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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.

FAQ on authorship

What does “shared first authorship” mean? What problems can occur?

As defined by most journals, shared first authorship means that several first authors have made equal contributions.

In the life sciences, first authors are often not listed alphabetically in spite of having made equal contributions – on the grounds that one person has contributed more than another. A “ranking” of contributions is thus established even in the case of equal contributions. This can give rise to conflict if there is disagreement over the order.

Often the results of several dissertations are combined into one publication because this may lead to a better chance of the article being accepted for publication in a journal with a higher impact factor. This also counteracts the “salami tactics” of small-scale publishing. Doctoral researchers often need first authorships on articles in order to be able to advance to the next stage in their career, however. First-author publications are even a requirement for some doctorates.

In spite of equal authorship, the community and reviewers often only perceive the person who is actually named first (the “main author”) as the first author. Authorship position can also influence scores and citation indices, for example, because first authors in lower positions are not included in the calculation.

If more than three first authors are named, the question arises of how so many people can have contributed an “an equal amount of equal substance” to an article. The editor in charge will often decide whether articles with such lists of authors are acceptable or whether explanatory statements are to be requested.

To what extent and for how long are researchers who are involved in data collection to be listed as co-authors if the data they collected is further processed by others?

In the life sciences and behavioural sciences in particular, it is often the case that a researcher participates in data collection as part of a working group for a limited period of time but then leaves the group. Subsequently, the data collected is often further processed by others in the same working group and becomes the subject of new publications in its processed form; the original data is also sometimes made available to other laboratories/working groups, with permission being granted for further processing. In such cases, the question arises as to whether the person who originally collected the data is still a co-author of later publications: how long does the contribution made by that person continue to justify authorship?

In this context, a schematic, formula-based assessment is inappropriate: after all, the contribution of the data to the substance of the research and its significance in the context of a publication can vary considerably. What is more, subject-specific peculiarities may apply.

Generally speaking, the recommendation is for group leaders to engage in discussion with the researchers concerned about their foreseeable role in publications as early as possible and arrive at the relevant agreements so as to avoid conflicts later.

In the case of the multiple use of data, it is often preferable to establish a reference to the first publication and use a citation rather than perpetuating authorship “infinitely” in later publications. This approach seems to be common practice in many fields.

When assessing whether authorship of a publication is (still) justified, it can be helpful to refer to the requirement of a personal and research-relevant contribution to the scientific content of the publication as set out in Guideline 14. One question to ask might be whether the activity of data collection itself required independent, scientific input. Data recording may justify authorship, but this is by no means always the case. It may also be helpful to consider how relevant or central the dataset is to the publication in question.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (faq)