Determining who to include on a manuscript as a contributing author can be a messy process. The following is my adaptation of a set of guidelines initially proposed by Dickson and Conner (1978. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 6:260-261).
I recommend that a person be included as an author on a manuscript if they took part in at least 2 of the following 5 areas required to conduct and publish science. Thoughts on each of the 5 components follow.
- Conceiving the original topic for the study and designing the study. - In many cases, particularly if the study is incredibly novel or ground-breaking, this is one of the most important criteria. There would be no research to conduct, no data to analyze, and no manuscript to write if not for this contribution. Often the first author of a manuscript will have the greatest role in this area while also contributing in other areas below.
- Funding the study. - Much research simply could not be conducted without the funds with which to do it. For this reason, many major advisors or leading lab faculty are included on manuscripts from research conducted in their lab because they obtained the funding, either through grants, contracts, or other avenues.
- Conducting the study. - Self explanatory. Science is tedious. It is often fun sometimes, but seldom fun all times. Someone simply must perform the research diligently and attentively to produce clean results.
- Analyzing and interpreting the data. - A very important step that cannot be overlooked. This is an area where creative contributions are highly valued.
- Writing the manuscript. - This is an area again where the first author is expected to play the greatest role, albeit often in consultation with coauthors to ensure consistency among the group in interpretation and presentation of results.
So there you have one suggested rubric for determining authorship.
It should also be mentioned that cordial discussions at the start of the study and along the way can prevent many of the problems and disagreements over authorship that arise down the road.