Authorship and Contributorship an editor view and research institution view

Data and Reproducibility

Two perspectives:

COPE Education Subcommittee focus—what does it mean to be an author?

Authorship policies and practices: The role of research institutions


COPE Education Subcommittee focus—what does it mean to be an author?

COPE’s Core practice #2 on authorship and contributorship recommends that members should have clear policies in place (that allow for transparency around who contributed to the work and in what capacity), describing requirements for authorship and contributorship as well as processes for managing potential disputes.

Authorship issues are the most common concerns for COPE members, and COPE has created dedicated resources to help address these issues, including: a guide for new researchers on handling authorship disputes, COPE discussion document on authorship (in the process of being updated), an eLearning module (members only), specific flowcharts to support editors handling authorship issues and a classification of ‘authorship’ cases from COPE’s  Cases Database.

Based on the nature of these cases, which often come down to two or more contradicting viewpoints, if an authorship dispute arises during peer review, there is little the journal can do other than put the manuscript “on hold” and refer the situation to the authors’ institutions. Due to the need for help from institutional contacts[HLT1] , journal collaboration with institutions is key, and we take the opportunity to highlight several resources shared by members of COPE’s institutional pilot here:
For example, Kelly Cobey (Senior Clinical Research Associate, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute) shared the institutional perspective on authorship during COPE’s webinar on “Standards in Authorship.”
Mark Hooper and colleagues from QUT shared several resources on authorship and publication.
In addition, Siu-wai Leung, University of Macau, Hong Kong, also gave his perspective on good authorship practices at COPE’s first China Seminar on “The Pillars of Publication Ethics”

It is clear that although authorship and contributorship roles vary widely across the humanities, social sciences and biomedical sciences, institutions and journals need to have clear policies and wide-reaching training in place. There are some recent initiatives that are helping, for example, ORCID and the Casrai CRediT taxonomy are taking steps forward in ensuring transparency and accountability. See “in the news” for more related items on this topic.

Elizabeth Moylan on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee


Authorship policies and practices: The role of research institutions

COPE Council notes that “authorship is one of the most common concerns of COPE members” (2014). The COPE Core Practice site on Authorship and Contributorship offers extensive resources that explain the author’s roles and responsibilities and offer guidance on resolving  authorship issues. Of particular note are the Discussion Document "What constitutes authorship?"; the position statement Responsible research publication: international standards for authors, the guideline How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers. These resources reflect a wide range of authorship issues encountered in the publication process:

  • Undeserving authorship
  • Disputes around author order
  • Requests to withdraw from the author list after submission
  • Omissions from the author list
  • Author inability to respond to reviewer comments
  • Author disagreement around article corrections
  • Unauthorized use of collaborator’s (or student/advisee’s) work
  • Request to change author’s name after publication
  • Submission of paper without consent of co-authors
  • Conflicting claims of intellectual property

Left unchecked, authorship issues threaten to impede timely dissemination of new knowledge and diminish credibility of scientific research. All stakeholders in the research enterprise must articulate expectations for authorship integrity as integral to the responsible conduct of research.Yet funders, editors, peer reviewers, and professional colleagues have little ability to resolve authors disputes when they arise. COPE Council emphasizes that this responsibility rests with the author’s institution (2014).

Research institutions -- as the home of significant research production and knowledge dissemination-- have a critical role in facilitating and enforcing responsible authorship practice. Important mechanisms for fulfilling this responsibility include:

  • Employment, matriculation, internship, and fellowship agreements that specify expectations for researcher integrity and consequences for violating standards and norms
  • Intellectual Property policies that explain ownership of research outputs produced with institute resources or on institute time, clearly delineating the circumstances where the institute owns the work and what genre(s) of research outputs are covered by the policy (papers, data, software, etc).
  • Handbooks and manuals that guide affiliated researchers at all levels on managing the rights in their works and those held by the Institute. Appendixes may include sample copyright transfer agreements; guidance on retaining author rights; and applying open licensing
  • Thesis manuals that include guidance on including published or submitted material in the thesis; appropriate placement of copyright or Creative Commons notices on title pages and at section breaks; and a template for acknowledging contributors and sponsors
  • Model student-advisor compacts that research laboratories  can adapt to  the lab’s policies on authorship and contributorship (the framework developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges provides a good starting point);
  • Training and ongoing support on authorship best practices and standards including criteria for authorship and norms for authorship order; ethics of attribution; use of digital author identifiers including ORCiD; and application of the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT) system to articulate author contributions.
  • Training and ongoing support on copyright and author’s rights that covers the complexity of authorship concerns at a research institution: eligibility for copyright protection; works-for-hire; copyright transfer and permissions; joint authorship; and copyright termination rights.
  • Services and tools that facilitate author integrity, such as similarity checking software for manuscripts before submission
  • Qualified mediation assistance to help research collaborators resolve disputes before entering the publication process

Without question, the research institution’s sustained investment in sound authorship policies and practices is considerable. The high return on that investment is two-fold: first, a publication system that produces the highest quality record of knowledge to benefit society; and second,  a community of authors whose accomplishments and innovations reflect the strengths and impact of their home institutions. 

Gail Clement, Head of Research Services, Caltech Library, Pasadena, USA