I often see multiple individuals listed as authors for a single journal article in the sciences and engineering. While teamwork is expected in these fields, I wonder who did what for the research discussed in the article when the list of authors is long, e.g., exceeds five. Perhaps, some names were included on the paper for political reasons rather than intellectual contribution to the work. In the “CHEE 687 Research Skills and Ethics” graduate course that I am attending this semester, the class discussed criteria or guidelines to consider when determining who should be a co-author on a paper.
Co-authorship is not automatic; it is earned. An individual would be offered co-authorship on a journal article or would ask to be a co-author. To be a co-author, a person should have done the following:
1) made a significant intellectual contribution to the work by participating in the creation of the research question and plan, the data collection, and/or the analysis and interpretation of the results;
2) agree to be accountable for the entire content in the article (not just for his/her contribution), which means that all authors must communicate with each other so that everyone understands exactly what was done and said in the article;
3) participate in drafting the article; and
4) critically evaluate and double check the content of the final draft.
If someone does not do all of the above, one could successfully argue that the person should not be a co-author but, rather, can be listed in the acknowledgements section if he/she helped in some way. Just communicating ideas to the lead author, providing feedback, editing, or helping with a task does not automatically make a person a co-author.
This is the second in a series of weekly posts about topics relating to research skills and ethics. Stay tuned for the next post in the series, which will be about the peer-review process.