Authorship Guidelines

Authorship is an unambiguous way of assigning responsibility and giving recognition for intellectual work. It is important to all members of the university research community, and especially to students, post-doctoral scholars, and faculty when being considered for annual reviews, promotion, and tenure. Methods of assigning authorship continue to evolve and are discipline specific. Given this diversity and the importance of authorship credit, authorship is an area of relatively frequent concern and dispute. Therefore, these guidelines were developed to address this important topic.

Journal and professional society customs and policies governing authorship and contributorship vary widely, but there are general principles that should be followed in assigning authorship and resolving authorship disputes. The following principles, relying upon the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine 2018 report Fostering Research Integrity, have been adopted by George Mason University and should be implemented in all academic writing.

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Because authorship/contributorship standards vary by discipline, because of the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of research, and because the fact that Mason students come from a wide range of backgrounds, faculty should initiate authorship conversations with each other and with trainees early in the process of performing research and scholarship. For example, faculty should be sure to inform trainees that authorship and their position on the list of authors may change depending on their contribution (unless the journal follows an alphabetical or contributorship approach). They may wish to document this understanding in writing. Each author must understand the underlying science or scholarship of the work and understand their responsibility for writing, submitting for publication, and editing work. Trainees should also understand what activities they will need to participate in to deserve authorship credit and which activities will lead to an acknowledgement. Criteria for authorship should be explicitly discussed as each project is initiated, throughout the project, and again at the time of manuscript preparation. Our office - Office of Research Integrity & Assurance (ORIA) - may be consulted for questions about authorship by contacting (703) 993-5445.
Authorship credit and order of authorship should be consistent within each research group and also be consistent with standard practice in the discipline. An author is commonly considered to be an individual who has made substantial, direct, intellectual contributions to the work during conceptualization of the study, conduct of the research or scholarship, analysis and interpretation of data, or drafting and revising the manuscript for intellectual content. Simply having administrative oversight, having acquired funding, collecting or providing data, or providing general supervision of a research group (such as being a Laboratory or Center Director) alone does not establish authorship. Editorial comments alone are also an insufficient criterion for authorship. These individuals may be listed in an acknowledgements section.
In the case of publications with multiple authors, one author should be designated as the lead author. The lead author assumes overall responsibility for the manuscript, and also often serves as the managerial and corresponding author, as well as providing a significant contribution to the research effort. A lead author may be any member of the research team and is not necessarily the principal investigator or project leader. The lead author is responsible for:
  1. Taking overall responsibility for the publication.
  2. Including as co-authors all and only those individuals who meet the authorship criteria specific to their discipline.
  3. Providing the draft of the manuscript to each individual contributing author for review and assent for authorship. The lead author should obtain from all coauthors their agreement to be designated as such and their assent of the content of the manuscript. A journal may have specific requirements governing author review and consent, which must be followed.
  4. The integrity of the work as a whole, and ensuring that reasonable care and effort has been taken to determine that all the data are complete, accurate, and reasonably interpreted.
All co-authors of a publication are responsible for:
  1. Understanding the publication and taking responsibility for it.
  2. Acknowledging that they meet the authorship criteria required by their disciplinary and publication/venue standards. A coauthor should have participated sufficiently in the work to take responsibility for appropriate portions of the content.
  3. Acknowledging that they have reviewed and approved the manuscript.
  4. The content of all appropriate portions of the manuscript, including the integrity of any applicable research.
An individual retains the right to refuse their co-authorship of a manuscript.
Individuals who may have made some contribution to a publication, but who do not meet the criteria for authorship, such as staff, editorial assistants, technical writers, or other individuals, can provide a valuable contribution to the writing and editing of publications. Since those contributions do not meet the criteria for authorship under this policy, those individuals should be listed in an acknowledgement section of the work. As with co-authors, all individuals acknowledged should grant permission to be listed on the publication.
Guest, gift, and ghost authorship are all inconsistent with the definition of authorship, are unacceptable, and are a violation of ethical research practices and this policy. Guest authorship (honorary, courtesy, or prestige) is defined as granting authorship out of appreciation or respect for an individual, or in the belief that expert standing of the guest will increase the likelihood of publication, credibility, or status of the work. Gift authorship is credit, offered from a sense of obligation, tribute, or dependence, within the context of an anticipated benefit, to an individual who has not contributed to the work. Ghost authorship is the failure to identify as an author someone who made substantial contributions to the research or writing of a manuscript that merited authorship, or an unnamed individual who participated in writing the manuscript. Ghost authorship may range from authors for hire with the understanding that they will not be credited to major contributors not named an author.
All authors, in manuscripts submitted for review and publication, must acknowledge/disclose the source(s) of support for the work. Support includes research and educational grants, salary or other support, contracts, gifts, and unit, college, or institutional support. Authors shall fully disclose, in all manuscripts to journals, grant applications, and at professional meetings, all relevant financial interests that could be viewed as a potential conflict of interest or as required by the University and/or journal. All such financial interests must also be reported internally as required by the University’s conflict of interest policies and to Journals following the journal’s guidelines.
The order of authors is a collective decision of the authors. It is not possible for the University to define the order of authorship and order is not part of the authorship disputes section of these guidelines. In conjunction with the lead author, co-authors should discuss authorship order at the onset of the project and revise their decision as needed. All authors must work together to make these informed judgments. Should authors fail to resolve disputes about the order of authors, the lead author will usually make the final decision.
Disputes over which individuals deserve authorship (authorship credit) on a research or scholarly work can take a substantial toll on the good will, effectiveness, and reputation of the individuals involved. Therefore, authors should first attempt to resolve disputes within the author group. When possible, trainees should discuss the issue with a supervisor, laboratory head, advisor, or mentor. Authorship credit for works for which Mason holds the copyright will be decided by the dispute process outlined in Policy 4002. All other authorship credit decisions related to individuals who worked collaboratively on research or scholarship will be made using the following process and are not considered covered by Mason’s Policy 4007, Misconduct in Research and Scholarship. If there is a persistent disagreement regarding authorship credit, internal or external complainants should contact the Dean of the lead author’s college. The Dean(s) may convene an authorship dispute board or ask that the Office of Research Integrity & Assurance (ORIA) office convene an authorship dispute board to review the facts of the dispute and provide recommendations to the disputants for resolution. An authorship dispute board will generally comprise three to five faculty not in the same unit (department, center, or similar) as the primary appointment of the disputants. The authorship dispute board will make recommendations to the Dean. These recommendations will generally be made within 60 days. Disputants may appeal the recommendations made by the board to the appropriate Dean(s) whose decision will be final.

Sources: The National Academy of Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School, Washington University of Saint Louis, Duke University