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   Table of Contents      
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 272-275

Curtailing authorship disputes: A structured approach

Department of Pharmacology, M.P. Shah Medical College, Jamnagar, Gujarat, India

Date of Web Publication8-Aug-2012

Correspondence Address:
Anupama Sukhlecha
Department of Pharmacology, M. P. Shah Medical College, Jamnagar - 361 008, Gujarat
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2231-0738.99486

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How to cite this article:
Sukhlecha A. Curtailing authorship disputes: A structured approach. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis 2012;2:272-5

How to cite this URL:
Sukhlecha A. Curtailing authorship disputes: A structured approach. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis [serial online] 2012 [cited 2022 Oct 4];2:272-5. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Conducting a research project is usually a team effort and publication is the recognition of the study. Authorship gives credit to the researcher and is used to enhance his or her reputation in the scientific community, for promotion and for future research grants. [1] As authorship brings 'name and fame,' in the present day, it is taken to be synonymous with 'scientific currency.' Getting the credit of being an author of a scientific manuscript also entails responsibility. [2]

Every researcher has his / her own conception of what is required to be an author. However, often these ideas differ among the participants in a research project. Disputes and personality conflicts can arise during a project that may cause discord and disagreement over authorship issues. Ombudsmen are often approached to solve these issues. There are general guidelines put forth by the ICJME. These helpful guidelines appear definitive, but are often forgotten by authors. [2]

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICJME) clearly states that it is not the role of the editors to make authorship / contributorship decisions or to arbitrate conflicts related to authorship. [3] Even as most medical journals stick to the criteria of authorship set by the ICMJE, yet, there are a number of disputes related to authorship, which come into light once the article is submitted or even published.

An important article in the journal 'Fertility and Sterility' had to be retracted following various disputes, one of which was, not including a contributor as a co-author. There have been similar instances of disputes related to authorship in many journals. [1],[4] In a few articles, authorship was denied to those who actually deserved it (ghost authorship). [5] In certain interviews for promotions, credit is given only to those publications in which the interviewee is the first author. Disputes related to sequence of authorship (particularly for being the first author), have been reported in journals. [6]

Unethical authorship

Authorship should be awarded to all those who have contributed meaningfully toward an article. Cases have been on record where guides claimed authorship instead of giving it to the student. Furthermore, there are plenty of cases known, where gift authorships were given to spouses or friends. In many institutes, authorship is offered to those who are peripherally associated with the research study or because they are senior faculty members. Including these 'honorary' authors and excluding genuine ones are both against medical ethics. Granting or accepting honorary authorship is unethical because it dilutes the credit to those who genuinely conducted the study. [1],[5],[6],[7]

Even as contributorship and guarantorship policies obviously remove much of the ambiguity surrounding the contributions, they leave unresolved the question of quantity and quality of the contribution that qualify for authorship. The ICJME has recommended the following criteria for authorship; these criteria are still appropriate for journals that distinguish authors from other contributors.

Authorship credit should be based on [3]

  1. Substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data
  2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  3. Final approval of the version to be published Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3.
Role of first author or principal investigator

The first author should coordinate the completion and submission of the manuscript and attend to all rules of submission. He / she should also be responsible for all communication regarding the manuscript (with the journal and reviewers). This person should also make sure that the contributions of all those involved in the study are appropriately recognized. Importantly, he / she must ensure that each coauthor has reviewed and approved the article for submission, at all points in the process.

Working in large groups and at different centers

When a large, multicenter group has conducted the study, the group should identify the individuals who accept direct responsibility for the manuscript. These individuals should fully meet the criteria for authorship / contributorship. When submitting a manuscript authored by a group, the corresponding author should clearly indicate the preferred citation and identify all individual authors as well as the group name.

  • All persons designated as authors should qualify for authorship, and all those who qualify should be listed.
  • Each author should have participated sufficiently in the study to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content.
At present, some journals also request that one or more authors, referred to as 'guarantors,' be identified as the persons who take responsibility for the integrity of the study as a whole, from inception to published article, and publish that information. The group should jointly make decisions about contributors / authors before submitting the manuscript for publication. The corresponding author / guarantor should be prepared to explain the presence and order of these individuals.

Contributors listed in acknowledgments ]

All contributors who do not meet the criteria for authorship should be listed in an acknowledgments section. Examples of those who could be acknowledged include a person who provided purely technical help, writing assistance, or a department chairperson who provided only general support. Editors should ask the corresponding authors to declare whether they had assistance with the study design, data collection, data analysis or manuscript preparation. If such assistance was available, the authors should disclose the identity of the individuals who provided this assistance and the entity that supported it in the published article. Financial and material support should also be acknowledged.

Groups of persons who have contributed materially to the article, but whose contributions do not justify authorship may be listed under such headings as 'clinical investigators' or 'participating investigators,' and their function or contribution should be described, for example, 'served as scientific advisors,' 'critically reviewed the study proposal', and so on. As readers may infer their endorsement of the data and conclusions, these persons must give written permission to be acknowledged.

The ICMJE also comments on what criteria do not make one qualified for full authorship. These include acquisition of funding (alone), collection of data (alone), or general supervision of the research group (alone). They also specifically state that, "each author should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content" [2],[3]

Ideal time to discuss authorship issues

The design phase of the study may be the best time to discuss authorship issues. Each participant should be explained his or her role during the conduct of the study, analysis of data, and while writing the manuscript. However, these roles may change or get modified during the course of the study. The corresponding author should act as a guarantor and should be able to explain issues related to the study and authorship. [1]

In any research project, there is a need for a quantitative method of giving credit to each contributor. We suggest a structured approach to decide author qualification and credit, thereby, minimizing authorship issues.


To devise a structured approach to:

  • Award authorship to those who have contributed substantially toward a project and its publication
  • Decide the sequence of authors

In the structured approach suggested here, the contributors would be scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 as no contribution, 10 as full contribution; substantial contribution would be between these limits. The scale may be a 5 point, 10 point or more, as per the choice of the team leader. The rows can be increased or decreased as per the team leader's choice.

As the 'substantial' word is not quantified anywhere, it may be suggested that it could be the minimum expected contribution for a condition. For example [Table 1], if in condition 1 of ICMJE, we have three items which are scored out of 10 points each for all contributors. Then, out of a total of 30 points, a contributor can have a minimum of half of 30 / 4, that is, a score of 3.75, in condition 2 it could be half 20 / 4, that is, score of 2.5; similarly, in condition 3 it can be half of 10 / 4, that is, 1.25, to qualify as an author. The contributors getting below this score for each of the conditions would not qualify as authors.

The values in cells are scores obtained by each contributor out of 10
Table 1: An example showing scores given to contributors of a project by team leader

Click here to view

Weightage could be decided by the team leader. It could be in descending order for conditions 1, 2, and 3, respectively, of the ICMJE, to decide the authorship sequence. It could also be based on a decreasing order of the brainchild of contribution.

Observation and interpretation

Qualification for authors

From [Table 1], we observe that contributors I, II, and III have contributed in conditions 1, 2, and 3 of ICMJE. Hence, they can be authors. We also observe that contributor IV has not contributed for drafting or revision of article (condition 2), so he / she does not qualify to be an author. He / she will only be acknowledged.

Deciding authorship sequence

Here, weightage given by team leader for conditions 1, 2, and 3 of ICMJE is from three to one, respectively. The credit of various authors [as per values in [Table 1]] would be:

Contributor I = 3 (4 + 0 + 5) + 2 (5 + 5) + 1(2.5) = 49.5

Contributor II = 3 (4 + 4 + 0) + 2 (0 + 5) + 1(3.5) = 37.5

Contributor III = 3 (2 + 6 + 0) + 2 (5 + 0) + 1(2.5) = 36.5

Hence, the sequence of authorship would be: Contributor I would be first author, contributor II second author, and contributor III the third author.

   Discussion Top

Our article focuses on the sequence of authors based on the credit of contribution. An article by Tscharntke et al., also focuses on the sequence-determines-credit approach (SDC). There are some journals that give equal credit to all authors and the names of authors are in alphabetical order. Other methods mentioned in this article are first-last author emphasis and the percent-contribution-indicated approach. [8]

In another article, the extent of contribution is based on a scoring pattern followed by weightage, which is similar to our approach, the difference being, we have included substantial between none and full contribution . [9] Some journals stress on writing contributors instead of authors, so that; they can accept both credit and responsibility. They have a checklist and state that the role of each contributor be mentioned, for example 'collected data', 'scientific advisor,' and so on. [10],[11] A study conducted in Croatia found that ordinal scales for reporting authors' contributions to manuscripts were more sensitive than tick boxes, for assessing the appropriateness of authorship. [12]

Our method suggests a more quantifiable approach, which is easy to work out and can be kept as a document showing a responsible contributor for each portion of the project. It can also be used as evidence to solve future disputes on authorship issues.


During the course of project, if duties change, contributors leave or get added, it may be difficult to score their exact contribution

If the contributors are in large numbers, scoring by this method could be time consuming

   Conclusion Top

The structured approach suggested here could solve authorship disputes to a great extent. The deserving contributors can be awarded authorship; and gift authorships can be minimized or eliminated. Using this approach, it would be very easy to decide the sequence of authors for an article.

   Acknowledgments Top

I am thankful to Prof. B. D. Gupta, Professor of Forensic Medicine, Coordinator, Medical Education Unit, and Dr Nandini Desai, Professor of Pathology, M P Shah Medical College, Jamnagar for motivating me to write this article.

   References Top

1.Saluja S, Ray S, Nundy S. Who should be an author? Ganga Ram J 2011;1:106-7.   Back to cited text no. 1
2.Benos, DJ, Fabres, J, Farmer, J, Gutierrez JP, Hennessy K, Kosek D, et al. Ethics and scientific publication. Adv Physiol Educ 2005;29:59-74.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals: Writing and editing for biomedical publication. Available from :http: / / [Last accessed on 2011 Dec 12].  Back to cited text no. 3
4.McCook A, "Controversial fertility paper retracted," The Scientist 2007, April 27. Available from: http: / / / news / display / 53170 [Last accessed on 2011 Dec 12].  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Ross JS, Hill KP, Egilman DS, Krumholz HM. Guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib: A case study of industry documents from rofecoxib litigation. JAMA 2008;299:1800-12.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Strange K. Authorship: Why not just toss a coin. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol 2008;295:567-75.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Gitanjali B. Training students in research methodology: Are we doing enough? JK Science 2006;8:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Tscharntke T, Hochberg ME, Rand TA, Resh VH, Krauss J. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLoS Biol 2007;5:e18.   Back to cited text no. 8
9.Bourbonniere MC, Russell DJ, Goldsmith CH. Authorship Issues: One research center's experience with developing author guidelines. Am J Occup Ther 2006;60:111-7.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Rennie D, Yank V, Emanuel L. When authorship fails. A proposal to make contributors accountable. JAMA 1997;278:579.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Rennie D, Flanagin A, Yank V. The contributions of authors. JAMA 2000;284:89-91.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Ivanis A, Hren D, Sambunjak D, Marusic M, Marusic A. Quantification of authors' contributions and eligibility for authorship: Randomized study in a general medical journal. J Gen Intern Med 2008;23:1303-10.  Back to cited text no. 12


  [Table 1]


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