Authorship Guidelines

Collaboration is at the core of the ScholCommLab, and we take pride in partnering with researchers and visiting scholars from a range of disciplines and geographic locations. But we know that collaboration—especially multidisciplinary collaboration—can raise important questions about authorship. What kinds of contributions merit full authorship? Who decides on the final author order? And how are disputes handled?

Making sure everyone is on the same page with respect to authorship roles is a top priority for the lab. To avoid misunderstandings and conflicts among collaborators, here are some basic guidelines for how we define and determine authorship. We do acknowledge that these guidelines might not cover each and every potential conflict. We also acknowledge that there are many gray areas and unforeseen circumstances that require special consideration. However, we hope that these guidelines encourage authors to talk to their colleagues and the co-directors in case any issues not addressed in this document.

Although the following guidelines apply specifically to articles in scholarly journals, they should be similarly applied to all types of outputs, including, but not limited to, conference presentations, datasets, and monographs:

What Qualifies as Authorship?

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has developed authorship guidelines that are used by many journals and institutions. The committee recommends that authorship be based on the following four criteria:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting or critically revising the work for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. Agreement 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.

Although the ScholCommLab references these criteria, in our view, authorship should be determined by more than just the quantity of work a person has done. Crunching numbers or proofreading a draft is not in and of itself enough to merit authorship. To qualify as an author, a collaborator must have put significant time or effort—either paid or unpaid—into the research project, and must also have contributed in some meaningful way.

Not sure if someone’s contribution qualifies for authorship? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How intellectually engaged were they in the project? (e.g. Did they provide ideas or feedback throughout the design, implementation, and writing of the paper?)
  2. Did they contribute creative work to the project? (e.g. Did they come up with the study design or study concept, contribute to the data analysis, or provide the intellectual framework for the paper itself?)
  3. Would the paper look the same without their help?

What Doesn’t Count as Authorship?

Working without intellectual engagement in the project (i.e., collecting the data, reviewing a draft, technical support, acquisition of funding, general supervision, writing assistance, etc.) does not merit authorship in and of itself.

However, the ScholCommLab values these important contributions and aims to provide credit wherever it is due. In cases where a collaborator has put significant work into the project, but does not qualify for authorship, their efforts should be acknowledged in the Acknowledgements section of the published paper.

Opportunities to Earn Authorship

In most cases, those who devote significant time and effort in a project will be extended an invitation to become an author by becoming intellectually involved in a project. Even if such an invitation is not extended, the project’s primary investigator may agree to a collaborator’s request for an opportunity to qualify for authorship by becoming more involved (for example, by contributing to the writing and editing process, providing feedback on the data analysis, assisting with the literature review, etc).

Such invitations and requests should be made as early as possible in the project. See the following section for a discussion of this process.

Authorship Is an Ongoing Discussion

COPE’s guide for handling authorship disputes emphasizes the importance of discussing authorship decisions early on, and continuing that discussion throughout the research process.

The ScholCommLab builds on COPE’s recommendations for determining authorship in the following way: 

  • Encourage a culture of ethical authorship.
  • Start discussing authorship when you plan your research: gather views from the team, in a face-to-face meeting.
  • Decide on authorship before you start each article or presentation (ideally face to face).
  • As early as possible, document the project idea, authorship roles, and researcher tasks using this template as a starting point. [Make a copy and fill in the blanks.]
  • Continue the discussion as you move forward with the project, especially if new contributors join the team. Document any changes to planned contributions.
  • Keep a written record of all decisions, as well as any changes, you make along the way.

How Is Author Order Determined?

The ScholCommLab is home to researchers from a variety of disciplines, and we acknowledge that, although mostly advantageous and successful, interdisciplinarity causes potential conflicts when various disciplinary traditions meet and diverge. This is perhaps especially true when it comes to expectations regarding authorship, including the typical number of authors or authorship order, and can be particularly problematic for authors working in disciplines where a publication’s value is “diluted” by having many co-authors or by appearing later in the author list. Any potential conflicts should be addressed before others become involved by following the practices outlined above.

When submitting to fields that do not typically use last author for the project leader (e.g., many social sciences), the author order will be determined based on the quantity and quality of work contributed, in descending order, as outlined above (“What Qualifies as Authorship?”).

Otherwise, the following breakdown is suggested:

  • First Author: Typically, the person who takes the lead on writing will become the first author, although this is open to discussion if another contributor has put in significant work at an earlier stage of the project.
  • Last Author: While not all papers will follow this convention, in the lab, the last author will often be whoever supervised and guides (i.e., provides intellectual leadership) of the work.
  • Corresponding Author: An author will be designated as the corresponding author when they have taken a leadership role in the work and are able to speak to significant aspects of the project. This designation typically corresponds to the first or last author. In some cases, more than one author may be assigned as a corresponding author (i.e., first and last, or first and second). In accepting this role, the contributor agrees to spearhead all coordination with the journal.
  • Other Authors: The order of the other authors will be determined based on the quantity and quality of the work they contributed to the project, as outlined above (“What Qualifies as Authorship?”). If two or more authors are deemed to have equal contributions, then a random draw will be organized by the lead author.
  • Coordination: Unless agreed upon in advance, the person supervising and guiding the work—usually, the first or last author on the paper—will determine the author order. This decision should take place early on in the writing process, so that any disagreements can be discussed among the contributors and resolved in a timely fashion (see below: “What if a Conflict Arises?”). Recognizing that expected contributions are not always reflective of final outputs, the author order should always be revisited with the team once the draft is ready for submission.

What if a Conflict Arises?

If you feel that your contribution—or anyone else’s—is not accurately reflected in the proposed author order, please (respectfully) let your supervisor know!

Try to approach the discussion from an inquisitive rather than an accusatory point of view (i.e. Ask your PI to clarify how the authorship decisions were made and why your contribution isn’t being acknowledged as you believe it should be). COPE recommends the following approach when starting such discussions: “make clear that you are not disputing [your supervisor’s] right to make such a decision, but show dispassionately why you do not agree with the decision. Support this with evidence, such as laboratory notebooks, manuscripts, ICMJE statement, Instructions to Authors, etc.”

In many cases, a simple conversation can be enough to settle the dispute. If the disagreement continues, the next step is to discuss with the other collaborators on your team. If that is unsuccessful, the next step would be to contact the ScholCommLab’s directors, Juan ( or Stefanie (

Should you not be able to resolve the authorship conflict internally, you have the opportunity to reach out to the following contacts who are not affiliated with the lab and have agreed to be available in case the ScholCommLab’s Code of Conduct is violated. At SFU, John Maxwell ( and Hannah McGregor ( are available. At uO, you can reach out to Constance Crompton ( or Kyle Conway (

References & Future Reading

The following resources may be helpful in understanding of the questions surrounding authorship, the rationale behind our guidelines, and other best practices to consider.