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Whether Writing Alone or With Others, Authorship Requires Thoughtfulness

Section Editor(s): McGrath, Jacqueline M. PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN; Brandon, Debra PhD, RN, CCNS, FAAN

doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000148
Letter From the Editors
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Authorship of a scholarly manuscript can seem like lonely business. Sitting alone in a quiet room writing for hours filling empty pages may not seem like much fun, but it does not need to be this way. Although writing alone has its place, writing alone is not always the best way to complete the work. Writing as a team can be a more efficient way to disseminate your work, whether it is an innovative approach to a clinical problem, parent teaching strategies, or a research project. A team is essential to the completion of most neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) projects, and the team can make the work of dissemination more manageable. But how do you divide and conquer the task of scholarly writing? There are several factors to consider when writing in a group. Shared authorship has benefits. Multiple perspectives from all team members can broaden the expertise of the project and provide greater depth to the content of the manuscript.1,2 Members complement each other, which is why the team successfully accomplishes the intended work that leads to development of a manuscript for publication. In addition, sharing the work of writing with a team can lead to greater (faster) progress toward completion of a manuscript. Deadlines are often better met within a group because team members do not want to let a colleague down, as opposed to wanting to extend our own personal deadlines. Yet, there are specific questions that must be addressed with multiple authors including who is in charge, who is responsible for what parts, who should get credit and for what, and how the team equitably divides the work among the members of the team. Answering these questions sometimes can be “prickly,” especially if the questions are not discussed early in the process and as openly as possible. Communication about authorship should be led by the corresponding author and should be clear and direct, and the need for documentation of the discussion should be considered.

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ETHICS OF AUTHORSHIP

Did you know there are national standards for authorship that can be used to guide your collaborative authorship discussions and decision making? Two well-known international committees have worked to provide guidelines for authorship: the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (available at http://www.icmje.org/) and the Committee on Publication Ethics (available at http://www.publicationethics.org.uk/guidelines). Consensus of both committee recommendations states that authorship must meet 3 distinct conditions. First, each author of the manuscript must make substantial contribution to the ideas that led to the design of the project. Their contribution also could include taking an active part in project completion such as acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of the data. Second, each coauthor must either draft essential aspects of the manuscript or make significant revision to the manuscript that is critical to the final content. Each author should be able to defend the entire manuscript. For example, authorship should not be conferred when the collaborator only provided editorial revision of the manuscript. Finally, each author must approve the final version of the submitted manuscript. Journals often include this statement in their initial submission paperwork and ask all submitting authors to document that they approve the submission. Although this often is done on the first submission, many manuscripts go through revisions along the journey to publication. Therefore, even if journals do not require documentation of all authors' approval of the final revised manuscript, it is the responsibility of the corresponding author to make sure that the team is in agreement with the final product that goes to print. Remember that, for authorship to be conferred, all authors regardless of placement in the order of authorship should meet all the 3 conditions. Although these 3 conditions seem straightforward, living by them can be tricky business because what 1 author believes is substantial, active, and significant may not be seen as such by other members of the team, especially if there is already a known hierarchy in the team. Working these issues out together within a group process is as essential as meeting the 3 conditions.

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WHO WILL LEAD THE WRITING TEAM AND BE THE FIRST AUTHOR?

Although this question is sometimes easily answered, there are other times this matter can be the biggest stumbling block to getting the work disseminated. When 2 or more people seem to have equally collaborated on a project, the issue of “first authorship” or order of authorship can be a real crux for disagreement. Authorship needs to about the responsibility for this work not about the responsibility of the general work of the team. Communication that is direct is important so that everyone on the team feels appropriately acknowledged. Usually the order of authorship is dependent on who did the most work, and thus leads the way in successful completion of the project.3 Thus, the first author would be the one taking the greatest responsibility for the project, writing the initial idea, and formulating the plan for the work. They are usually responsible for leading in decision making related to division of labor, setting timelines, and facilitating the dissemination process. Often, they are the corresponding author with the journal editor and provide the conduit between the group of editors and the publication process. Sometimes the last author is the mentor for the team, but they too need to meet the 3 conditions stated above to be considered an author on the published work.4

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AUTHORSHIP CONTRACTS

One way to avoid some of the pitfalls of authorship is to begin projects or collaborative relationships with authorship contracts in place. This is sometimes difficult to do, especially if publication was not considered early on in the process, but teams need to be considering publication earlier in the process. Thinking about dissemination can be helpful in bringing the work to completion because it acknowledges the work of the team. Contracts we have seen began with stating the 3 conditions previously discussed and then have space for listing each author and his or her responsibility (condition for authorship) and the order of the authors, given their degree of responsibility on the project. Using a contract reminds everyone on the team about their individual and group contributions as well as how the guidelines for authorship will be met by the team. Contracts should be openly discussed, written, and then signed by all members. Timelines can also be an aspect of the contract for the project and can be used to keep the completion of the project on track. Having a contract in place can seem very formal and may even seem awkward or in the way, but they are a way for all members to understand at the inception of the project the division of labor and expected outcomes of the work. Negotiating authorship early in the process can help everyone on the team feel that their contributions to the successful completion of the project will be appropriately acknowledged. We hope that collaborative authorship will facilitate your future scholarly work, not hinder it! Do not be afraid to draft a written contract and discuss it with your team.

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2014 PARTING THOUGHTS

With this issue, we end our first year as coeditors for Advances in Neonatal Care, and we want to take this opportunity to thank you for your patience as we have learned the editorial process. It has been a quick year in many ways and we are excited about our progress thus far. We have had many manuscript submissions this year. Thanks to you, our readership, we hope that you will send us even more manuscripts for review in 2015. Please do not be afraid of the process; we are here to help you through this journey. We have increased the number of active reviewers and, with these changes, the time from submission to publication has decreased. We are working to decrease this time even more by shortening the process and time that authors and reviewers have a manuscript for review within the system. We are ensuring that manuscripts are published online ahead of print on a regular basis for most accepted manuscripts so your work gets out to the readers quicker. We have also updated our author guidelines, which are now available on the journal Web site for your use. Many of the section requirements for manuscripts have changed with updating the style of our manuscripts to provide easier access to information within the manuscripts. You will see these changes in the journal beginning in 2015. Please make sure that you are aware of these changes as taking the time to following the author guidelines will help speed the review process and decrease the number of requested revisions. Revisions are important to quality manuscripts but can definitely lengthen the time to publication.

As we look forward to 2015, be prepared as we have exciting changes planned. Advances in Neonatal Care was established in 2000, so this coming year is the 15th anniversary of our journal. When you see the changes within our next issue, please let us know what you think about the new formats of the manuscripts and sections; we want to hear from you and make your journal as helpful as possible in guiding your practice. Throughout the next year, we welcome your comments and hope you will communicate openly with us about what you see in these editorials and your expectations for the journal.

Please consider submitting your scholarly work to Advances in Neonatal Care; we continue to be committed to supporting both new and seasoned authors. In 2015, we will be putting in place formal avenues for mentorship of new authors so please stay tuned!

Hope you enjoy a happy New Year and are looking forward to 2015 as much as we are!

Thank you for your support.

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References

1. King CR, McGuire DB, Longman AJ, Carroll-Johnson MR. Peer review, authorship, ethics, and conflict of interest. Image J Nurs Sch. 1997;29(2):163–167.
2. Gay JT, Lavendar MG, McCard N. Nurse educator's view of assignment of authorship credits. Image J Nurs Sch. 1987;19(3):134–137.
3. Berkey B, Moore S. Preparing research manuscripts for publication: a guide for authors. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2012;39(5):433–435.
4. Dowling DA, Savrin C, Graham GC. Writing for publication: perspectives of graduate nursing students and doctorally prepared faculty. J Nurs Educ. 2013;52(7):371–3755. ISSN: 0148–4834 PMID: 23721072
© 2014 by The National Association of Neonatal Nurses