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.

Ghost Authorship and Ghostwriting

According to 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”. As the accompanying explanation specifies, authors must have contributed to the publication in a “research-relevant way (…)”. The amount and nature of the contribution that justify authorship have to be determined in each individual case, taking into account the conventions of the discipline in question. Authors are responsible for the content of a publication.

A presumption or unfounded assumption of authorship or co-authorship may even constitute a case of scientific misconduct within the meaning of the applicable rules of procedure. Although the Code of Conduct itself does not establish an explicit obligation to mention all authors of a publication, anyone who meets the criteria for authorship is entitled to be named as an author. Guideline 1 also requires “strict honesty in attributing one’s own contributions and those of others”, especially in order that credit and responsibility for publication contributions can be correctly attributed.

Accordingly, it will normally contradict the standards of good research practice if a researcher has made a genuine and identifiable contribution to a publication in a research-relevant way and meets the discipline-specific criteria for authorship but is not named as an author. The individuals involved are normally aware of the fact that they should be named. This constellation is known as ghost authorship and can be differentiated according to whether the ghost author consents to not being named or does not consent to it.

Where consent is not given, this is a case of the appropriation of another person’s material or contribution without their approval. This is also referred to as denial of authorship, which is a violation of Guideline 14.

If, on the other hand, the ghost author agrees not to be named, there is usually no conflict between the authors named in the publication and the ghost author. Nevertheless, this form of ghost authorship can also violate the required honesty with regard to the proof of contribution by the author(s) and others, so it can potentially also be in breach of good research practice. This is because correct information regarding authorship is required for scientific discourse to be trustworthy. Ghost authorship can result in researchers receiving recognition for work done by others, for example. In this way, funding agencies or employers can be misled by researchers about their expertise, resulting in the latter potentially being granted funding for projects that they are not capable of implementing. Ghost authorship can also disguise possible conflicts of interest in publications; cases of this nature emerge repeatedly, especially in industry-related research.

In individual cases, however, it must be possible for authors to be exempted from being named despite having made a genuine, identifiable contribution to the content of a publication. In such instances, there must be intrinsic scientific reasons that have priority over the interest of the academic readership in the naming of all authors in an individual case. For example, it would be conceivable for someone to want to distance themselves from something written by other authors while at the same time allowing their own contribution to the publication to stand so as not to cause the publication to be incomplete or make it impossible for it to appear in its entirety.

So-called ghostwriting is a particular form of ghost authorship. A ghostwriter is a person who writes a text for others but whose contribution is not disclosed in the required manner. This particularly involves the real author not being mentioned by name. In the case of ghostwriting, the real author usually gives their consent to a different person being named as the author, though in some cases this consent is coerced. Ghostwriters are often paid for their work, perform it as a service for a friend, or perform it in the context of a dependent relationship, e.g. under labour law. The reasons for not naming the real author in this constellation are not usually scientifically justified. In the academic field, therefore, the constellations described as ghostwriting mostly violate good research practice.

Sometimes it also happens that persons listed as authors do not check what has been written by the ghostwriter, fail to (or do not wish to) recognise actions in violation of good research practice, and, in extreme cases – in the case of so-called “paper mills” – purchase authorship of publications with plagiarised content or content based on data of unclear origin. One case specific to the area of medicine is that of the so-called “medical writers” who provide assistance in writing all kinds of documents in the field of medical research. The involvement of medical writers has to be explicitly identified in accordance with the discipline-specific conventions and general guidelines on authorship according to good research practice.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL14 (General)