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Different subject areas have different traditions regarding who is recognised as the authors of a scholarly publication, and the order in which the names of co-authors appear. In some subject areas, only the writers of a text are named as authors, while everyone who has contributed to the research study is listed as co-authors in others. In addition to the general principles of publication ethics, individual journals are also more frequently publishing their own authorship guidelines.

The Swedish Research Council’s Good Research Practice gives three reasons why the question of authorship is so important. First, the names of the authors are regarded as an indication of the quality of the publication; it is important to know who performed the study. Second, researchers are largely assessed on the basis of their publications when applying for positions, and therefore it is important to know that the person appointed really authored the submitted publications. Third, in the event of an investigation into research conduct, it must be clear who is accountable.

Being named as an author is both a right and a responsibility. A researcher may benefit from being named as the co-author of a specific publication, but authorship also means that the researcher takes responsibility for ensuring that the research, results and conclusions reported in the publication are correct. Co-authors are responsible for the quality of a research publication and may be held accountable should there be any suspicion of misconduct.

Who should be acknowledged as co-authors?

There are no comprehensive, transdisciplinary guidelines defining authorship. The so-called Vancouver recommendations have been formulated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). These are based on biomedical traditions and cannot be applied in all disciplines. The Vancouver recommendation may be summarised in the following four criteria for authorship:

All authors must have

  1. made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or to the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; and
  2. drafted the work or revised it critically for important intellectual content; and
  3. given final approval of the version to be published; and
  4. agreed 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.

Involvement in planning, data collection and analysis does not suffice for authorship; authors must also have participated in the writing process and must have approved the final version for publication. Contributors who do not fulfil the criteria for co-authorship should be named in the Acknowledgements section instead. Many highly regarded journals refer to the Vancouver recommendations.

The order in which authors are mentioned differs between research areas. Often they are named alphabetically. Usually, deviations from alphabetical order mean that the first author made the most significant contribution to the work, while the author named last often also has played a significant role, for example as research director.

Journal requirements

A journal may have particular requirements regarding the clarification of co-authorship responsibilities for publication in that specific journal. Journals now more frequently require information on the individual contributions of each co-author.

Co-authorship guidelines for different disciplinary areas


Usually only the main author is indicated in the humanities. Although different collaborations may occur during the research process, these are often not acknowledged as co-authorship. If an article has more than one author, these are often listed alphabetically.

Social sciences, business and law

In the social sciences and law, usually only those who were involved in writing the article are named as authors. However, in some subjects, like psychology, those who contributed to the different parts of the research process are also acknowledged as co-authors.


The Vancouver recommendations are usually followed in medicine, and both academia and the medical journals refer to these recommendations. The Faculty of Medicine and Health at Örebro University has published a policy on authorship and publication principles.

Natural sciences and engineering

There is no single standard for the order of author names in the natural sciences and engineering. Different disciplines and research groups follow different guidelines. In some subjects, like physics, large collaborations are common, and sometimes several thousand authors are listed for a single publication. Other subject areas, like biology, follow the Vancouver regulations to a greater extent.

Would you like more information?

We recommend the following material on co-authorship: