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Addressing authorship issues

Questions about authorship and attribution are becoming more commonly asked in the Ombuds Office.  Sometimes there are real differences of opinion about who should get what kind of credit, the order of the authors listed on a paper or article, or even the content or analysis of the paper.

Depending on who the disputing parties are, there may be a variety of ways to approach the situation.  Collaborating co-authors may resolve differences in a way that allows for sorting out the particulars in the current paper, but emphasizes preservation of the longer term professional relationship between the colleagues since they are committed to future collaborations because they share substantial research funding.  Other researchers, post-docs and graduate students may have other formal and informal rules which generally apply to decision-making around authorship, and will want to consider a variety of ways to proceed.

The best way to manage authorship disputes is to decrease the chances they will occur in the first place by talking through expectations, roles and responsibilities at the beginning of a collaboration.  There are also creative ways to attribute credit which have gained acceptance in various fields of research.  For example, Nature has some excellent editorials about the responsibilities of authors, ways to specify contributions, and even how authorship rules can play a role in the prevention of research misconduct.  The Nature journals’ authorship policy is often a helpful point of reference in thinking about authorship disputes.

The Ombuds Office can provide assistance with these kinds of questions and concerns by helping you analyze the particulars of the conflict, determine what rules and/or policies may apply and develop options for ways to move forward.  We can provide individual coaching to help improve the quality of the conversations that may already be occurring or can facilitate discussions with parties directly to help them resolve the situation.
The choices about how you would like to move forward are yours.  The Ombuds Office does not make the decision on any particular matter of concern brought to us; instead we try to help parties resolve their issues in ways that best meet their needs, while taking into account institutional or other policies and rules which may apply.