Discuss authorship before starting the first draft

Reach an explicit consensus on authorship as soon as you possibly can. Except possibly for the issue of plagiarism, nothing in the world of scientific publication is more likely to breed hard feelings and wreck friendships than a disagreement over authorship.

As defined by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2006), decisions on authorship should be guided by a simple ethical principle - any author listed on the paper's title page should take public responsibility for its intellectual content. No one is likely to be able to take such responsibility unless they have taken part in the research and in writing the paper or revising it for accuracy of content. Participation solely in data collection or solely in the writing of the grant that funded the research does not necessarily justify authorship. Nor does general supervision of the laboratory group qualify one for authorship unless the supervisor contributed to the conception and design of the research or to the analysis and interpretation of the results. Don't lose your job over this issue, however! Most research today is necessarily done by teams, with some contributions being intellectual and others practical. Often, all contributors are listed as authors.

Check the Instructions to Authors. Some ITAs require an explicit statement, signed by all the coauthors, to the effect that each author has contributed significantly to the paper, understands it, and endorses it. Further discussion of authorship can be found in the on-line version of "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" (excerpted in Appendix 2).

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