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Group and Collaborative Authorship 

Group and Collaborative Authorship
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Group and Collaborative Authorship

Group or collaborative authorship usually involves multicenter study investigators, members of working groups, and official or self-appointed expert boards, panels, or committees. Such group-author papers are also referred to as collaborative, corporate, and collective author papers. These groups can comprise hundreds of participants and often represent complex, multidisciplinary collaborations, and therefore, decisions about listing group authorship pose several problems and dilemmas for authors, editors, journals, librarians, and bibliographic databases34-37 (see 14.9, Abbreviations, Collaborative Groups, and 2.2.4, Manuscript Preparation, Bylines and End-of-Text Signatures, Multiple Authors, Group Authors).

Large trials and studies are often best known and frequently referred to by their study name (eg, Women’s Health Initiative) or by their abbreviation (eg, WHI). As a result, these groups often include the official name of the study group in an article’s byline (ie, the position on an article’s title page where authors are listed). However, not all members of a study group may meet authorship criteria (see 5.1.1, Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements), and having the group name in the byline does not distinguish those members of the group who qualify for authorship from those who do not. In addition, without a single person named as author, no individual person can take responsibility and be held accountable for the work. For this reason, at least 1 individual (eg, the corresponding author or the principal investigator) should be named as corresponding author or guarantor (see also 2.0, Manuscript Preparation). To address these concerns, members of a writing team or a subgroup are often identified as the authors for large groups.

For group-author articles, providing appropriate credit and accountability for the many individuals involved—authors and nonauthors—and ensuring proper citation and online searching and retrieval of the articles are important considerations.34,38 The guidelines that follow may help authors and editors determine who should be listed and where.

One or more authors may take responsibility for a group (as the authors or writing team). In this case, the names of individual authors are listed in the byline with a designation that these authors are writing on behalf of or for the group. Those members of the group who do not qualify for authorship would not be listed in the byline but may be listed in the Acknowledgment at the end of the article. In this case, the byline might read as follows:

Jacques E. Rossouw, MBChB, MD; Garnet L. Anderson, PhD; for the Women’s Health Initiative


Writing Group for the Women’s Health Initiative

In the latter example, the writing group members are the authors for the group, and their names should be listed in the author affiliation or Acknowledgment section (with their specific contributions identified). Note: In these cases the formal group-author name (eg, Women’s Health Initiative) should be coded in the journal’s online version and in bibliographic databases so that the results of online searches for articles from this group will include articles that combine individual names or subgroup (eg, the Writing Group) with the formal group name in the byline.

The other nonauthor group members and their contributions may then be listed separately in the Acknowledgment section (see 5.2, Acknowledgments).

Some authors and groups might prefer that only the group name appear in the byline to emphasize the collaborative nature of their effort. Thus, another option is for the byline to list only the group name followed by an asterisk, which refers to a list of specific authors or a writing committee for the overall group:

Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators*

The asterisk in the byline corresponds to another asterisk and note on the same printed page of the article or linked affiliation in the online version that identifies a list of authors who take responsibility for this article. This location of the list of authors must be clearly indicated so that readers can identify the authors and indexers of bibliographic databases can identify and properly index the names of all authors. The note might read as follows:

*Authors/Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators are John Smith, Mary Broadbent, Timothy Bowman, Jane Swanson, David Pearce, and Joan Wallace.


*Authors/Writing Committee Members for the Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators are listed at the end of this article.

In the second example above, the names and affiliations of all authors/writing committee members and their specific contributions may be listed at the end of the article (see 5.2.2, Acknowledgments, Group and Collaborative Author Lists). Some journals may choose to publish long lists of authors from a group in a box or separate list within the article. To ensure that authors are cited appropriately in bibliographic databases, explicit use of the term Authors or Writers is preferred.

Authorship can be attributed to an entire group, although this practice is less common than the examples given above. However, as with all articles, clear justification for all members of the group meeting all criteria and requirements for authorship must be made, and for journals that publish authors’ individual contributions, all members of the group must identify their specific contributions (see 5.1.1, Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements). In this case, the byline might read as follows:

Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators

In cases in which every member of a large group qualifies for authorship and the group name appears in the byline, the individual members of the study group should be listed separately in the Acknowledgment section or in a clearly identified position within the article, such as a box set off by rules (as described in 2.2.4, Manuscript Preparation, Bylines and End-of-Text Signatures, Multiple Authors, Group Authors).

If the group name appears in the byline, it is recommended that at least 1 person, usually the corresponding author, be named as an individual who will coordinate questions about the article. This person can be named in the affiliation footnote as corresponding author. In this case, the byline might read

Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators

and the affiliation footnote might read

Author Affiliations: A complete list of the authors in the Clinical Outcomes Trial Investigators appears at the end of this article.

Corresponding Author: James S. Smith, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Chicago Medical School, 555 S Main St, Chicago, IL 60615 (

(See also 2.3.3, Manuscript Preparation, Footnotes to Title Page, Author Affiliations, and 2.10.4, Manuscript Preparation, Acknowledgment Section, Correspondence Address.)

Publishing the names of all authors and their specific contributions, no matter how many, with the specific article is preferred. However, a long list of investigators and affiliated centers could occupy several journal pages and may be of questionable value to readers. Yet it is important to publish the names of each author with the article, for reasons of accountability and credit and to allow proper searching and retrieval of articles by individual author names in bibliographic databases. If the identical list of authors has been published previously in a group list in an indexed and retrievable journal, the editor may choose to cite and link to that publication in an affiliation footnote or acknowledgment rather than republish the entire list (see 5.2, Acknowledgments). A journal that is simultaneously publishing 2 or more articles from the same group of authors may consider publishing the list of authors in the initial article and then citing that article in, and linking to that article from, the other related articles. Another option is to publish the list in the journal’s online version of the article, as long as there is clear indication (citation and linking) of this list in the printed article. The same options apply to long lists of other collaborators who are not authors.

Study or other group participants should not be promised authorship status and a place in the byline merely for performing activities that alone do not qualify for authorship (eg, cooperating in a study, collecting data, attending a working conference, lending technical assistance). However, performing any of those activities in addition to writing or critically revising the manuscript and approving the version to be published would be sufficient to merit authorship (see 5.1.1, Authorship: Definition, Criteria, Contributions, and Requirements). Editors and authors should assess the need to publish lengthy lists of authors and other group participants on an individual basis, and journals should publish their policies about group authorship in their instructions for authors.

Citation of Articles With Group Authors.

Articles with authors from a large group have been difficult to locate in bibliographic databases and have resulted in citation errors and miscalculated citation statistics.35-37 To help resolve these problems, the following has been recommended38:

  • Group-author articles should identify named individual authors who accept responsibility for specific articles.

  • Each group-author article should clearly identify all individual authors (preferably full names, but last names and initials are acceptable) as well as the complete name of the group, whether they appear in the byline or author affiliation.

  • Individual authors should be distinguished from other contributors and participants who are not authors.

  • The names of individual authors and the group name should be formatted and coded for easy identifiability, searching, and retrieval of the article in print and online and in bibliographic databases. See Box in 5.2, Acknowledgments.

  • Each group-author article should clearly indicate a preferred citation (eg, along with the abstract or at the end of the article).

  • Search results on journal websites should clearly indicate a preferred citation, in addition to relevant author information.

  • Citation standards for group-author papers should continue to be developed and followed by journals, bibliographic databases, and authors.

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