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Order of Authorship 

Order of Authorship
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Order of Authorship

Before proposals for identifying authors' contributions began to be implemented, proposed guides for determining order of authorship ranged from simple alphabetical listings to mathematical formulas for assessing specific levels of individual contribution levels.29-31 However, even the most systematic calculations of contribution levels will require some measure of subjective judgment, and determination of order of authors is best done by the authors' collective assessment of each other’s level of contribution. Moreover, as Rennie et al6 have argued, attempts to provide information to readers by ordering authors in particular ways is not meaningful, especially if each author’s contributions are not made public. The following may help determine order of authorship32:

  1. 1. Only those individuals who meet the criteria for authorship may be listed as authors (see 5.1.1, Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements).

  2. 2. The first author has contributed the most to the work, with other authors listed in descending order according to their levels of contribution. (Note: Some groups of authors choose to list the most senior author last, irrespective of the relative amount of his or her contribution.)

  3. 3. Decisions about the order of authors should be made as early as possible (eg, before the manuscript is written) and reevaluated later as often as needed by consensus (see also 5.1.6, Changes in Authorship).

  4. 4. Disagreement about order should be resolved by the authors, not the editor.

  5. 5. Authors may provide a publishable footnote explaining the order of authorship, if there is a compelling reason.

  6. 6. Editors may request documentation of authors' specific contributions.

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