Guidelines for Authorship


The University encourages members of its community to engage in research, scholarship and artistic endeavors, and to widely and openly disseminate the fruits of that effort for the public benefit. Those efforts may be disseminated through peer-reviewed journals and publications; conference presentations; books; transfer of intellectual property into commercial markets; music, public and performing arts, cinema, and various forms of digital and interactive media.

The University is committed to fair and honest attribution of contributions of those who create works of research, scholarship and art. Fair and equitable determination of authorship of these works is important to the reputation, academic promotion, and funding support of the individuals involved, and to the strength and reputation of the University. Although authorship disputes do not typically rise to the level of research misconduct, unfair or inequitable attribution of contribution may damage individual careers and erode confidence in the integrity of scholarship and research. As with research misconduct, false or inaccurate allegations of misattribution may unfairly injure the reputation of scholars, researchers, and the University. These Guidelines should help principal investigators, lead scholars and artists avoid those consequences.


Authorship credit should be given to those who contribute and participate in substantive ways to scientific, scholarly and artistic work, and should honestly and accurately reflect actual contributions. The conventions of different academic disciplines should be considered. Researchers should follow the criteria established by academic journals, which often require a description of each author’s contribution.

The principal investigator, lead scholar or artist leading a collaborative endeavor is responsible for designing and communicating an ethical and transparent approach to authorship and publication of research or other scholarly work. These guidelines outline the ethical responsibilities of those individuals and the University resources available to support implementation of the principles outlined herein.

Criteria for Authorship

Boston University recommends that consideration of authorship include the following criteria:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or
  • Substantial contributions to the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work;  or
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content.

All authors must approve the final version of the publication, are personally accountable for their own contributions, and are responsible for ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Some diversity exists across academic disciplines regarding acceptable standards for substantive contributions that would lead to attribution of authorship. This guidance is intended to allow for such variation in disciplinary best practices while ensuring authorship is appropriately assigned.

Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conceptualization, design, execution, and/or interpretation of the research study. Individuals who do not meet the requirements for authorship, but who have provided a valuable contribution to the work, should be acknowledged for their contributing role as appropriate to the publication.

Authorship Not Appropriate

Authorship is not appropriate in the following circumstances:

  • Honorary, prestige courtesy, and guest authorships (provision of authorship to persons not otherwise meeting appropriate authorship criteria, including but not limited to granting authorship as a favor, gift, or result of a person’s position);
  • Acquisition of or providing funding without the substantive contribution described above; and
  • “Ghost-writing,” a practice whereby a commercial entity or its contractor writes an article or manuscript and a scientist is listed as an author, generally is not permissible.  Making minor revisions to an article or manuscript that is ghost-written does not justify authorship.
  • Coercive authorships (exertion of seniority or supervisory power by a person in order to be conferred authorship when appropriate authorship criteria are not otherwise met);
  • Naming an author who is unaware that he or she has been named as an author; and
  • Ghost authorships (not naming as authors those persons that otherwise meet appropriate authorship criteria).


Disputes about authorship can undermine the collaborative spirit and work of the best teams, particularly if they fester over time. The best antidote is prevention – clarifying expectations regularly and addressing concerns as early as practicable. The principal investigator or lead scholar or artist leading a collaborative endeavor should develop an ethical and transparent approach to determining authorship or attribution. If such standards are documented in writing, they should be made available to all collaborators and discussed at the beginning of the collaboration. Research and other groups should discuss the criteria for authorship or attribution, including the future direction of the project, as early as practical and throughout the course of their work. It is unlikely that it will be feasible to decide who will – or will not – be an author at the outset of a project, but the team should discuss the principles guiding authorship decisions and the decision-making process regularly to help clarify expectations as the project evolves. Although the lead investigator, scholar or artist should initiate these discussions, any collaborator should raise questions or seek clarity at any point throughout the course of the collaboration. Roles may change during the course of a project, and involved parties should revisit authorship and attribution whenever significant changes occur. The lead investigator, scholar or artist should make reasonable efforts to anticipate disagreements, and should fairly appraise students or collaborators investing substantial time on a project for which they are unlikely to be authors.

In addition, researchers are expected to adhere to good research practices, including maintaining appropriate research notes and records, including field or laboratory notebooks, and annotating electronic files. These practices will aide in identifying and clarifying individuals’ contributions to a project. Collaborators are encouraged to clarify the disposition of collaborative data and research materials as early as practical and in accordance with any data-sharing and retention requirements.

Dispute Resolution

Most disputes concerning authorship should be resolved among researchers through open and collegial discourse and mutual agreement. To facilitate this process, any prior decisions or discussions among authors, including verbal or written agreements between coauthors, should be reviewed and considered. These Guidelines and any documented customary practices in the relevant discipline should be applied, as appropriate. Those involved may invite a mutually agreed upon party outside the group who is familiar with publication norms in the field to informally serve as a neutral facilitator to help ensure that all viewpoints are weighed and considered and objectively applied. Researchers also may consult with the University Ombuds, a confidential, informal resource for problem-solving.

If disputes or questions concerning authorship have not been successfully resolved among members of a research team, these disputes or concerns should be brought, by the individual having a concern, for assistance in resolution to the following administrative officials, in this order: a) the department chair, division head, or similar first line of academic management, b) the Dean, and c) the Vice President and Associate Provost for Research.

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