The Center for Engaged Learning routinely facilitates multi-institutional, collaborative scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), so we frequently help co-authors navigate authorship decisions. Since our projects involve international and multi-disciplinary collaborations, we also have encountered a range of region- or discipline-specific guidelines for who earns recognition as an author.

Typically, across these varied regional and disciplinary traditions, authors include group members who…

  • Make substantial conceptual contributions to the publication,
  • Participate in collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data, or
  • Contribute significantly to drafting, revising, or editing.

Many authorship guidelines draw from the “Vancouver protocol” or “Vancouver recommendations,” which were drafted in 1978 by a small group of editors now known as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Their “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts,” subsequently renamed the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, outline the roles and responsibilities of authorship and publishing issues in medical journals. They suggest that authorship should be based on:

1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND

4. Agreement 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.

ICMJE 2019, p. 2 [Emphasis in the original]

While these guidelines have informed authorship standards well beyond medical journals, other disciplinary and regional guidelines are less stringent. The American Psychological Associations, for example, suggests:

An author is considered anyone involved with initial research design, data collection and analysis, manuscript drafting, or final approval. However, the following do not necessarily qualify for authorship: providing funding or resources, mentorship, or contributing research but not helping with the publication itself. [Emphasis added]

And the Australian Research Council writes that:

While authorship conventions vary across disciplines, a significant intellectual or scholarly contribution must include one and should include a combination of two or more of the following:

• conception and design of the project or output

• acquisition of research data where the acquisition has required significant intellectual judgement, planning, design, or input

• contribution of knowledge, where justified, including Indigenous knowledge

• analysis or interpretation of research data

• drafting significant parts of the research output or critically revising it so as to contribute to its interpretation.

2019, p. 1 [Emphasis added]

Many of these guidelines evolved to address ethical questions about authorship in asymmetrical power dynamics in research teams and mentor-mentee relationships (Thomson and Kamler 2013). The more stringent the guidelines, though, the more risk that those same power dynamics can perpetuate unethical authorship decisions. Following the ICMJE guidelines, for instance, a research team member who made “substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work” but who was excluded by their supervisor from writing about the research would not be considered an author.

Moreover, authorship decisions can perpetuate racial and gender inequities. This inequity was made evident in a study of legal writing. In a review of 6,000 circuit panel decisions made in 2012, Elizabeth Tillman and Rachael Hinkle found that “White and male judges are more likely to assign White and male judges (including themselves) to write published opinions and less likely to assign them to write unpublished opinions… [and] judges from historically disadvantaged groups have fewer opportunities to shape policy and they shoulder a disproportionately large share of the routine chore of resolving individual cases” (2018, p. 1). Yes, this study focused on legal opinions, not scholarship on learning and teaching. Yet it seems highly probable that racial and gender inequities in publishing are not limited to a single field. (As an aside, studies of engaged learning are less likely to form such a large annual corpus of texts, let alone one where it’s possible to trace who else was involved in the intellectual labor preceding the publication, making it more difficult to document potential inequities that nevertheless likely exist.)

Therefore decisions about authorship should not be based solely on guidelines but rather should be grounded in ethical, communitarianism (or community-building) behavior. Trent Mauer (2017) offers a process-oriented strategy to authorship that he uses with student research partners that could be adapted for other research teams to honor the essential processes that lead to traditional research products (e.g., presentations and publications). The Center’s research teams often recognize that their collaborations will lead to multiple products, and although some team members might not be as active in every single product, they are essential contributors to the processes that resulted in publishable findings. As a result, they negotiate different author orders (a focus of a future blog post) for individual publications but include all team members as authors.

Finally, as Mick Healey, Kelly Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather write in Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, research teams should “discuss the issues involved [in authorship] early on but also be flexible and open to amendment should the assumptions on which the initial decisions are based change during the writing process” (2020, p. 71). Particularly in multi-year collaborations, personal circumstances and professional goals may change multiple times, necessitating fluidity in planning and a willingness to balance individual and team priorities.


American Psychological Association. 2008. “Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship.” Accessed May 14, 2021.

Australian Research Council. 2019. Authorship A guide supporting the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Accessed May 14, 2021.

Healey, Mick, Kelly E. Matthews, and Alison Cook-Sather. 2020. Writing about Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Creating and Contributing to Scholarly Conversations across a Range of Genres. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. 2019. Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. Accessed May 14, 2021.

Maurer, Trent. 2017. “Guidelines for Authorship Credit, Order, and Co-Inquirer Learning in Collaborative Faculty-Student SoTL Projects”. Teaching & Learning Inquiry 5 (1), 115-31.

Thomson, Pat, and Barbara Kamler. 2013. Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for Getting Published. New York: Routledge.

Tillman, Elizabeth A., and Rachael K. Hinkle. 2018. “Of Whites and Men: How Gender and Race Impact Authorship of Published and Unpublished Opinions in the US Courts of Appeals.” Research and Politics, 5(1), 1-7.

Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric. With Peter Felten, she edits the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching and the Center for Engaged Learning Open Access Series.

How to Cite this Post

Moore, Jessie L. (2021, May 31). Publishing Engaged Learning Research: Who is an Author? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from