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Graduate Writing: Understanding Authorship


If you author something independently, then authorship will be an uncomplicated question. However, within many disciplines, collaboration and consequently co-authorship are more common, especially when one is part of a lab or research group. But what warrants an authorship credit – and what does not?

Why care about authorship?

Being the sole or corresponding author influence how readers view your contributions. For students who wish to pursue an academic career after their graduate degree, it may be important to have such publication credits to be competitive when applying for grants, academic positions, or promotions.

What determines authorship?

An authorship credit is typically informed by the nature of the work that was undertaken. However, to better delineate who contributed what to the research, some labs follow in-house 'points' systems to make decision making more transparent. Meanwhile, journals may require contribution statements that outline the work of each author. Such statements are useful in that they recognize the complexity in research whilst simultaneously trying to reduce or eliminate gift, honorary, or ghost authorship.

Depending on the publication and research context, persons whose work does not warrant a formal authorship credit may still receive recognition as a contributor.

For examples of contribution guidelines, visit CRediT author statement or Author Contribution Statement.

Know your rights and responsibilities

Students publishing for the first time should become familiar with university as well as editorial guidelines about authorship.

If you plan to publish during your graduate studies and anticipate that one or more publications will be co-authored, discuss expectations with your supervisor early on in your program. Such conversation will be guided by the Student Supervisor agreement, which has a section dedicated to publication. It is also recommended that you read the CGPS Policies and Procedures Manual to learn more about the university’s policies as it relates to authorship, including dispute resolution.

Apart from becoming familiar with your rights, you should also understand the responsibilities associated with authorship. Authors attach their reputation to the work by taking responsibility for the integrity and accuracy of the research (which is why generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT is not considered “an author”).  

Looking for more information on authorship in academia?

  • Cooke, S.J., Young, N., Donaldson, M.R., Nyboer, E.A., Roche, D.G., Madliger, C.L., Lennox, R.J., Chapman, J.M., Faulkes, Z. & Bennett, J.R. (2021). Ten strategies for avoiding and overcoming authorship conflicts in academic publishing. FACETS, 6, 1753-1770.
  • Hesselmann, F., Schendzielorz, C. & Sorgatz, N. (2021). Say my name, say my name: Academic authorship conventions between editorial policies and disciplinary practices. Research Evaluation, 30 (3).