysis or interpretation; intellectual content development or critical review; final version approval; and integrity, ensuring that issues related to the accuracy or completeness of any part of the work are properly investigated and resolved.1

Why is this important?

A successful career for researchers is often equivalent to the production and acceptance of peer-reviewed manuscripts. In fact, the number of publications a researcher has is commonly used as a parameter for career progression or funding acquisition.

Authorship matters because the entire research and publication process relies on trust. Authorship conveys significant privileges, responsibilities, and legal rights, and it is fair that only those who have actively participated in the work should benefit from the positive aspects of being an author and being accountable for all aspects of the research.

Although the general guidelines on authorship are common sense, the pressure to be a productive scholar and problems resulting from different interpretations of the general guidelines have encouraged a number of questionable research practices. These include honorary authorship, gift authorship, prestige authorship, plagiarism, self-plagiarism, citation amnesia, multiple submissions and duplicate publication.

For whom is this important?

Students, PhD Students, Scientists, Principal investigators, Researchers, Postdocs, Junior researchers, Senior researchers, Doctoral students, Professors

What are the best practices?

Practice guidelines are diverse and vary according to the scientific field. Rather than rules, professional bodies provide guidelines or recommendations and most of the guidelines leave some room for interpretation.


The best-known authorship guideline comes from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. The ICMJE recommends that an author should meet all four of the following 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,’’ and (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 committee further designates that in addition to excluding a scholar who has not met all four criteria, any scholar who meets all four should be included as an author. Following the authorship criteria, the ICMJE expressly describes contributions that should be included as an acknowledgment, and not authorship (i.e., funding, supervision, writing assistance, technical or language editing, proofreading).1


The Council of Science Editors describes authors as “individuals identified by the research group to have made substantial contributions to the reported work and agree to be accountable for these contributions. In addition to being accountable for the parts of the work he or she has done, an author should be able to identify which of their co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work. In addition, an author should have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors. All authors should review and approve the final manuscript.”2

Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics

Guidelines in the physical and mathematical sciences offer somewhat less precise definitions, such as this from the American Physical Society: “Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the concept, design, execution or interpretation of the research study. All those who have made significant contributions should be offered the opportunity to be listed as authors. Other individuals who have contributed to the study should be acknowledged, but not identified as authors.”3


The American Sociological Association includes the following in its Code of Ethics: “(a) Sociologists take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed or to which they have contributed. (b) Sociologists ensure that principal authorship and other publication credits are based on the relative scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved, regardless of their status. In claiming or determining the ordering of authorship, sociologists seek to reflect accurately the contributions of main participants in the research and writing process. (c) A student is usually listed as principal author on any multiple-authored publication that substantially derives from the student’s dissertation or thesis.”4


  1. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Recommendations: Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors. Available at: Accessed: June 2019.
  2. Council of Science Editors. CSE’s white paper on promoting integrity in scientific journal publications: 2.2 authorship and authorship responsibilities. Accessed: June 2019.
  3. The American Physical Society. Guidelines for professional conduct. Available at: Accessed: June 2019.
  4. American Sociological Association. Code of ethics and policies and procedures of the ASA Committee on Professional Ethics. Available at: Accessed: June 2019.

Anna Catharina Armond contributed to this theme.

Latest contribution was September 16, 2019