Authorship/Assignment of Credit

Authorship is an important method of identifying those individuals who have been responsible for the ideas, experimental work, interpretation, and written expression of the work submitted for presentation at professional conferences and/or publication in a technical journal. As such there is great responsibility attached to authorship both for the authors named on the paper, the institutions with which they are affiliated, and the publisher or professional organization associated with the conference or technical journal. Authorship is important to the professional reputation of all involved. Criteria for authorship do vary somewhat between disciplines, institutions, and individual laboratories. However, criteria generally require that an individual:

  • Made a significant, identifiable, original intellectual contribution to the project. This means that the person must have done more than merely serve as a pair of hands (following SOPs, recording data, doing data entry, performing data analysis, typing, etc.) in executing a series of experiments;
  • Understands the study reported in the paper as a whole; and that he/she
  • Participated in the writing of the technical paper

As such, the author is capable of and responsible for defending the quality of the study, the technical interpretation of the data, and the written expression of the work as articulated in the paper.

The order of authorship is also an important issue in science and engineering. In general, the order of the names indicates the relative contributions that each person made to the paper. The first person named on the by-line of a paper is the person who is credited with having made the most significant contributions to that study. Often the last name on the paper is that of the principal investigator, in academics, the professor in whose work the research study was carried out.

The requirements apply to all involved in the research project – supervisors as well as to researchers in other words, simply providing mentorship doesn’t qualify someone for authorship on a paper any more than being a laboratory technician does. For the same reasons, being a member of a team working on a research problem doesn’t automatically translate into authorship on a paper. Authorship is awarded to all contributors based on their professional contributions to the work described in the manuscript in question. Another important point is that age is not a criterion for authorship. High school students and undergraduates have been authors – even first authors – on technical papers published in high quality journals. Nor is the length of time spent or the extent of effort made on work a legitimate argument for authorship. It is the quality of the contributions that determines authorship. Employment status, whether you work on a project as a volunteer, receive academic credit, or money, is also not a consideration in determining authorship. Finally, it is important to realize that even if authorship is initially offered to you on a paper by your advisor, the offer may later be withdrawn if your intellectual contributions to the work, for whatever reason, don’t turn out to be those originally anticipated.


  • Make sure that you understand what it takes to be an author on a paper in the lab where you work.
  • Discuss the criteria for authorship with your advisor at the outset of your research project or as soon as possible thereafter to avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Keep detailed notes and document your contributions to the project in writing in your laboratory notebook.