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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.

Example – “Conflict of authorship: a co-author disagrees with the order in which contributions are listed in publication”

There are three typical constellations here:

a) The author order changes in the course of the project, with which individual authors do not agree

b) First authorship was initially promised by the co-authors, but this cannot be maintained in the course of the project.

c) Conflicts arise in collaborations between different disciplines, each of which has its own different custom for determining the order of authors.

Process and difficulties in connection with ombudsman procedures

When submitting a manuscript, all co-authors must agree with the content of the publication and the order in which authors are named. In the course of projects involving several participants, there may be changes in the order because some sets of experiments turn out to be more complex than initially thought, for example, or individuals leave the group before the project is completed. Conflicts can also frequently arise in interdisciplinary situations when discipline-specific customs differ but participants were not previously aware of this.

In the course of a project, doctoral researchers or early postdoctoral researchers (those who have recently completed their doctorate) often shift downwards in the order.

In order to clarify authors’ scope of contribution and order, ombudspersons may request the individuals concerned to issue statements, which are then checked for plausibility. If necessary, with the consent of the parties involved, experts might be asked to provide an assessment (e.g. ombudspersons from other institutions who work in the same field) or else editors can be consulted.

The judgement of those in charge of the project will be an important factor here. Group leaders (also known as principal investigators or PIs) are often the project managers. They have a general overview of all participants’ contributions over an extended period of time: they are often the ones who establish authorship and authorship order on manuscripts, are listed as last authors themselves and act as corresponding authors (CA).

With the consent of the individual concerned, ombudspersons can therefore usually start by contacting the group leaders in the event of a complaint. If the group leader was not the project leader, another person may have taken on the role of corresponding author and been instrumental in determining authorship and author order. This might be the first author or an author with a middle authorship position. In addition to being in contact with the journal or publisher, corresponding authors have other tasks and responsibilities such as ensuring storage of the original data, obtaining the consent of all co-authors to submit and publish the manuscript, and checking conflicts of interest.

Also, ombudspersons should always bear in mind the specific discipline or disciplines concerned when mediating with regard to issues relating to author order. Journal guidelines and discipline-specific guidelines can be helpful here.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (Practical examples)