I'm taking a CITI course and one of the sections dealt with authoring on manuscripts. The gist is that you don't add authors when no work has been done (such as adding a notable person for their reputation, where that person didn't actually contribute anything).

Where there is gray area is when it comes to acknowledgement vs. co-authoring as pertains to application developers & DBAs. In cases where the developer is on regular meetings, is self-guided on the project, contributes ideas for workflow & organization of project, and writes a paragraph of text for the manuscript, is this person a legitimate co-author?


I'm a scientist who also does programming. The way I've always done it with my colleagues is this: If the success of your project depends upon my computer code, then I'm a co-author on your FIRST journal paper. After that, if you're just re-using the same code, then I just get an acknowledgement. But if I have to do significant re-coding (not just bug fixes), then that's another co-authorship.

If they don't like that deal, they can write their own code.

Now I'm going to backtrack: If a code starts to find wide use, then I wouldn't expect everyone using it to make me a co-author. There's no need to be greedy. (But I ALWAYS put my name in the Help, and I wouldn't share code without stipulating that my name stay there.)

  • Another backtrack: If they are paying you to develop code for them (e.g., make a GUI front-end for their scientific code), it could be considered "work for hire" (like a ghostwriter), in which case you shouldn't expect co-authorship.
    – dmm
    Apr 16 '14 at 15:32
  • How do you distinguish between contributers who are being paid for their services? In an imaginary project, 4 members are paid via grant and/or employer funds. 1 of those members happens to be a developer. Are you using payment of services to exclude developer from paper while overlooking payment to the other 3?
    – a coder
    Apr 16 '14 at 18:37
  • 1
    @acoder: The answer to both questions is the same: it depends on the contract, just as with a ghostwriter. For example, in my lab we order DNA sequences from a supplier. It's non-trivial, but the supplier gets no co-authorship and no official acknowledgement. Per the contract, the supplier gets money. We might mention within the paper where we bought the sequences, if we feel it's necessary in order for someone else to re-create our work. (Also, a mention helps keep our supplier in business.) With writing, or machining, or chemical synthesis, or computer programming: it's the contract.
    – dmm
    Apr 17 '14 at 2:27
  • @acoder: I don't mean that contractors CAN'T be co-authors. Our lab has contractors, who in theory are "work for hire" paid to do specific tasks, but we regularly put them as co-authors. Other labs might not; practices vary. We're a smaller lab, so the main investigators interact closely with the contractors. In a large lab, contractors might be treated as merely sophisticated machines for analyzing samples from a dozen main investigators, who never interact with them. Sad but true.
    – dmm
    Apr 17 '14 at 2:37
  • 1
    Perhaps you can view it as a simple matter of fairness -- and your own wish to recognize someone without whose contribution your own work would either not exist or would have been much more difficult. The relative substantiality of the software professional's work may well make you feel you need to consider them a full partner, i.e. "Co-author." Apr 17 '14 at 7:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.