Comment on:

The following comment refers to this/these guideline(s)

Guideline 14


An author is an individual who has made a genuine, identifiable contribution to the content of a research publication of text, data or software. All authors agree on the final version of the work to be published. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, they share responsibility for the publication. Authors seek to ensure that, as far as possible, their contributions are identified by publishers or infrastructure providers such that they can be correctly cited by users.


The contribution must add to the research content of the publication. What constitutes a genuine and identifiable contribution must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and depends on the subject area in question. An identifiable, genuine contribution is deemed to exist particularly in instances in which a researcher – in a research-relevant way – takes part in

  • the development and conceptual design of the research project, or
  • the gathering, collection, acquisition or provision of data, software or sources, or
  • the analysis/evaluation or interpretation of data, sources and conclusions drawn from them, or
  • the drafting of the manuscript.

If a contribution is not sufficient to justify authorship, the individual’s support may be properly acknowledged in footnotes, a foreword or an acknowledgement. Honorary authorship where no such contribution was made is not permissible. A leadership or supervisory function does not itself constitute co-authorship.

Collaborating researchers agree on authorship of a publication. The decision as to the order in which authors are named is made in good time, normally no later than when the manuscript is drafted, and in accordance with clear criteria that reflect the practices within the relevant subject areas. Researchers may not refuse to give their consent to publication of the results without sufficient grounds. Refusal of consent must be justified with verifiable criticism of data, methods or results.

What to do in the case of an author passing away during the research work/publication process

The question of what to do in the case of an author passing away during the research work or publication process arises on the condition that the person has made a scientifically relevant contribution by the time of their death that entitles them to authorship under the applicable authorship standards.

From the perspective of good research practice, it is desirable for the contribution of the deceased author to be appropriately acknowledged in accordance with the applicable criteria for authorship and for co-authors to be able to publish the research data and results achieved.

In terms of publication, the following questions in particular arise for all those involved (potentially including the co-authors, the publisher, possibly the university of the deceased academic and the surviving relatives):

  • Fulfilment of authorship criteria
  • Transparency regarding the deceased person
  • Required declarations to publication organs

How these questions are dealt with in detail depends, among other things, on the time of the person’s death in relation to the status of the publication project, as well as the role the deceased person was to play in the planned publication project. Some notes and recommendations on how to deal with these issues are provided in the AMA Manual of Style, for example: Guide for Authors and Editors (11th edition)* sand a case study** discussed in the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) forum.

Handling the issue of authorship:

In the situation where a person entitled to authorship dies during the publication process, the AMA Manual of Style recommends that a family member, an authorised person or the corresponding author confirm to the publication body that the deceased person should be listed as the author.

For reasons of transparency, a statement should be included in the publication (e.g. in the note on the authors and their affiliations, in the “Acknowledgements” section or in further article information) indicating the death of a person involved.

The question of author ranking should be decided in the light of the specific case and depending on the stage of work reached at the time of death. It is advisable to seek the advice of an ombudsperson before deciding not to list a person who died during the publication process as an author.

Declarations to the organ of publication:

Many publications expect authors to declare possible conflicts of interest prior to publication, e.g. to exclude the possibility that third parties may have influenced the results of the study. In the case of a deceased author, it seems advisable – following the case study** discussed in the Committee on Publication Ethics forum – to ask the relatives to review and sign the conflict of interest statement and to discuss further modalities with the editors.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (General)