Q: Can I add a co-author and acknowledgments after my paper has been accepted?

Detailed Question -

The article has been accepted by the journal. I want to add one researcher as a co-author and put the co-author’s research which is in progress on an acknowledgements. I wonder if it is possible or if it can be a problem?

1 Answer to this question

Congratulations on the acceptance of your paper!

To answer your question, it is not clear why you want to add a new co-author at this stage. It is unethical to add someone as a co-author if they have not contributed significantly to the work. 

As per the ICMJE guidelines on authorship, a person can qualify to be an author only if he/she meets all of the following criteria:

  • Made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafted the work or revised it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Approved of the final version to be published; AND
  • Agreed 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.

What this basically means is that the person you are planning to include as co-author should have been involved in all stages of your research, right from designing the study, collecting and interpreting data, to manuscript writing, making revisions and giving final approval of the version to be published. If he/she has been a part of all this, the question arises that why would you not include him/her as a co-author from the beginning? Why would it strike you at this stage, after acceptance of your paper?

From your question, it seems that you wish to add the co-author's name because he/she has helped you with some aspects of your study. However, if the nature of the help you have received does not fulfill all of the above criteria, it is best to mention this person in the acknowledgements section rather than add him/her as a co-author. Making additions to the acknowledgements section at this stage should not be a problem; you just need to inform the editor and make the change when you receive the page proofs. However, adding a co-author might raise eyebrows; so unless you have very strong reasons, I would not recommend doing so at such an advanced stage. 

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