Authorship: authorship roles (contribution disclosure – author(ship) contribution statements)
Recognition for a person's effective contribution to a scholarly publication is done primarily through the inclusion, or not, of the names of (individual) contributors on a (more or less) limited list of names associated with that publication.
The place on this list determines in most cases the "importance" of the contribution. In the most common systems, first, second and last place are reserved for those with the largest contribution or the facilitator (e.g., supervisor).
Authorship is an important (co-)factor for the academic impact and reputation of individual researchers, their career perspectives, success rates in applying for funding, etc., as well as for the affiliated university. Therefore, it is important that all valuable contributions are visible and verifiable.
According to what rules the attribution of authors and their placement should be done is defined in standards. Although the basic principles within these standards are the same, differences may emerge in their implementation. This is often the case between disciplines, which have different practices, but is also inherently linked to the terminology used. For example, the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (aka ALLEA Code) states that authorship itself is based on a significant contribution to the design of the research, relevant data collection, its analysis and/or interpretation. The interpretation of the term ‘significant contribution’ in a specific case is done from the spirit of the standard, but there often remains room for interpretation and appreciation.
The great importance of authorship and the room for interpretation means that authorship can easily be abused, in various forms for example by including ‘big’ names on the authorship list who have contributed little or nothing but whose names might positively influence the chances of publication (so-called guest authorship); in gift authorship, someone is added to the authorship list with too small or no contribution in the hope that they will return the favor; assigning those who have done the real work a less important place because someone else is just up for promotion, etc. These are all practices that make authorship, wrongly, a commodity to be traded.
Therefore, authorship is often the subject of conflict.
Moreover, the possibilities for determining and listing authorship contributions in the current system are limited. There is a lot more involved than the contributions of a few core researchers overseeing the entire ‘project’. Standard practice no longer accommodates the various roles/contributions in the creation of a scientific contribution. This tendency is only reinforced by an increase in (large) collaborations, specialization, degree of inter- and transdisciplinary research, etc.
At the macro level, we see the tendency to take a more holistic approach to scientific work, with the San FranciscoDeclaration on Research Assessment (DORA) (signed by UGent, Board of Governors 9/10/20) as the main example.
All this has led to a shift from the static concept of ‘authorship’ to a transparent recognition of the dynamic context in which research takes place and the various roles/contributions that go with it ('contributorship').
From ‘authorship’ to ‘contributorship’
Contributorship disclosure explicitly and in detail describes what each author did in the realization of the results and creation of the scholarly contribution, from finding the initial idea to submitting it for publication. Using a specification of all contributions/roles and attaching responsibilities to them makes the creation of the contribution more transparent.
This specification can take different forms:
- via a written statement in one's own words, a so-called (author(ship)) contribution statement, whether or not in a predetermined format e.g. a form;
- use of a predetermined classification of different (traditional and other) roles in a 'Contributor Roles Taxonomy' (e.g. CRediT);
- use of digital badges where each contribution corresponds to a specific colored badge e.g. a red badge for writing the first draft. These types of digital visual badges take various forms and can often be added to personal profiles elsewhere on the Web.
Ghent University strongly recommends ‘contributorship disclosure'. The CRediT is registered and deposited in Biblio, the academic bibliography and repository of Ghent University.
Some journals impose a specific form for contributorship disclosure, while others leave it open-ended. So always check which guidelines and form apply.
The use of author roles allows researchers to define contributions to scholarly publishing much more broadly than traditional roles. They pay particular attention to specific categories such as patients and the public in health and social care research ('Patient & Public Involvement' - PPI) and seek appropriate support e.g. through the use of tools such as the de GRIPP2 Reporting checklist. Regarding collaboration with so-called 'resource-poor settings', researchers follow at least the Global code of conduct for research in resource-poor settings (Board of Governors 7/10/22).
More tools for contributorship disclosure
- Examples of journal policy: Nature, PLoS, ... .
- Tips on writing a statement without predetermined format (incl. an Elsevier template): https://www.editage.com/insights/how-to-draft-the-authorship-contribution-statement
- Examples of author contribution statements:
- General advice on Authorship Contribution Statements by the Flemish Commission for Research Integrity
Researchers can address their questions to the faculty contact point for research integrity, the policy advisor for research integrity or the secretariat of the Commission for Research Integrity.
A complete overview of Research Integrity at Ghent University on the webpage.
Last modified Nov. 27, 2023, 2:29 p.m.