Who Qualifies as an Author?

Bernard Goldback / Creative Commons attribution license

Bernard Goldback / Creative Commons attribution license

In scholarly publishing, the question of authorship can seem complicated.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals state that authorship has “important academic, social, and financial implications.” Authorship both confers credit on an individual and requires certain responsibilities.

The ICMJE recommends that any individual listed as author on a manuscript should meet each of these four criteria:

  • Makes substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work

  • Drafts the manuscript or revises it critically for important intellectual content

  • Gives final approval of the version to be published

  • Agrees to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Other noteworthy points:

  •  Additional responsibilities are expected of the corresponding author, with the foremost being timely communication with the publication team regarding manuscript submission, peer review, editing, and other administrative tasks.
  •  Each author should be able to identify the contributions of his or her coauthors and have confidence in the integrity of those contributions. The authors (as opposed to the publication) are responsible for ensuring that each author listed meets all of the criteria.
  •  Any contributor who does not meet each of these criteria should be listed in the acknowledgements rather than listed as author.

Contributors who are likely candidates for authorship include principal investigators, subinvestigators, and statisticians. Contributors who may need to be listed in the acknowledgments rather than as authors include editors, illustrators, and administrative support staff.

The bottom line is this: although determining authorship can seem complicated, the question of conferring credit is a very simple one. Who did the work? With the ICMJE recommendations as your guide, the answer should be straightforward.

For more details on the significance of and criteria for authorship in medical publishing, visit http://www.icmje.org.