It is important to ensure that the results of research are published as, in order for research to be of a benefit to society, the outcomes and results need to be known and accessible by others. This includes the ability of other researchers to use these results to further current knowledge. In addition, when public money is used to fund research, there is a responsibility to report on how that money was spent.
In order for other researchers and society to be able to rely on and trust the results of research, it is essential that publications are accurate and honest with regards to the outcome/s, the methods used and who conducted the research. The UCL Code of Conduct for Research for sets out guidance on the process of publication under 'Your Responsibilities throughout the research lifecycle'
If inaccuracies are found in published work, these should be corrected as soon as possible to ensure that only the correct version is being used or relied upon by others.
- Things to ensure
- Adherence to the guidelines for the publication you intend to submit to.
- Accurate referencing; including that of other researchers and your own previous publications.
- Acknowledgement of the contributions made by the research team.
- Authorship limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the paper (see authorship).
- Any actual or potential conflicts of interest are declared.
- Things to avoid
- Self-plagiarism; though the paper may include mention and extracts to your own previous work, this still needs to be accurately referenced.
- Duplicate publication; publishing papers in more than one publication without acknowledging previous publications.
- Duplicate submission; submitting papers to more than one publisher which includes different papers where substantial proportions of the text or data are identical.
- Salami slicing; dividing results across more than one publication, where the results relate to the same methods, population and research question.
There are many factors to consider when deciding on who should be included as an author on research outputs, including field conventions or even journal specific requirements.There is no one general agreement of what definition of 'authorship' is the best or which guidance or requirements should be followed. These days, most journals or publishers set their expectations and best practices around authorship and often require specific statements with detailed authors’ contributions.
The primary consideration is that everyone deserves recognition for their contribution to the particular research project and the individual publication; which may, or may not, meet the agreed criteria for authorship.
It is important to remember that authorship is not only about getting credit. As an author, you take the personal responsibility for the research output and its scientific record. While the corresponding author would traditionally (in many fields) take on the main role as the guarantor of the entire work, every author is accountable for their own contributions but also needs to be satisfied that all the work has been done to the best standards and any issues that may come after the work has been published are appropriately investigated and resolved.
The UCL Code of Conduct for Research sets out the expectations for the authors named on the research outputs:
- Contribution and authorship
It is important to differentiate between contribution resulting in authorship and contribution to the research overall. Though there may be many individuals that have been involved and contributed to the research project, not all will meet the criteria for authorship for a particular publication. A person’s contribution to the overall research project is of course a big factor in deciding authorship, however such considerations also need to take into account the specific contributions to the piece of research described in the particular manuscript, which might be representing only a fragment of the big research project.
It is very useful to keep track of the individual contributions. Some journals also require detailed contribution statements to be submitted with papers. There are different ways of doing that, e.g. using CRediT - a high-level contribution taxonomy. It is also worth noting that the balance of contribution can alter over time, and so if this occurs researchers may find it beneficial to revisit authorship prior to publication.
Any contributions that do not meet the authorship criteria are usually included in the acknowledgments.
- Dealing with authorship
Deciding authorship on publications can be a sensitive issue and one that can often raise disputes amongst research teams. Multi-disciplinary research presents more challenges for collaborations with regards to authorship as the accepted 'norms' vary across disciplines; from listing only those who have contributed to the writing of the papers itself, to a list of hundreds.
Some researchers may be hesitant to raise the question of authorship at an early stage. However, given the variances and the importance of accuracy, not only for the publication but in recognising contributions, it is strongly recommended therefore that researchers discuss and agree authorship as early as possible so as to avoid later disputes.
- Authorship and research misconduct
UCL's procedure for investigating allegations of misconduct in academic research includes ghost writing within the description of misconduct. It defines ghost writing as 'when someone has made substantial contributions to writing a manuscript and this role is not mentioned in the manuscript itself. Ghost-writers generally work on behalf of companies, or agents acting for those companies, with a commercial interest in the topic'.