As a public education and research institution, the University of Oregon is committed to distributing findings from our research, scholarship, and innovation. These dissemination efforts often include publications in journals, books, book chapters, reports, presentations, proceedings, posters, software, or other media. Fair and equitable attribution of authorship on publications is essential to give appropriate credit for intellectual contributions and to uphold the integrity of the research enterprise.
Norms and expectations around authorship criteria can vary widely across disciplines, which is why it is important to have open discussions about authorship criteria as early as possible and periodically over the entire course of the project (given that roles on and contributions to a project may change over time). This is particularly important for interdisciplinary projects where individual collaborators may bring different assumptions about authorship from their respective disciplines. Discussing authorship criteria as early as possible in a project is also especially important when students and faculty are collaborating on publications, given the complex power dynamics that can occur in student-faculty collaborations where co-authors have multiple professional relationships.
Because authorship norms and responsibilities can vary widely across disciplines, scholars and researchers are expected to act in accordance with the accepted professional guidelines of academic journals and professional societies in their field. Here we provide general guidance and useful resources related to best practices for authorship considerations on publications regardless of the field(s).
Criteria for Authorship
One of the most effective methods for avoiding authorship disputes is to engage in dialogue about authorship as early as possible in a project that is expected to yield publications. These conversations can establish clear expectations and responsibilities for each contributing author and can set the precedent for maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue about authorship throughout the entirety of a project.
Authorship discussions are often initiated by the “lead” author or investigator, the individual who is responsible for overall oversight of the project. In some fields, this person may sometimes be referred to as the “senior,” “corresponding,” “first,” or “anchor” author. In other fields, there may not be a designated lead author, but there will typically be at least one or more senior collaborators. The lead author, or senior collaborator(s) on a project, should strive to maintain a collegial and open dialogue about authorship criteria, so that all contributors will feel welcome to raise questions about authorship at any point during the project. Lead or senior authors should devote particular attention to creating open dialogue with any student or trainee co-authors to ensure they feel welcome to raise questions about authorship criteria. And in many cases, even if a student is a lead author on a paper, discussions about authorship should typically be discussed in advance with the larger project lead.
Some scholars, particularly those working with large and/or interdisciplinary teams, may want to consider creating a transparent authorship expectations statement and/or using formal authorship agreements (an example of an authorship agreement form). These agreements can help ensure that transparent criteria for authorship are clearly agreed upon by all collaborators at the beginning of a project.
As with criteria for authorship, there is substantial disciplinary variability regarding expectations about authorship order. For instance, in some disciplines, authorship order may simply be alphabetical, whereas in other disciplines authorship order may reflect level of contribution. General guidance is that all authors should be involved in the discussion of authorship order, with clear expectations about responsibilities and contribution level for each contributing author.
Again, these conversations should happen as early as possible, particularly for projects with large and/or interdisciplinary teams and those that involve co-authors involved in multiple professional relationships with varying power dynamics (e.g., students writing with faculty). Different types of author contributions can even be categorized using taxonomies of contributor roles. Many journals now include options to clearly state the specific input from each co-author, which can help delineate respective contributions. The lead author or senior collaborator(s) should maintain an open and ongoing dialogue about authorship order throughout the entirety of a project to assess whether authorship agreements should be revised to reflect actual (versus intended) contributions, because relative contributions often change during a project. Such conversations are especially important so that junior authors are not surprised.
Efforts to resolve authorship disputes should first be attempted through collegial discourse and mutual discussion among the collaborators on a project.
If disputes cannot be resolved amongst collaborators, the next step is to seek input from a neutral and trusted third-party, such as a University Ombudsperson. For undergraduate students, this third-party may include the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program; for graduate students, this third-party may include the Division of Graduate Studies.
If disputes cannot be resolved by neutral third parties, the next step is to seek input from the appropriate unit level supervisory leadership (e.g., department head, center or institute director). If the dispute involves a student’s doctoral dissertation research, the dissertation chair, academic program director, Graduate Affairs Committee, and/or vice provost for graduate studies should also be engaged. Unit-level supervisors should attempt to resolve disputes through discussion and mutual agreements.
Research Compliance Services may be a resource in cases of authorship dispute. Unit leaders may wish to seek consultation from Research Compliance Services. Note that authorship and credit disputes are typically not considered plagiarism and therefore do not meet the definition of research misconduct under university policy, which is based on Federal regulations. For more information see the UO’s Policy on Allegations of Research Misconduct.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, The Office of Research Integrity, RCR Resources-Publications/Authorship available at https://ori.hhs.gov/publicationsauthorship
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, The Office of Research Integrity, RCR Casebook: Authorship & Publication available at https://ori.hhs.gov/rcr-casebook-authorship-and-publication
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, The Office of Research Integrity, ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, Chapter 9: Authorship & Publication available at https://ori.hhs.gov/ori-introduction-responsible-conduct-research
Roig, M. (2015) “Avoiding Plagiarism, Self-plagiarism, and Other Questionable Writing Practices: A Guide to Ethical Writing” available at https://ori.hhs.gov/avoiding-plagiarism-self-plagiarism-and-other-questionable-writing-practices-guide-ethical-writing