Spotlight on the RDF: “Attribution and co-authorship”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

Recently, a question from a PGR found its way to my e-mail inbox, and it got me thinking about the various influences on attribution and co-authorship that can be tricky to navigate for those new to publishing their work.

Listing the authors tells readers who did the work and should ensure that the right people get the credit, and take responsibility, for the research. 

Committee on Publication Ethics,

While it may seem initially obvious, authorship is in fact an area which is influenced by factors including disciplinary culture. There may be some hidden expectations in your department or discipline, and it’s an area of research culture that all researchers new to publishing should be familiar with, and influencing positively.

The RDF puts attribution and co-authorship in domain C (research governance and organisation) and sub-domain C1 (professional conduct) and the five phases of development for this descriptor are:

  1. Understands concept of attribution and applies it consistently and fairly to appropriately recognise contributions and co-authorships. Seeks advice on local codes of conduct.
  2. Advises peers and less experienced researchers on bibliometrics and citation practice.
  3. Sets expectations, advises peers and less experienced members of staff.
  4. Directs local policy, advises all staff and contributes to institutional policy.
  5. Shapes policy and procedures of the HE sector and professional associations/bodies.

This RDF descriptor is primarily relevant to publishing in the scholarly literature, so I’m going to focus on phase 1 for this post, as the majority of PGRs will be working at this level. The easiest aspect of this to start with is the relevant codes of conduct. You may already be familiar with the University of Birmingham Code of Practice for Research, and this covers issues of authorship in paragraphs 5.7 to 5.10. You will also need to look out for anything provided by relevant discipline organisations (e.g. the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors), your funder, or by the specific publisher you are submitting your work to (e.g. Taylor and Francis).

But as I said, in practice this may be influenced by local or discipline culture and other things, so how can you discover and untangle these? I can recommend a couple of resources to get you started, all of which suggest further resources should you wish to dig deeper:

In addition, this is an area where wide discussion can benefit everyone. Discuss and share your authorship experience with your colleagues; never be afraid to consult with a more experienced academic, who has not been at all involved in your manuscript, to explore your understanding of authorship – your mentor or your School PGR Lead should be able to help with this.

Finally, remember that this is a question of research integrity – as an author you can benefit from the prestige of a publication, but you are also taking responsibility for that publication.

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Helen Kara

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