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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.

Authorship in the life sciences

The attribution and origin of published contributions or findings must be clearly recognisable based on details of the individuals involved. This applies to both publications and research proposals.

Due to the variety of research questions as well as their varying complexity and differing degrees of interdisciplinary orientation, the number of authors involved in the publication of a set of research results in the life sciences can vary considerably. In principle, each individual’s contribution should be adequately reflected in the designation of authorship. Due to the range of research topics and the fact that research processes are subject to constant change, only an approximation can be offered of the circumstances that justify designation as an author. When procuring and/or providing data, software, materials or model organisms, a clear indication must be provided of the publications that are already available. If previously published articles exist, this does not usually justify authorship, but it should be noted by means of the appropriate acknowledgements or by citation in the references. Nor is the mere funding of research sufficient to justify designation as an author. The provision of a working environment or access to the necessary infrastructures alone does not usually imply authorship either.

It is common practice to allocate a prominent role to first authors and last authors. Typically, the first-mentioned author is the person who is mainly responsible for project implementation and the writing of the publication, while the person mentioned last is responsible for the overall scientific hypothesis and project management. In this connection, there may be more than one individual acting as first and last author. One or more of these will additionally assume the function of corresponding author. It is advisable to agree on the intended author order in good time prior to publication and ensure open, transparent communication with all parties involved. Mentors have an important role to play here in that they are able to shape the career of early career researchers in such a way that academic independence becomes evident based on the latter’s publications. As such, mentors are responsible for ensuring that the status of early career researchers is protected, especially in the context of authorship. Mentorship alone does not justify co-authorship.

Publications with a large number of authors often deal with complex, overarching and interdisciplinary research questions involving the collation and processing of large quantities of research results. In such cases, it is particularly important to give visibility to individual contributions in connection with the publication, as well as appropriately establishing responsibility for the quality and validity of the results. It is advisable to clarify roles at an early stage. So-called honorary authorships that can potentially arise in the life sciences through extensive research consortia and diverse research collaborations are not acceptable.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (Life sciences)