By Diane Punger
Peer Review Manager, Origin Editorial
Take Home Points
* Include explicit authorship policies on your journal website/instructions to authors.
* Provide a clear definition of an author and what authorship means to your journal.
* Highlight the role and communication responsibilities of the corresponding author.
* Define change in authorship and instituite a policy that is backed with a transparent workflow and a clear internal escalation path.
Include explicit authorship policies on your journal website/Instructions to Authors.
Having a clearly written and transparent authorship policy on your journal website can have its benefits. For example, potential submitters will see what the journal expects of them, as well as what their responsibilities are, before they agree to submit to your journal. Because the policy is public, it will also be used as a tool in the Editorial Office when policy isn’t followed and will be easily referenced in communication with the author.
Defining an Author
Who should be considered in your author list? According to the Committee on Publication Ethics’ (COPE) definition, “The term authorship can refer to the creator or originator of an idea or the individual or individuals who develop and bring to fruition the product that disseminates intellectual or creative works.” 1
The author list can consist of single or multiple individuals or even a group (consortia) who have made significant contributions to the research and are accountable for what has been written. They are responsible for the accuracy of their research and can provide proof of their results. Keep in mind some communities follow specific criteria for authorship. You could consider the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ (ICMJE) section on “Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors” when defining authorship.2
Consortia authorship is a collective authorship, sometimes identified as a Team or Group. Guidelines for ways to identify members of the group who have and have not participated in the submission should be made clear, so that proper recognition is given to members who have played an active role. Individuals of consortia will be discoverable in PubMed. See Nature, for example, for ways consortia authorship can be managed.3
Since author lists can vary in length, it is imperative for the submitter to fully understand the difference between an author and a contributor. Like authors, contributors can in some way support the research, but the role isn’t as significant as an author. Individuals who have made minor contributions, such as access to a research lab, hospitality, etc. should not be given authorship, but can be noted in an acknowledgments section. The definition of these roles should be made available in the authorship guidelines on the journal’s website. Also, many journals have instituted CRediT (Contributor Role Taxonomy),4 delineating the role of the individual author, as part of their submission workflow.
Respecting the Role of the Corresponding Author
The corresponding author is the voice of all authors on the submission. You may have seen publishing documents such as copyrights, permissions, and proofs state “on behalf of all authors.” This role is important in publishing as it allows for a point person for communication and corrections, reducing versioning and creating organization. The corresponding author is also responsible for fielding questions from readers. Rely heavily on the corresponding author, especially when co-authors reach out and remember to loop-in the corresponding author in such cases, when they have been left out of the conversation.
Understanding the role of the corresponding author and expectations is important to the individual. Corresponding authors should never share login credentials for our peer-review systems or emails with embedded links with their co-authors. They should also never include their email address in co-author profiles in our peer-review systems. Author profiles should be unique to the individual; multiple profiles are discouraged and can create a loophole for confidential information.
Understanding Authorship Changes and the Importance in Obtaining Agreement
No matter how many authors are listed, all authors must agree on the author list. Any change (removal, addition, order) requires a consensus. This includes any author who has been added or removed. Quite often, author changes occur during revisions. This can be due to a task of redoing part of the research discussed after editor decision or an omission on the part of the corresponding author.
Have you ever looked at an author list and wondered if there is a meaning behind the order? While the structure of some author lists is obvious, such as alphabetical or grouped by institution, some reasons are not as easy to determine. Order can show the author’s significance to the research or perhaps significance to the field, so, to say-the-least, it can be very meaningful to the individual authors, even if the meaning is not apparent to the reader. Since there is no standard rule for the author’s order, it is important that agreement is reached for any order change. Having an author change workflow in place for author additions, removal, and order change can help you avoid legal disputes later (see Figures 1 and 2); consider transparency as part of your best practices.
Figure 1. Example of Change in Author Flowchart: Adding an Author. Reproduced from COPE Council. COPE Flowcharts and infographics — Changes in authorship. Addition of extra author — before publication ©2021 Committee on Publication Ethics (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) (Ref. 5).
Figure 2. Example of Change in Author Flowchart: Removing an Author. Reproduced from COPE Council. COPE Flowcharts and infographics — Changes in authorship. Removal of author — before publication ©2021 Committee on Publication Ethics (CC BY-NC-ND
4.0) (Ref. 6).
Deceased authors have rights too. A person’s lifetime is unpredictable. Just think how many lives have been lost due to Covid-19. Given the time it takes to complete some research before it is considered for publication, authors can unfortunately pass away before ever seeing their life’s work published. This doesn’t mean they should be removed as an author, especially if they have contributed significantly to the research. Instead, one may need to review the journal’s policy on deceased authors. In some cases, the corresponding author may be instructed to obtain permission from the family of the deceased individual. A similar workflow may be followed to obtain concurrence for a change in authorship.
Importance of an Author Change Workflow and Escalation Path
It’s important as editorial staff to know what to do when co-authors disagree over authorship. Creating a dispute workflow can support your journal in uncomfortable author disputes. Gather whatever information you can regarding the dispute, without instituting an opinion, taking sides, or making any promises, to ease transition in an escalation path. Knowing when to execute an escalation workflow to seek resolution is key in providing good customer support to the authors dealing with a conflict. Rely on the editor/journal hierarchy for verbiage if you are responsible for any communication and are unable to do so diplomatically. Unfortunately, not all disagreements will be resolved. Submissions should never be considered for publication with an open dispute.
Challenges in Keeping a Clean Database and How to Better Support Authorship
Maintaining a clean database can be challenging. For one, name changes are extremely common through marriage, and how about those acquired nicknames? Some cultures prefer the use of surnames or initials. The
placement of given and surname can also differ. A more recent topic has been around gender identity, use of pronouns or lack thereof, and gender change. All the above can lead to multiple profiles, linking each author to only part of their submission complement. An Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID)7 can help match individuals to publications, but even that can have flaws in that some authors may have more than one ORCID (through borrowing from a co-author or early application). As a corresponding author, it is important to properly identify coauthors in a submission database. Having tools in place to guide submitters through this profile selection is imperative in maintaining a clean database. It may also avoid the embarrassment and untangling of selecting the
“wrong” author for the submission.
In conclusion, the benefits of having an outward facing authorship policy and author guidelines will not only provide support for the authors, but also for the Journal and/or Editorial Office. There are several avenues of support, such as COPE, Council of Science Editors (CSE), International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE), The Scholarly Kitchen, to name a few, that can guide you through building a good foundation for your policy. So, in short, join that group, follow a blog, or attend a meeting; the information is out there.
1 Cope Council, COPE Discussion Document: Authorship, September 2019. Accessed February 9 (2023); COPE_DD_A4_Authorship_SEPT19_SCREEN_AW.pdf (publicationethics.org)
2 ICMJE, Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors, https://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html. Accessed March 23 (2023).
3 Author instructions: Consortia formatting, Accessed February 23 (2023); nr-consortia-formatting.pdf (nature.com)
4See https://credit.niso.org/ for information regarding CRediT; Accessed March 1 (2023).
5COPE Council. COPE Flowcharts and infographics — Changes in authorship. Addition of extra author — before publication — English. https://doi.org/ 10.24318/cope. 2019.2.8 ©2021 Committee on Publication Ethics (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Accessed February 24 (2023).
6COPE Council. COPE Flowcharts and infographics — Changes in authorship. Removal of author — before publication — English. https://doi.org/ 10.24318/cope. 2019.2.9 ©2021 Committee on Publication Ethics (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Accessed February 24 (2023).
7See https://orcid.org/ for information regarding ORCID; Accessed March 1 (2023).
Conflicts of Interest:
None to declare