How to Handle Co-authorship When Not Everyone’s Research Contributions Make It into the Paper

Gert Helgesson, Zubin Master, William Bülow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While much of the scholarly work on ethics relating to academic authorship examines the fair distribution of authorship credit, none has yet examined situations where a researcher contributes significantly to the project, but whose contributions do not make it into the final manuscript. Such a scenario is commonplace in collaborative research settings in many disciplines and may occur for a number of reasons, such as excluding research in order to provide the paper with a clearer focus, tell a particular story, or exclude negative results that do not fit the hypothesis. Our concern in this paper is less about the reasons for including or excluding data from a paper and more about distributing credit in this type of scenario. In particular, we argue that the notion ‘substantial contribution’, which is part of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criteria, is ambiguous and that we should ask whether it concerns what ends up in the paper or what is a substantial contribution to the research process leading up to the paper. We then argue, based on the principles of fairness, due credit, and ensuring transparency and accountability in research, that the latter interpretation is more plausible from a research ethics point of view. We conclude that the ICMJE and other organizations interested in authorship and publication ethics should consider including guidance on authorship attribution in situations where researchers contribute significantly to the research process leading up to a specific paper, but where their contribution is finally omitted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Authorship
  • Authorship criteria
  • Ethics
  • Negative results
  • Substantial contribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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