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Guidelines for Avoiding and Resolving Authorship Disputes

As of December 17, 2009

Customs governing authorship often vary widely by discipline and even by research group. Below are some general principles that all authors will find useful, regardless of their area of study.   

Guidelines for Conducting Responsible Authorship

Adhering to the following guidelines will help to prevent situations that may lead to new authorship disputes:

1. Discuss Proactively
There should be early discussions of who will be an author and the possible order of authors. Criteria for authorship should be discussed before beginning to prepare a manuscript, and possibly even before starting a project.

Each party should have an understanding of what kind of work merits authorship, with the knowledge that, as the research project progresses, who is an author and the position of a name in a list of authors may change. Each party should also have an understanding of who among many authors will have primary responsibility for the writing, submission, and editing work required for a paper. This can be extremely important when a project involves collaborations between labs.

2. Be Consistent
Determination of authorship and authorship order should be consistent, both within the research group and with the norms for the field.

3. Understand the Rules
All authors should be aware of institutional and journal-specific policies and guidelines regarding authorship. All Washington University authors should review and follow the institution’s Policy for Authorship on Scientific and Scholarly Publications​.

4. Communicate 
The criteria for authorship should be discussed and agreed upon in writing as part of the initial planning process for the research project.

As the project and/or the manuscript evolves, authorship should be revisited as needed. There should be discussion and agreement as to the critical elements/data that will be included in the publication.

Resolving Disputes

Typically, authors should first attempt to resolve disputes within the group. For instances when you are a subordinate or a student, resolving authorship disputes can be particularly difficult. When possible, discuss the issue with a supervisor, laboratory chief, advisor, or mentor. Try to resolve the issue within the research group. If there is a persistent disagreement regarding authorship, it may help to discuss the issue with a senior colleague outside of the research group. If that is not effective, seek assistance and/or mediation from the division or department chair. In cases that cannot be resolved, the lead author, in consultation with the department chair and/or Dean, will have the final authority to resolve the dispute. Resolution of authorship disputes that do not represent a violation of the authorship policy must be resolved at the department level.

Disputes frequently arise over who should or should not be listed as an author and the order in which authors should be listed on the manuscript. Guidelines for these common areas of dispute are below:

Inappropriate Application of Authorship Criteria 
The decision as to whom should be listed as an author can often become a source of conflict. Washington University’s Policy for Authorship on Scientific and Scholarly Publications provides criteria that an individual should meet in order to be listed as an author.

Failure to adhere to this criteria when granting authorship, for example: unequal application of authorship criteria, granting of authorship to undeserving individuals, and/or omitting individuals who deserve authorship, are serious concerns and may be considered research misconduct under Washington University’s Research Integrity Policy.   

Authorship Order
Authors should attempt to resolve disputes regarding author order among themselves. If matter fails to be resolved in this manner, Washington University’s Policy for Authorship on Scientific and Scholarly Publications suggests that the authors request mediation from the chair or head of the department(s) involved. If unsuccessful, mediation may be addressed by the Dean. In cases that cannot be resolved, the lead author, in consultation with the chair and/or Dean, will have the final authority to determine author order. Complaints regarding authorship order do not constitute research misconduct.

All individuals that have contributed significantly to the work, but do not meet the criteria for authorship, should be recognized in the acknowledgements section. This typically includes those who provide:

  • Financial support
  • Technical skill
  • Writing or editorial assistance
  • Supervision of the research
  • Statistical advice
  • Data collection
  • Coordination of data collection