Case: An author used professional writing assistance for her research paper. After the first draft, the company providing the service asked the author to include the following sentence in the acknowledgments section of the manuscript:
Funding for this research was provided by XXXX. All authors met the authorship criteria set forth by the International Committee for Medical Journal Editors and retained full control of the manuscript content. Editorial support, in the form of medical writing, assembling tables and creating high-resolution images based on authors’ detailed directions, collating author comments, copyediting, fact checking, and referencing, was provided by YYYY of ABC company. This assistance was funded by XXXX.
The author was surprised at such a request to include the name of the professional writer and the company in the acknowledgments section of her paper. However, the company refused to complete writing the paper unless she agreed to this request. The author approached us to seek advice on what would be the right course of action. She gave two reasons for refusing to include the professional writer’s name in the acknowedgments section:
1. Acknowledging writing assistance would mean disclosing a weakness and the journal would probably get the impression that she lacked the skill to write a paper. This might negatively impact the journal’s decision.
2. The purpose of the acknowledgments section is to thank people for their help with the study. Since she has paid for this service, it was not a form of help, and hence need not be acknowledged.
Action: We explained that most journals prefer complete disclosure, and that taking editorial assistance or writing assistance is not considered a weakness as long as the author has complete control over the content. We also explained that the International Committee for Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends that any writing or editing support should be acknowledged in the manuscript. We also sent her the ICMJE guideline that mentioned this. However, she felt that we had probably misinterpreted the guideline and that paid services were not meant to be acknowledged. Finally, we asked her to send an inquiry to the editor of the journal where she had planned to submit her paper, asking if paid writing or editing assistance needed to be disclosed. The editor replied that it was mandatory to acknowledge writing assistance or language editing of any kind, irrespective of whether it was paid or not. The author was finally convinced and agreed to acknowledge the service.
Summary: The ICMJE recommends that any writing or editing support needs to be acknowledged in the manuscript:
Contributors who meet fewer than all 4 of the criteria for authorship listed under ICMJE guidelines, should not be listed as authors, but they should be acknowledged. Examples of activities that alone (without other contributions) do not qualify a contributor for authorship are acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support; and writing assistance, technical editing, and language editing and proofreading. Those whose contributions do not justify authorship may be acknowledged individually or together as a group under a single heading (e.g. "Clinical Investigators" or "Participating Investigators"), and their contributions should be specified (e.g., "served as scientific advisors," "critically reviewed the study proposal," "collected data," "provided and cared for study patients", "participated in writing or technical editing of the manuscript").
Acknowledging a writer or editor’s involvement in manuscript preparation does not affect the chances of publication of a manuscript. In fact, it makes the paper more compliant with guidelines that have been set by journal editors themselves.