Who’s an Author?

A participant in a class I taught earlier this week asked an important question: “Who can be listed as an author on a paper?”

That question doesn’t seem like a hard one to answer, but in my experience, people get it wrong all the time. Here are some examples.

I have seen authors’ names on papers to which they contributed little or no work of substance.

I have seen administrative assistants named as authors on papers that report bench science results. It’s highly unlikely that an office worker was involved in the conduct of complex animal experiments.

I have seen an author name show up on an abstract for a research project that was completed more than one year prior to the new author’s addition as a contributor. The study results did not change, so the new contributor added no additional analysis.

The Ochsner Journal follows the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) in defining authorship. To be considered an author, a contributor to a paper must meet all 4 of the following criteria:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement 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.

It’s important to understand that contributors must meet ALL 4 criteria to be named as an author, not 1 or 2. And that accountability requirement is a big one.

So what about the people who contribute to a study or a paper but don’t meet the author test?

That’s why journals created the Acknowledgment section. Here are examples of the kind of support you recognize in the Acknowledgments: individuals who helped acquire funding; provided general supervision of a research group or general administrative support; or provided writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading.

See? “Who’s an author” is not that hard a question to answer, and it’s not hard to get it right.