Revised: October 1, 2002
Discrepancies between (b) and (c)
The 2-Year Rule
The American Psychological Association has supplied the following guidelines
(American Psychologist, 1992, p. 1609).
(a) Psychologists take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed or to which they have contributed.
(b) Principal authorship and other publication credits accurately reflect the relative scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved, regardless of their relative status. Mere possession of an institutional position, such as Department Chair, does not justify authorship credit. Minor contributions to the research or to the writing for publications are appropriately acknowledged, such as in footnotes or in an introductory statement.
(c) A student is usually listed as principal author on any multiple-authored article that is substantially based on the student’s dissertation or thesis.
Mindful that all cases are unique and must be considered on their particular merits, the Department of Psychology interprets these guidelines in the following ways.
Point (a) prescribes that all people listed as authors on a publication must make a contribution to the work reported in the publication. The 5th edition of The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001, p. 350) elaborates on this principle as follows: “Authorship is reserved for persons who receive primary credit and hold primary responsibility for a published work. Authorship encompasses, therefore, not only those who do the actual writing, but also those who have made substantial contributions [italics added] to the study.” What, then, is a substantial contribution?
What kinds of contribution to a research project warrant authorship?
The 5th edition of The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001) specifies that “Substantial professional contributions [that warrant authorship] may include formulating the problem or hypothesis, structuring the experimental design, organizing and conducting the statistical analysis, interpreting the results, or writing a major portion of the paper.... Lesser contributions, which do not constitute authorship, may be acknowledged in a note.... These contributions may include such supportive functions as designing or building the apparatus, suggesting or advising about the statistical analysis, collecting or entering the data, modifying or structuring a computer program, and recruiting participants or obtaining animals.... “Combinations of these (and other) tasks, however, may justify authorship” (p. 350).
In addition to developing research design, writing portions of the manuscript, contributing to data analysis decisions, and interpreting results, Fine and Kurdek (1993, p. 1145) suggest that, “integrating diverse theoretical perspectives, developing new conceptual models, and designing assessments” constitute significant contributions. Fine and Kurdek also suggest that the scholarly importance of professional contributions is more important than time and effort expended on the research.
The results of questionnaire surveys by Spiegel & Keith-Spiegel (1970), replicated by Bridgwater, Barnstein, and Walkenback (1981) suggest psychologists believe the greatest contribution to a research project pertains to designing the research, followed by writing it up for publication. Respondents did not believe authorship was warranted simply for providing research ideas, or for any of the following: data collection and tabulation, supervision of data analysis, testing, designing equipment, literature searches, interviewing, running participants, assuming administrative responsibility, and conducting statistical analyses.
What about paid RAs and Volunteers?
Fine and Kurdek (1993, p. 1146) suggest that remuneration is irrelevant to authorship. Paid research assistants who make substantial contributions deserve authorship; those who do not do not. For example, if you are paid as a research assistant to start and carry out projects, you will not be expected to do work regarding the design of the research, nor to write up the results, etc. Instead, your role will be limited to helping prepare stimuli, running participants, coding and analyzing data, etc. For these kinds of activities you will not receive an authorship position. Similarly, if you volunteer to run subjects or help with research in another minor way, you will not be given an authorship position.” Researchers who hire a research assistant or accept research assistance from volunteers should provide them with a copy of these guidelines and clarify in advance what duties will be expected and whether authorship will be awarded.
To uphold point (b) in the APA guidelines, collaborators must determine the relative scientific or professional contributions of the individuals involved in a research project.
How should collaborators determine the relative value of their contributions?
The elaboration of point (a) above supplies some guidance for determining the relative value of contributions.
In general, the senior author of a publication is the person who was primarily responsible for the conduct of the research--the person with the authority to make the final decisions on design, materials, subjects, analysis, and interpretation of the results, even if substantially aided by others. The senior author is always listed first in psychology journals, but may, by tradition, be listed last in the journals of other disciplines. The senior author is usually designated as the “principal investigator” for purposes of ethical approval in the University.
The senior author should play the main role in determining the order of authorship of collaborators.
Because faculty are virtually always responsible for research proposed in the grants they obtain, they usually are entitled to senior authorship on publications based substantially on studies proposed in their research grants, with the following exceptions: (a) the principal investigator on the grant agrees that a collaborator will be the senior author, or (b) the research constitutes a student’s honours project, thesis, or dissertation. In these cases, the principal investigator of the grant will be second author unless he or she agrees to assume another, or no, authorship position.
Procedurally, “As early as practicable in a research project, the collaborators should decide on which tasks are necessary for the project’s completion, how the work will be divided, which tasks or combination of tasks merits authorship credit, and on what level credit should be given (first author, second author, etc....) (APA Publication Manual, p. 350).” The presumption here is that authorship credit will be assigned as originally agreed, unless the parties renegotiate it or unless the circumstances are sufficiently different to warrant setting the original agreement aside.
Some psychologists have suggested that collaborators draft a prepublication contract or agreement, but Spiegel & Keith-Spiegal (1970) found that 83% of their respondents agreed this was a sound policy “only if it allows for changes to be made in publication credits on the basis of the actual contributions that are made during the conduct of the research project” (p. 743). Consistent with this sentiment, Guidelines in the APA Publication Manual state: “Collaborators may need to reassess authorship credit and order if major changes are necessary in the course of the project (and its publication). This is especially true in faculty-student collaborations, when students may need intensive supervision or additional analyses may need to be conducted beyond the scope of a student’s thesis or dissertation.” (p. 350)
Faculty should take the initiative in clarifying expectations about publication credit and updating them as necessary. Allowing that “agreements regarding authorship may need to be renegotiated”, Fine & Kurdek (1993, p. 1144) suggest: “Early in the collaborative endeavour, the supervisor should provide the student with information related to how authorship decisions are made, the nature of professional and non-professional contributions to publications, the meaning of authorship credit and order, and the importance of both parties agreeing on what contributions will be expected of each collaborator for a given level of authorship credit.”
As part of this process, faculty should take responsibility for giving all their honours and graduate students a copy of these guidelines and the attached form. Students and faculty have the right to obtain signatures on the attached form as evidence of a formal agreement
Point (c) implies that students have the right to senior authorship on publications based substantially on their M.A. and Ph.D. theses, unless they explicitly agree to another arrangement that is consistent with points (a) and (b) above. Often, students will be the sole author of publications based substantially on their Ph.D. theses. Faculty supervisors usually will be second authors on publications based substantially on M.A. theses.
Honours students also have the right to senior authorship on publications based substantially on honours projects for which they have assumed primary responsibility, unless they explicitly agree to another arrangement that is consistent with points (a) and (b) above. Faculty supervisors usually are second authors.
Students’ right to senior authorship on publications based substantially on their honours projects and theses is reflected in the fact that only their names are listed on the title pages of the honours projects and theses; the reports may be copyrighted in their names; only students defend the research during the oral exam; and only students may win awards for the research. In most cases, students also are responsible for obtaining ethics approval.
Students have the right to use all original data they have collected during research for which they are primarily responsible and to operations they have performed on data for which they are primarily responsible, such as codes and correlations. Students have an obligation to make a copy of the raw data they collect under the supervision of faculty available to their faculty supervisors.
Faculty do not have the right to set as a condition for agreeing to supervise or support a student’s research that they, the faculty, receive publication credit. To warrant publication credit, the faculty member must make a “substantial contribution” to the research, as defined in Point (a) above. Faculty who agree to supervise honours projects and graduate thesis do not have the right to induce their students to conduct research they, the faculty, have designed in return for junior authorship.
Faculty do not have the right to constrain students from submitting for publication articles based solely on the students’ theses, as long as they do not violate APA ethical guidelines. Faculty must obtain students’ permission to use any aspect of their students’ honours projects, M.A. theses and Ph.D. theses for which the student was primarily responsible in any formal written work or talk, and the students must be credited with their contributions.
Neither financial and logistical support nor advice and guidance from faculty, in themselves, entitle faculty to authorship. It is part of a faculty member’s job to supervise students, and such supervision does not entitle faculty to credit for the honours projects and theses their students complete.
Discrepancies between (b) and (c)
Faculty-student disputes about publication credit may occur when faculty believe they have made a more substantial contribution than their students have to students’ honours projects and theses, thus perceiving an inconsistency between points (b) and (c) in the APA guidelines.
Faculty should attempt to prevent discrepancies between students’ contributions and students’ right to senior authorship on their honours projects and theses by encouraging students to make contributions that warrant senior authorship.
It often is difficult to determine the source of ideas and the value of relative contributions. The best way for faculty to ensure that students’ contributions to their honours projects and theses are not falsely represented is to ensure that students make the most substantial contributions to publications based on these works, which entails good supervision and good teaching. This also averts the potential inconsistency between “in-house” credit and publication credit. In addition, this ensures that students’ academic credit for their theses is principled and well-deserved.
Students need not necessarily make substantially greater contribution to honours projects and theses than faculty to warrant senior authorship.
Fine and Kurdek (1993, p. 1145) suggest: “faculty and students use a relative standard to determine authorship credit and order” in which less experienced collaborators (usually, but not always, students) need to make less of a contribution to achieve the same level of authorship than more experienced collaborators (i.e., faculty). This principle also could be applied in collaborations between senior and junior members of the faculty.
Thompson (1994, p. 1095) has suggested, “When faculty and student collaborators are even only roughly equivalent, I always suggest that the student should take primary authorship....Where differences in contributions exist, I believe it is best to systematically err in favour of less established (and less powerful) colleagues.” Thompson goes on to suggest that principle authorship need not necessarily reflect principal contribution. When readers discern that an article is based on an honours project or M.A. thesis that was conducted in collaboration with a someone known in the field (which should always be mentioned in a footnote), or was derived from a faculty members’ research program, they usually infer the faculty member played a major role in the research.
This said, there are some circumstances in which it is appropriate for faculty to be assigned senior authorship on publications based on honours projects and theses.
Cases in which faculty are entitled to first authorship of publications based on honours projects, M.A. theses, and Ph.D. theses
Students and faculty may make any agreement about publication credit that is mutually acceptable and consistent with the above guidelines. Students may relinquish their right to senior authorship on their honours projects or theses when they believe the faculty member has made or will make a greater relative scientific or professional contribution to the article that is submitted for publication. There are four circumstances in which it is appropriate for faculty to be named as senior authors on publications based substantially on their students’ honours projects or theses.
1. Apprenticeship Role: Honours Projects Only
In a letter to the American Psychologist, Stadish (1994, p. 1096) argued that “few students arrive at graduate school with the conceptual skills, knowledge of the literature, methodological expertise, statistical ability, and capacity to write that are necessary to make the principal scientific and professional contributions to a research project”, so it is in everyone’s best interest for students to work on ongoing projects of faculty at the M.A. level to acquire the skills necessary to conduct research of their own: “It makes efficient use of student and faculty time and resources. It increases the likelihood that the resulting research will be interesting, sound, and publishable.”
Undergraduate and graduate students should be encouraged to work with faculty in an “apprenticeship” role when it is in the students’ interest. There are many ways of accomplishing this--for example, by volunteering, by taking a directed research course, and by serving as an RA. In return for their services, students may receive financial compensation, course credits, and, when appropriate, junior authorship. However, to become good researchers, graduate students need to learn to design and manage their own research, which is a primary function of M.A. and Ph.D. theses. M.A. students who do not feel ready to assume primary responsibility for a M.A. thesis should acquire the necessary skills in some other context, such as an apprenticeship role, before initiating their M.A. thesis. It is the duty of supervisors and thesis committees to ensure that honours projects and M.A. research is properly designed. Even in cases in which graduate students pursue theses in the context of theories, designs, procedures, and programs of research that have been developed by faculty, the students should assume primary responsibility for the research they conduct.
In contrast, honours students may not feel able to assume primary responsibility for a research project. In such cases, students should establish clearly at the outset the publication credit they will receive if they fulfill the responsibilities they are assigned. They also should make clear in their written honours project report and oral examination what they contributed to the research. Referring to guideline (a) above, honours student “apprentices” must make “substantial” contributions to the research for which they receive honours degrees. They may not serve as unpaid research assistants.
2. Multiple Study Publications
Students may agree to include research for which they were primarily responsible in a multi-study publication with a faculty member as the senior author. Faculty may not, however, include in a multi-authored publication any research conducted primarily by a student without the student’s express agreement.
In general, the person who made the greatest contributions to the research in a multi-study publication should be the senior author. The senior author should assume primary responsibility for writing the article. Relative contributions of other contributors should be determined by the investigators in question.
3. Additional Analyses or Reconceptualizations
As quoted in point (b) above, the APA publication manual suggests that “Collaborators may need to reassess authorship credit . . . . in faculty-student collaborations, when students ... need intensive supervision or additional analyses . . . need to be conducted beyond the scope of a student’s thesis or dissertation.” (p. 295)
Faculty motivated to conduct additional analyses or reconceptualize research conducted primarily by students should discuss their plans with their students, including the implications for authorship, and obtain the agreement of their students. The test for the point at which articles based in honours projects or M.A. theses deserve to be credited more to faculty members than to students is the extent to which the revisions made by the faculty member give rise to a qualitatively different product from the students’ original work.
4. Assuming Responsibility for Writing the Article
As stated earlier, writing an article up for publication constitutes a major contribution. Students should be encouraged to write the first draft of articles based substantially on their honours projects and theses, and faculty collaborators should help them. When students are unable or unmotivated to produce a reasonable draft, they may invite their faculty supervisors or collaborators to assume responsibility for writing the article up for publication in return for senior authorship.
The 2-Year Rule
Faculty and students have an obligation to the scientific community to communicate the results of the research they have conducted. Principal authors have an obligation to their collaborators to attempt to get their research published in a timely manner. If the person designated as the senior author has not made substantial progress in preparing a paper for publication within a reasonable period (normatively, two years after of the completion of the research project, with, perhaps a year’s extension for students in the clinical program doing internships, the person designated as second author may take the initiative in writing the article up for publication. In such cases, the person writing the article up assumes the right to determine the order of authors. The person originally designated as the second author should notify the person originally designated as the senior author, in writing, of his or her intention to write the article up. If the latter objects, he or she may file an appeal with the Chair of the Department (see below). The person designated as the second author may not take steps to publish the research until at least one month after notification, to give the originally designated senior author time to file an appeal.
It is in the interest of faculty who assume senior authorship on publications of articles based substantially on students’ research to obtain written agreement from the students regarding authorship.
How can disputes about publication credit be resolved?
In the first instance, of course, the parties involved should attempt to resolve the dispute themselves. Failing that, the Chair of the Department should attempt to mediate an agreement. Failing that, as suggested by Fine and Kurdek (1993), Goodyear et al., (1992), and Shawchuck et al., (1986) an unbiased panel such as an ad hoc Dispute Resolution Committee should be convened. This committee will consist of one person designated by each party to the dispute. Those two committee members will then choose a third member to serve as the Chair of the committee. Failing agreement, the Chair of the Department will designate the third committee member.
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American Psychological Association. (2001). The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5tth ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author.
Bridgewater, C. A., Bornstein, P. H., & Walkenbach, J. (1981). Ethical issues in the assignment of publication credit. American Psychologist, 36, 524-525.
Fine, M. A., & Kurdek (1993). Reflections on determining authorship credit and Authorship order on faculty-student collaborations. American Psychologist, 48, 1141-1147.
Goodyear, R. K., Crego, C.A., & Johnston, M. W. (1992). Ethical issues in the Supervision of student research: A study of critical incidents. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 23, 203-210.
Shawchuck, C. R., Fatis, M., & Breitenstein, J. L. (1986). A practical guide to the Assignment of authorship credit. The Behavior Therapist, 9, 216-217.
Spiegel, D., & Keith-Spiegel, P. (1970). Assignment of publication credits: Ethics and practices of psychologists. American Psychologist, 25, 738-747.
Standish, W. R. (1994). APA ethics and student authorship on master’s thesis. American Psychologist, 1096.
Thompson, B. (1994). The big picture(s) in deciding authorship order. American Psychologist, 1095-1096.