Publication Ethics: Authorship

Publication Ethics: Authorship

Scholarly publication is an essential piece of graduate training. Unfortunately, training is not always provided in a formal setting. Because of this, students face many daunting questions. One important question concerns authorship: how should order of authorship be determined, and how can a student negotiate this with a supervisor? Here are some guidelines (from Fine & Kurdek, 1993).

  1. To be included in authorship, a person should make a quantifiable contribution to the work. This may be through study design, data analysis, results write up, and similar. Inputting and/or collecting data and running specified analyses are usually NOT given authorship credit, but may be acknowledged in footnotes.
  2. Authorship decisions should take into account the professional contribution, not simply a measure of time and effort.
  3. Financial payment should not substitute authorship credit.
  4. Supervisors should consult with colleagues if ethical dilemmas arise.
  5. If supervisors and students cannot agree on authorship credit, a neutral third party should be involved. One such example might be members of the IRB board.

Above all else, students should initiate the authorship conversation BEFORE starting any work. Clearly identify what work is expected, and what authorship order will be awarded if work is satisfactorily completed. Don’t be shy about checking in on these expectations as the project evolves—many things may change throughout the course of a study, and it is best to communicate concerns and expectations up front.

Further, the APA publication manual (2010) states that "...Unusual exceptions to doctoral student first authorship might occur when the doctoral dissertation is published as part of a collection of studies involving other researchers (Fisher, 2003). Whether students merit principal authorship on master’s-level or other predoctoral research will depend on their specific contributions to the research . When master’s-level student make the primary contributions to a study, they should be listed as the first author. When students are just beginning to acquire skills necessary to make a primary scientific contribution, they may conduct master’s theses that involve the opportunity to learn these skills through collaboration on a faculty-originated project. In such cases, authorship should be determined by the relative contributions of student and faculty member to the project (Fisher, 2003)."


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