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Publications are usually key to a career in science. This is why there are often conflicts about whether a person is included as author and if so at which position. Conventions vary by country and institution and change over time. But which criteria should be applied? The Vancouver Convention attempted to give an answer. Recently the Council of Science Editors has put forward a reworked guideline suggestion.


The problem

Guidelines on authorship have existed for decades. Studies have shown that they are not followed consistently and that many researchers remain unaware of them [1]. Criteria on authorship seem to be based more on local customs than on consensus rules.


New standard for authorship

A new standard for authorship was put forward by Paul J. Friedman from the UCSC and the Council of Science Editors (CSE) [2]. It might supersede the Vancouver scheme detailed below. One of its central points is to include a detailed list of author contributions.

Friedman suggest 2 or 3 of the below criteria as minimum requirement for authorship but adds that the appropriate minimum depends on "individual circumstances, such as the number of authors". This guideline would raise some contributors from acknowledgements to authors compared to the Vancouver agreement. It also recommends that persons who contributed in only 1 category be moved to acknowledgements.

CONCEPT the idea for the research or article, framing the hypothesis
DESIGN planning the methods to generate results
SUPERVISION oversight and responsibility for the organization and course of the project and the manuscript
RESOURCES dollars, equipment, space, personnel vital to the project
MATERIAL biological materials, reagents, referred patients
DATA COLLECTION/PROCESSING responsibility for doing experiments, managing patients, organizing and reporting data
ANALYSIS/INTERPRETATION responsibility for making sense of and presenting the results
LITERATURE SEARCH responsibility for this necessary function
WRITING responsibility for creating all or a substantive part of the manuscript
CRITICAL REVIEW reworking the manuscript for intellectual content before submission, not just spelling and grammar checking
OTHER for novel contributions

Uniform Requirements (Vancouver Convention)


Authors: The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) = the Vancouver group
Summary: authorship requires "substantial contribution" to EITHER

  • conception and design
  • acquisition of data
  • analysis and interpretation of data

The editors committee also emphasises that drafting or revising and the final approval of the version to be published are necessary for authorship.

Criteria not sufficient for authorship are:

  • acquisition of funding
  • general supervision of the research group

(This section is ambiguously worded in the original text. It also includes "collection of data" as a criterium not sufficient for authorship while listing "acquisition of data" as a contribution sufficient for authorship.)

> read the 2000 version of the ICMJE recommendation in more detail on


R. D. Ganatra criticises the following points: "These guidelines were established to safeguard the position of the editors of journals and are concerned primarily with the written version of a scientific paper. They do not consider how the research project was conducted and who collected experimental data. They ignore technicians who slog to collect the data reported. The guidelines say nothing about researchers who have contributed to the work but whose names are left out of the paper." [3]

Is the Vancouver Convention too vague? Consider this quote of an arbiter explaining the convention: "To be a co-author, a person’s contribution must be substantial, it must be related to the project and the author must have participated in the whole process with critical reflection." Knut Ruyter, National Committee for Medical Research Ethics (NEM). What is substantial is a common question asked.



  • Image:3stars.png teaching module on responsible authorship with test questions, case study, conclusion, and further reading from Columbia Uni
  • Image:2stars.png teaching module on responsible authorship including several scenarios from
  • onlineethics' directory on authorship containing several interesting articles and many cases
  • original publications Vancouver Convention/Uniform Requirement
- "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" NEJM 1997, 335: 309-315, updated 2000
- "Uniform requirements submitted to biomedical journals" JAMA 1993; 269: 2282- 6.

See also

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