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Authorship: a question of order

man and question mark, man in front of question mark, vector illustration

Agreeing the order of authors on a publication can be a tricky and contentious issue. Recently, the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) conducted a survey about strategies for deciding authorship order. Releasing the results in the MAP Newsletter, most of the respondents favoured objective scoring of contributions as the best approach.

Discussing the results, Eric Wong notes that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criteria provide clear guidance on who does – and who does not – qualify to be an author, and further recommendations are available in GPP3. However,

“There is currently no single widely accepted methodology to make authorship order decisions…”.

The survey asked how respondents would look to resolve a scenario where multiple people believed they should be first author based on their contributions. Of the 89 respondents to the poll:

  • Sixty-five percent opted to systematically list out author contributions, assigning an objective weight to each type of activity, with the total weighted score for each author used to determine author order.
  • Thirty-five percent chose to share lead authorship, listing the authors alphabetically and indicating that those authors contributed equally.
  • None voted to decide the author order based on experience or renown, or voted that the study sponsor should make the decision.

Wong emphasises that whatever approach is taken, how and why the decision has been made needs to be clear to authors. He also highlights that the ISMPP Author Algorithm Task Force is currently developing a standardised framework for assessing author contributions that could help to promote a consistent approach to resolving the author order question. We look forward to reading their recommendations, which Wong notes should be shared later this year.


Summary by Ian Faulkner PhD from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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