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Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements

Authorship offers significant professional and personal rewards, but these rewards are accompanied by substantial responsibility. During the 1980s, biomedical editors began requiring contributors to meet specific criteria for authorship. These criteria were first developed for medical journals under the initiative of Edward J. Huth, MD,3 then editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine, who cited Hewitt's2 work during discussions at the 1984 meeting of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The ICMJE guidelines were first published in 19854 and are now part of the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals5 (see also 2.0, Manuscript Preparation). These guidelines are reviewed, revised, and updated regularly, and numerous biomedical journals use them as the foundation for policies and procedures on authorship.

Authorship Definition and Criteria.

According to the ICMJE guidelines, all authors should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for the content, either all of the work or an important part of it. To take public responsibility, an author must be able to defend the content (all or an important part) and conclusions of the article if publicly challenged. Sufficient participation means that substantial contributions have been made in each of the following areas5:

  1. 1. Conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of the data,

  2. 2. Drafting the manuscript or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and

  3. 3. Approval of the version of the manuscript to be published

To justify authorship, an author must meet each of the 3 criteria. However, the term substantial contribution has not been adequately defined (perhaps to allow for wider application of the ICMJE criteria for authorship). As a result, the first criterion, “conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of the data,” may be interpreted broadly. For example, an author of a nonresearch paper may not have analyzed data per se but may have analyzed literature, events, theories, arguments, or opinions. The following might be useful for those seeking an explanation of substantial contribution: a substantial contribution is an important intellectual contribution, without which the work, or an important part of the work, could not have been completed or the manuscript could not have been written and submitted for publication.

The ICMJE also notes that the following contributions, alone, are not sufficient to justify authorship5: “Participation solely in the acquisition of funding, or the collection of data, or general supervision of the research group is not sufficient for authorship.” (See also 5.1.2, Guest and Ghost Authors.)

Author Contributions.

Authors may not be aware of the ICMJE authorship criteria. To inform or remind authors of these responsibilities and to encourage appropriate authorship, many journals require authors to attest in writing how they qualify for authorship and to indicate their specific contributions to the work.5-7 The ICMJE guidelines state, “Editors are strongly encouraged to develop and implement a contributorship policy, as well as a policy on identifying who is responsible for the integrity of the work as a whole.”5 Some journals ask authors to describe their specific contributions in an open-ended narrative format, some describe examples of various types of author contributions, and some journals provide a list of specific contributions in the form of a checklist. For example, JAMA and the Archives Journals require all authors to sign a statement of authorship responsibility based on the ICMJE guidelines and to indicate their specific contributions from a checklist based on the ICMJE authorship criteria and empiric data from studies of authorship and author contributions. This statement is required for authors of all types of manuscripts, including editorials, letters to the editor, and book reviews8-11 (see Box). JAMA and the Archives Journals use a single form for information about authorship responsibility, criteria, and contributions as well author’s conflicts of interest disclosure, copyright transfer, and an acknowledgment statement. An updated example of this authorship form is available online in the JAMA Instructions for Authors at http://www.jama.com.

Some journals publish author contributions. This practice, first suggested by Rennie et al in 19976 and endorsed by the ICMJE5 and the Council of Science Editors,12 makes the specific contributions of authors transparent to editors and readers. For example, JAMA and the Archives of Neurology publish the specific contributions of each author for all articles reporting original data (eg, research and systematic reviews) in the Acknowledgment section at the end of the article (see 5.2, Acknowledgments).

According to the ICMJE, some journals also request that 1 or more authors (ie, “guarantors”) be identified as those who take responsibility for the integrity of the work as a whole, from inception to published article, and publish the names of these guarantors with the article.5

Additional Author Requirements.

Depending on the journal, authors may also be required to transfer copyright or a publication license, identify relevant conflicts of interest or to declare no such interests, identify sponsorship and the role of the sponsors in the work to be published, and attest that they had access to the data for reports of original research (see also 5.6.5, Intellectual Property: Ownership, Access, Rights, and Management, Copyright Assignment or License, and 5.5.1, Conflicts of Interest, Requirements for Authors).13

Access to Data Requirement.

The ICMJE recommends that journals ask authors of studies funded by an entity with a proprietary or financial interest in the outcome of the study to sign a statement attesting that they had full access to the data and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and accuracy of the analysis.5 Following this recommendation, JAMA requires at least 1 author who is independent of any commercial funder (eg, the principal investigator) to indicate that she or he had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis for all reports containing original data (eg, research articles, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses).13 See also 5.5.4, Conflicts of Interest, Access to Data Requirement.

Corresponding Author.

Every manuscript and published article should have at least 1 author who will serve as the primary contact and correspondent for all communications about the submitted work and, if it is accepted for publication, the published article. It is not efficient for editorial offices or readers to have more than 1 formal corresponding author. However, it is helpful to provide the editorial office with contact information for coauthors in the event that the corresponding author becomes unavailable during the editorial and publication processes. For example, JAMA and the Archives Journals require a corresponding author for each submitted manuscript to serve as the primary correspondent with the editorial office and, if the paper is accepted, to review an edited typescript and proof, to make decisions regarding release of information in the manuscript to the news media and/or federal agencies, and to have his or her name published as corresponding author in the article. Corresponding authors for JAMA and the Archives Journals also sign a statement that they have identified all persons who have made substantial contributions to the work but who are not authors:

I certify that all persons who have made substantial contributions to the work reported in this manuscript (eg, data collection, analysis, or writing or editing assistance) but who do not fulfill the authorship criteria are named with their specific contributions in an acknowledgment in the manuscript.

I certify that all persons named in the Acknowledgment have provided me with written permission to be named.

I certify that if an Acknowledgment section is not included, no other persons have made substantial contributions to this manuscript.

(See also 5.1.2, Guest and Ghost Authors, and 5.2, Acknowledgments.)

Deceased or Incapacitated Authors.

In the case of death or incapacitation of an author during the manuscript submission and review or publication process, a family member or an individual with power of attorney can sign a journal’s authorship or publication form for the deceased or incapacitated author, including the transfer of copyright or publication license, on behalf of the deceased or incapacitated author. In this event, the corresponding author can provide information on the deceased or incapacitated author’s contributions (see also 2.0, Manuscript Preparation).

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