• The Charlesworth Group

The Ethics of Authorship: How to deal with late authorship changes

Academic research is a collaborative effort in which researchers work together to attain a common goal. The culmination of this process, in which authorship is crucial, is the publication of a research report. Authorship reflects not only a person's involvement in the research study but also their reputation and accountability for the results.

Criteria for Defining Authorship

Authorship is an important characteristic that displays an individual's contribution and legitimacy to a research effort. For an individual to be listed as an author of a research paper, several conditions must be met. 

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) provides guidelines for authorship, which include the following criteria:

1- Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work

2- Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content

3- Final approval of the version to be published

4- Agreement 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

While all authors contribute to the research project, there are different authorship roles that signify different levels of contribution

1- The corresponding author is responsible for handling the communication with the journal editor and ensuring that all co-authors have seen and approved the final version of the manuscript before submission. 

2- The lead author is an individual who has contributed the most to the research project and may also be the first author listed on the paper.

3- Co-authors are the ones who have contributed to the research project, but their contributions may not be as substantial as that of the lead author.

Distinguishing Between Authorship Roles

Understanding the various authorship roles and criteria is critical for ensuring that credit is given where it is due and avoiding potential author disputes. The authorship roles and sequence may differ based on the topic of study and the needs of the journal.

Before submission, the corresponding author must ensure that all authors are aware of their roles and duties and have agreed on the final authorship order. The authorship process can be expedited by adhering to the field's and journal's norms and traditions, and each individual's work can be duly recognised. 

While all authors contribute to the research, distinct authorship roles denote varying levels of commitment. The corresponding author serves as the journal editor's principal point of contact, and they are responsible for ensuring that all co-authors have viewed and approved the final version of the paper before submission. The lead author is usually the person who has made the greatest contributions to the research, and they may also be the first author mentioned in the article. Co-authors are those who participated in the research but not as significantly as the lead author.

Determining Authorship Order Fairly

The order of authors can represent each individual's contribution to the research endeavour as well as the exposure and acknowledgement of the writers.

To ascertain authorship order, researchers can use one of the numerous conventions. In certain fields, the first author is the person who has made the greatest contributions to the research project, and in others, the last author is the senior author who has provided supervision and money for the study.

Another criterion that may influence authorship order is equal contribution. In such circumstances, writers can be listed alphabetically or by the amount of contribution, they provided to the project.

In addition to these conventions, authors must follow particular criteria and requirements when determining authorship order. Some publications, for example, ask authors to provide a brief summary of each author's contribution to the project, which is subsequently utilised to determine authorship order.

It is critical for authors to communicate clearly and openly about the authorship order. Before submitting, all writers should understand their roles and duties and agree on the final authorship order. This can aid in the avoidance of any potential disputes or conflicts that may occur following publication.

What to Do When the Authorship Order Is Changed? 

The corresponding author may need to change the authorship order for various reasons, such as a change in the contribution of the authors or a dispute between the authors. However, making such changes after the first round of peer review can be challenging. 

Guidelines for Changing Authorship Order: 

1- Compliance with COPE Protocol: 

Most journals require conformity with the Council on Publication Ethics (COPE) criteria when adding or removing authors or modifying the authorship order after the initial round of peer review. According to the COPE protocol, all original and extra authors must sign a letter stating the cause for the change and certifying that all authors consent to the addition, removal, or reordering of authors.

2- Letter Signed by All Authors:

According to these requirements, all original and extra writers must sign a letter outlining the rationale for the change and certifying that all authors consent to the addition, removal, or reordering of authors. This letter must detail the justification for the change, including why the change is required and how it will benefit the research paper.

It is unlikely that the corresponding author can change the authorship order without a signed letter from all authors. This is because the journal's editors and reviewers will have based their assessment on the original authorship order, and changing it without proper justification may compromise the credibility of the research.

If the corresponding author tries to change the authorship order without the approval of all the authors involved, the other authors might intervene. They can contact the editors of the journal and express their concerns or objections, which may result in the paper being withdrawn or rejected.

Authorship is an imperative aspect of academic research since it demonstrates a person's involvement, contribution, and accountability for the research endeavour. The authorship duties and criteria should be clearly specified and authorship order should be determined equitably and publicly. Any modifications to the authorship order after the first round of peer review must follow the COPE process and be accompanied by a signed letter from all authors involved. By following these standards, researchers can guarantee that credit is given where it is due while still maintaining the credibility of their research. Remember that a fair and transparent authoring process is the bedrock of successful academic cooperation and research projects.

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