How should you decide who will be an author?

When deciding who should be an author, you might feel pressure to include people who have not directly contributed to the work being written about. For example, people who secured funding for the work or who are important in the department that you work in, might say that they should be authors.

As this might lead to questions about ghostwriting and honorary authorship, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors produced a uniform set of criteria for authorship. These are:

Authors “should have participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for relevant portions of the content” and should meet all three conditions below:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

These criteria are also included in GPP2 produced by the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals, which was published in BMJ.

If a person has contributed to some steps but not others then they should be included in the acknowledgements. This might include people who have helped perform an experiment, but not helped in the design, or who have proof read the article prior to submission.

The guidelines also suggest that if the study is very large there could be an authoring committee that takes full responsibility for the content of the manuscript. The full list of study investigators can then be included as an appendix. The article can then be published on behalf of everyone who is involved and if a person who is not on the authoring committee wants to include the manuscript on their CV they can do so.

Hopefully, by having articles published by authority figures on this topic you can feel better able to push back on any demands from people who you feel should not be an author.


ICMJE authorship criteria –

GPP2 –

What should be considered when writing a first draft?

By the time you get to writing a first draft of a manuscript I would expect the following steps to have already been completed:

  • Author list confirmed
  • Data fully analysed and data for the manuscript selected
  • Target journal selected
  • Target journal author guidelines read and any appropriate guidelines (e.g. word counts, required sections) noted down, preferably on a cover page to the manuscript
  • Outline written and content agreed/commented on by all authors
  • Extended outline written and agreed/commented on by all authors

If an extended outline exists…

If an extended outline has already been written then the jump to a full first draft should be fairly easy. The bulleted text will be made into complete sentences and linking text added. At this stage further logical gaps in the “story” might be identified and highlight the need for additional introductory text or research. However, this should be fairly minor as these issues will hopefully be identified at the extended outline stage.

If an extended outline does not exist…

I would suggest that if one does not exist then it is beneficial to put one together before writing the manuscript in prose, even if you are not sending it to co-authors for review. This will make the writing of the first draft much easier and should enable the logical flow of the manuscript to be worked out as discussed in my previous blog post.

Remember to write to journal guidelines at this stage to avoid unnecessary editing later on.

Why should you read author guidelines before writing a first draft?

By the time a first draft is written I always feel that the following should have been completed:

  • Type of article/manuscript being written
  • Author list decided
  • Outline put together showing what work will be included and discussed
  • Outline agreed upon by all authors and their input included
  • Target journal selected

At this stage there is the excitement of actually writing up the work, however, it is important not to dive in without knowledge of any rules you may have to conform to. There may be a limit to the number of words, figures or tables to include, or specific guidance on section titles to use or how to draw figures. If you write the draft without knowing any of this you may have to go back and edit your work, possibly significantly. I find it much easier to write a smaller number of words originally, rather than having to delete some. This is because once something is in writing it seems important to the story and is harder to let go. Additionally, it is easier to write to a particular structure rather than contorting the work to fit once completed.

However, you may be thinking that these are only guidelines and that your work is so amazing that no matter what state it is submitted in it will be published. This may be the case but often the journal will request you edit to journal guidelines before acceptance or even before consideration. So writing in line with the guidelines should save you work later on and maybe also increase the chances of your manuscript being accepted.