Authorship Guidelines

Customs governing authorship vary widely by discipline and even by research group. Below are some general principles that all authors will find useful, regardless of their area of study.

Discuss Authorship Proactively

There should be early discussions of who will be an author and the possible order of authors. Criteria for authorship should be discussed before beginning to prepare a manuscript and possibly even before starting a project.

Each party should have an understanding of what kind of work merits authorship, with the knowledge that, as the research project progresses, who is an author and the position of a name in a list of authors may change. Each party should also have an understanding of who among many authors will have primary responsibility for the writing, submission, and editing work required for a paper. This can be extremely important when a project involves collaborations between labs.This discussion should be documented in writing.

Be Consistent

Determination of authorship and authorship order should be consistent, both within the research group and with the norms for the field.

Understand the Rules

All authors should be aware of institutional and journal-specific policies and guidelines regarding authorship. All NIU authors should review and follow the institution’s Policy on Authorship.


The criteria for authorship should be discussed and agreed on in writing as part of the initial planning process for the research project.

As the project and/or the manuscript evolves, authorship should be revisited as needed. There should be discussion and agreement as to the critical elements/data that will be included in the publication.

Resolving Disputes

Typically, authors should first attempt to resolve disputes within the group. For instances when there is a subordinate or a student, resolving authorship disputes can be particularly difficult. When possible, discuss the issue with a supervisor, laboratory chief, advisor, or mentor. Try to resolve the issue within the research group. If there is a persistent disagreement regarding authorship, it may help to discuss the issue with a senior colleague outside the research group. If that is not effective, seek assistance and/or mediation from:

  1. The department chair (where applicable), associate dean (at the local leadership level) or dean.
  2. If the resolution of all authorship disputes is not resolved at the department or school level the Office of Research Compliance. Integrity, and Safety (ORCIS) needs to be consulted. ORCIS will consult with the Dean of the Graduate School and Vice President for Research (VPR) when applicable.
  3. If the resolution of the authorship dispute is not resolved through ORCIS, at the discretion of the VPR (case by case), a panel will be assembled to resolve the dispute.

If the senior/corresponding author has questions or concerns regarding any of their responsibilities, they should seek guidance from their department chair, associate dean, dean, vice president for research or ORCIS.

Disputes frequently arise over who should or should not be listed as an author and the order in which authors should be listed on the manuscript.

Inappropriate application of authorship criteria

The decision about who should be listed as an author can often become a source of conflict. NIU’s Policy for Authorship provides criteria that an individual should meet in order to be listed as an author.

Failure to adhere to this criteria when granting authorship (for example, unequal application of authorship criteria, granting of authorship to undeserving individuals, and/or omitting individuals who deserve authorship) is a serious concern and may be subject to sanctions by the appropriate Dean and/or Vice President for Research.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) defines plagiarism as both the theft or misappropriation of intellectual property and the substantial unattributed textual copying of another's work. If an individual believes that plagiarism has occurred they must contact NIU’s Research Integrity Officer (RIO).

Authorship order

Authors should attempt to resolve disputes regarding author order among themselves.If a matter fails to be resolved in this manner, NIU’s Policy for Authorship suggests that the authors request mediation from the chair or head of the department(s) involved. In cases that cannot be resolved, the lead author, in consultation with the chair and/or dean, will have the final authority to determine author order.


All individuals who have contributed significantly to the work but do not meet the criteria for authorship should be recognized in the acknowledgements section. This typically includes those who provide:

  • Financial support
  • Technical skill
  • Writing or editorial assistance
  • Supervision of the research
  • Statistical advice
  • Data collection
  • Coordination of data collection
  • Source of specimens, samples, or data


Northern Illinois University acknowledges the guidance of Rush University Medical Center and Washington University as providing an example for this document.