Authorship Guidelines

Assisting American Fisheries Society (AFS) members in determining authorship of scholarly documents intended for presentation, publication, or other dissemination.

The following Guidelines for Authorship were developed by the Publications Overview Committee (M. Fabrizio, Chair) and approved by the AFS Governing Board, August 19, 2000, St. Louis, MO.

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist American Fisheries Society (AFS) members in determining authorship of scholarly documents intended for presentation, publication, or other dissemination. Such documents include manuscripts intended for publication in the peer-reviewed literature, reports, and visual aids used to illustrate oral presentations at professional meetings. Henceforth, for brevity, we use the term “paper” to refer to these types of documents.


Determining the number and sequence of names on the title page of a paper is an ethical decision involving fairness and trust-fairness in properly representing each person’s contribution to the study and trust in accurately portraying the responsibility of each author for all or part of the work. Fairness and trust are compromised when colleagues whose contributions merit recognition are overlooked (not giving credit where credit is due) or when colleagues whose contributions are minor are granted authorship status (unfair attribution or gratuitous authorship).

Ultimately, authorship and the ordering of names in a byline is the joint decision of the research team members, and we recommend discussion of authorship and ordering of the byline with potential coauthors (team members) before the investigation gets underway. A wise team leader clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each team member and obtains input from all members. During the course of an investigation, roles and responsibilities may change or be transferred, new roles may be identified, and authorship questions arise again. Throughout the study and before the writing begins, the team leader must reassess the authorship decision to ensure the original plan fairly considers the contribution of each team member and accurately portrays the merit of each contribution.

Standards of Authorship

Authors are responsible for the intellectual content of the paper. Authorship should be restricted to persons making a significant contribution to the work such as: determining or developing study objectives, designing experimental, statistical, or analytical approaches, collecting data, analyzing data and interpreting outcomes, and preparing the paper (organizing, writing, revising, and proofreading the text).

Each author should make two or more significant contributions that produce new information. For instance, one author may have contributed to analyzing and interpreting the data, as well as writing the paper. Routine technical activities are not considered significant contributions if these activities are prescribed by standard operating procedures or are well-established procedures described in previously published accounts. Thus, persons whose sole contribution to the investigation consists of conducting routine laboratory analyses or routine data collection should not generally be listed as authors. Exceptions may occur when considering the contribution of an individual over an exceptionally long period of time. Examples describing the level of conceptual involvement or technical participation required for authors are given in Day (1998. Chapter 5 in How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 5th edition. Oryx Press).

In preparing a paper, one approach is for the lead author to prepare the first draft. In this case, coauthors should be involved in discussions of the text, either in terms of organization, critical ideas, or interpretation of results. If an author is involved in revisions to a paper, these revisions should concern changes to the intellectual content, not just spelling and grammar.

Authorship confers credit to the individuals involved in a study. With credit comes responsibility. Thus, every coauthor must see and approve the version of the paper sent to the journal editor for evaluation. “Any part of an article critical to its main conclusions must be the responsibility of at least one author” (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors: Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, 5th Edition, URL: ).

Ordering of Names on a Multi-Author Paper

The order of names in a byline is important because decisions about employment, promotion, and funding are often partially based on the number of publications, the order of authorship, and the perceived value of scientific contributions (J. H. Wandersee. 1993. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30:1001-1003). In the ecological literature, the sequence of names in the byline is assumed to represent the relative contribution of each person. If the order of authorship was determined in a different manner (e.g., alphabetically), authors may wish to state this in a footnote or in the acknowledgments section.

The final sequence for the byline should be a joint decision of the coauthors. How do team members assess the relative merits of each contribution? Time could be used, but it is not fair to compare a “two-hour contribution to a project’s design from a person with 30 years of experience with a two-hour contribution from a person with little or no experience” (R. H. Schmidt. 1987. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 68(1):8-10). Importance can be used, but the entire team must concur. Here, importance refers to the merit of the intellectual aspect of the contribution. The Ecological Society of America published a worksheet for determining inclusion and ranking of authors (Schmidt 1987). Another proposal appeared in Nature (R. Hunt. 1991. Nature 352:187). The team should agree on which approach it will take to evaluate the merits of each author’s contribution.

What Is Not Authorship

Publications are important for professional advancement, but an author’s list of publications should accurately reflect the work in which he/she actively participated. Coauthors unwilling to address criticisms arising from the peer-review process should also be unwilling to accept recognition or acclaim for the work.

A. Gratuitous or Irresponsible Authorships

Sometimes, an individual’s desire for authorship may be driven by the perceived need to satisfy a granting agency or a committee charged with evaluation for employment or promotion (“publish or perish”). At other times, prestige may motivate an individual to secure authorship although his/her contribution to the work is minor. Some individuals may seek or confer authorship to colleagues for contributions that fall short of the ideal (E. Leash. 1997. Journal of Dental Research 76:724-727). In these cases, the gratuitous author cannot ensure the accuracy of the paper. Such responsibility falls on each author, not just the lead author.

Irresponsible authorships are sometimes conferred to those who discovered or constructed a new device or method and who now feel the use of the device or method is proprietary. These people may demand coauthorship as a necessary compensation for use of the device or method. However, it is not necessary to include the person’s name in the byline of every paper that reports the subsequent application of the device or method as long as the text cites the original paper describing the device or method and as long as the discoverer of the method or device was not directly involved in the new study.

It is unfair for supervisors or advisors to encourage less-experienced scientists to shoulder all the responsibility of publishing a paper. It is also unfair for young researchers to list an established or senior researcher as an author when the established researcher did not contribute significantly to the study (R. P Croll. 1984. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 27:401-407). Although this may be viewed by the young researcher as a way to minimize criticism during the review process, it often has the opposite effect. Referees are irritated when asked to review a poorly supervised submission to a journal. For the established researcher, gratuitous authorships may be viewed as a way to increase the number of his/her publications. This practice devalues the work of the young researcher, extends undue credit to the established researcher, and misleads editors and readers. A good rule of thumb might be: “Senior researchers should make sure that papers carrying their name are papers they can be proud of” (R. J. Mackay. 1996. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 15:1-2).

B. Acknowledging Assistance

Often, authors obtain the assistance of persons who are not considered authors or true team members. Recognition of technical, administrative, or supervisory activities and assistance is appropriate and should be specified in the acknowledgments section of a paper. In the case of an oral presentation, verbal acknowledgment of such assistance can be made at the beginning (or end) of the presentation. An acknowledgment is appropriate for individuals whose sole association with the project is administrative or supervisory. Acknowledgments are also appropriate for the person who procured funds, if that was his/her only role in the study. Acknowledgments typically include appreciation for: use of unpublished data, provision of materials, assistance in developing or refining professional interpretations of the data or results, significant critical advice or ideas that influenced the conduct or conclusions of the investigation, routine (chemical or analytical) laboratory findings, routine statistical analyses, unique contributions of scientific specialists, financial support, informal assistance provided by other agency personnel, and voluntary assistance provided by colleagues, students, or the public. The acknowledgments section may also serve to disclose any relationships that may pose a conflict of interest for any of the authors.