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Original research
Awareness, usage and perceptions of authorship guidelines: an international survey of biomedical authors
  1. Sara Schroter1,
  2. Ilaria Montagni2,
  3. Elizabeth Loder1,3,
  4. M Eikermann4,
  5. Elke Schäffner5,
  6. Tobias Kurth5
  1. 1BMJ Publishing Group, London, UK
  2. 2Bordeaux Population Health Research Center UMR129, University of Bordeaux-Inserm, Bordeaux, France
  3. 3Division of Headache, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5Institute of Public Health, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ilaria Montagni; ilaria.montagni{at}


Objectives To investigate authors’ awareness and use of authorship guidelines, and to assess their perceptions of the fairness of authorship decisions.

Design A cross-sectional online survey.

Setting and participants Corresponding authors of research papers submitted in 2014 to 18 BMJ journals.

Results 3859/12 646 (31%) researchers responded. They worked in 93 countries and varied in research experience. Of these, 1326 (34%) reported their institution had an authorship policy providing criteria for authorship; 2871 (74%) were ‘very familiar’ with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ authorship criteria and 3358 (87%) reported that guidelines were beneficial when preparing manuscripts. Furthermore, 2609 (68%) reported that their use was ‘sometimes’ or ‘frequently’ encouraged in their research setting. However, 2859 respondents (74%) reported that they had been involved in a study at least once where someone was added as an author who had not contributed substantially (honorary authorship), and 1305 (34%) where someone was not listed as an author but had contributed substantially (ghost authorship). Only 740 (19%) reported that they had never experienced either honorary or ghost authorship; 1115 (29%) reported that they had experienced both at least once. There was no clear pattern in experience of authorship misappropriation by continent. For their last coauthored article, 2187 (57%) reported that explicit authorship criteria had been used to determine eligibility, and 3088 (80%) felt that the decision made was fair. When institutions frequently encouraged use of authorship guidelines, authorship eligibility was more likely to be discussed early (817 of 1410, 58%) and perceived as fairer (1273 of 1410, 90%) compared with infrequent encouragement (974 of 2449, 40%, and 1891 of 2449, 74%).

Conclusions Despite a high level of awareness of authorship guidelines and criteria, these are not so widely used; more explicit encouragement of their use by institutions may result in more favourable use of guidelines by authors.

  • protocols & guidelines
  • education & training (see medical education & training)
  • ethics (see medical Ethics)
  • public health

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  • SS and IM contributed equally.

  • Contributors TK had the idea for the study (conception and design). IM reviewed the literature. SS and IM wrote the first draft of the manuscript and are joint first authors of this paper. SS managed the survey, collected and analysed the data, had full access to all the data and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. All co-authors, including ME, EL and ES, participated in the design of the survey, interpretation of the results, revising the manuscript, and review and approval of the final manuscript. All authors meet the ICMJE authorship criteria and authorship eligibility.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare that SS is a full-time employee at the BMJ. TK reports having contributed to an advisory board of CoLucid and a research project funded by Amgen, for which the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin received an unrestricted compensation. TK further reports having received honoraria from Lilly, Newsenselab and Total for providing methodological advice, from Novartis and Daiichi Sankyo for providing a lecture on neuroepidemiology and research methods, and from the BMJ for editorial services. EL receives salary from the BMJ for services as head of research, paid to her employer, the Brigham and Women’s Physician Organisation. IM reports having worked as an independent medical writer for Novartis, Sanofi SA and Bristol Myers Squibb. ES has received honoraria from Fresenius Medical Care, Fresenius Kabi and Siemens Healthineers for lectures.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study protocol was reviewed by the BMJ’s ethics committee (7 October 2015) and it did not have any major ethical concerns. Participation in the survey was voluntary and participants were told that they could withdraw at any stage. Participants were assured that the survey was confidential. The data were managed in compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request. Anonymised individual respondent data will be shared on reasonable request.

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