A century ago, defining an author was quite straightforward in academia—most articles were written by single authors who were solely responsible for the research conducted. Complexities have arisen in the last several decades with the increasing scope of research, which has engendered collaboration between researchers and institutes across disciplines and specializations and led to an increase in the number of authors per paper.1,2
The involvement of multiple individuals in different capacities naturally evokes the question of who should be credited and held accountable for the research published, especially since careers, ethics, and scientific integrity are at stake. This article outlines the major concepts pertaining to authorship.
Who is an author?
The need for definite guidelines on authorship is disparate across fields. In some branches of the humanities, single authors are still common, and authorship issues surface rarely. In contrast, collaborations are the predominant trend in the sciences, and so there is a greater need for clarity. Therefore, authorities in scientific fields usually spell out authorship criteria.
In broad terms, an author should make significant contributions to the intellectual content of the paper and be willing to take public responsibility for the entire study, including the data and results. The author’s role has been delineated most precisely in the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals—established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)—to which many top journals in the biomedical field subscribe. According to ICMJE’s guidelines, an author should have6
- Honorary/gift authorship: Naming the head of the department where the study is carried out as an author of a paper when he/she has made no significant contribution to the study. This practice may be more prevalent in cultures where supervisors and seniors are treated with respect and it is considered appropriate to include them in the byline.
- Guest authorship: Naming a certain person (generally a senior, well-known researcher) an author in the hope that it will boost the chances of a paper being published, although his/her role in the research may be insignificant.
- Ghost authorship: Omitting the name of a significant contributor from the byline as well as the Acknowledgments section. Such individuals may include those who will be perceived as having conflicts of interest, medical writers, etc.