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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.

Case study – Inadmissible “honorary authorships”

Examples of inadmissible honorary authorships:

  • If heads of institutes wish to be listed as authors “by default” because they are “responsible for the publication” even though they have made no contribution to its content, this is to be deemed a case of inadmissible honorary authorship. “This is the way it’s always been done” does not count as an argument.
  • Let us assume a case where postdocs have essentially carried out a project entirely on their own, but the group leader wants to be named as a co-author since she/he claims to have provided critical feedback. This requires an assessment of whether the group leader has made a genuine, scientifically relevant contribution. The group leader should be able to provide evidence of this.
  • Doctoral or postdoctoral researchers are sometimes listed in publications even though their contribution was minimal or non-existent – simply because they “need a publication”. In such cases, authorship may have been granted for strategic reasons; since it might simply be a case of one person’s word against another, the actual scope of the contribution made by the alleged honorary author must be assessed (and proven) in each individual case.
  • There are reported cases of renowned scientists being deliberately included as authors (with their consent or even without it) so as to give the articles concerned a better chance of being recognised and accepted by a journal. Again, statements and evidence of contributions must be requested in such instances.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (Practical examples)