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Ensuring Appropriate Author Contributions in Publications

Ensuring Appropriate Author Contributions in Publications

Ensuring Appropriate Author Contributions in Publications

By Kelly Cameron, PhD


Ensuring that all authors on a manuscript contribute significantly to a publication can be difficult. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines1 for the publication of scholarly work in medical journals recommend that to qualify as an author, one must have:


  1. Made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or actively engaged in the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafted the work or revised it critically to maintain important intellectual content; AND
  3. Approved the final version of the manuscript to be published; AND
  4. Agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.


Contributors do not qualify as authors if they have fulfilled some of these 4 criteria, but not all. As scientific writers at a medical communications agency, we often become involved with publications during, or after a clinical trial has already been completed, making it difficult to identify the specific role authors had in the concept/design of a study, data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation of data. To assist us in identifying contributors who qualify as authors, as well as to help ensure that authors understand what is expected of them, we developed a table that we include on the second page of the first draft of a manuscript. As authors critically review the manuscript, they have the opportunity to fill in the criteria they believe best fits their contribution. After authors fill out the first 4 columns in the table, we keep track of the last 2 columns during the manuscript development process. When the table is completed, we include the appropriate information either in the text of the manuscript or in the cover letter to the editor that highlights the specific roles authors have assumed in preparing the manuscript for publication. This information is often required by journals that follow the ICMJE guidelines.


ICMJE Authorship Criteria


1International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. December 2015. Available at: http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/