Authorship Agreements – Training Students

This is the standard authorship agreement used for all projects conducted in collaboration with the Geocognition Research Lab (GRL) at MSU. This agreement is used to help everyone, from undergraduates to faculty, come to a common understanding of what it means to be an author on a scholarly work. A version of this document was first initiated in 2006 soon after the GRL was formed at MSU, and the document is revised as needed.


The nature of scientific research in the 21st century is quite different from that experienced by earlier generations of scientists. Whereas in the past it was quite common for scientists to work independently, publish independently, and achieve recognition with few publications, the climate for academic research publishing has evolved into a multi-partner, necessary “beast”.

Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows participating in research activities should be involved in data collection, analysis, and manuscript preparation as both part of the training process and in order to ensure future viability as scholars. Much of the research in the GRL is interrelated, involves many people with different levels of interaction with the research itself, and includes collaboration with scholars at other institutions. To ensure equitable and fair acknowledgement of all scholars on presentations and publications resulting from work originating from, or including personnel from, the GRL, the following criteria will apply for determining authorship. This is not meant to be a rigid list of criteria, but rather an opportunity for discussion with partners about roles and responsibilities.

Criteria for Authorship on GRL projects

  1. The large number of projects that are being conducted in the GRL requires that each project have a project leader. Project leaders will be identified at the start of the project. Project leaders will be responsible for ensuring that research progresses, and will be given opportunities at first authorship. Faculty and postdocs can act as leaders; graduate students will be given project leadership only in advanced years of study and as their own projects evolve independently.
  2. For all funded projects, the project PIs and co-PIs will ultimately approve ALL presentation abstracts, presentation proposals and manuscripts, including authorship, BEFORE submission and regardless of project leadership. All PIs and co-PIs (regardless of institutional affiliation) will have a say in who should be named authors. All research products will be approved by PIs, co-PIs, and authors BEFORE submission. The GRL project leader is responsible for ensuring that this approval is received. This list of projects will be updated every 6 months (June and Dec. of each year).
  3. Authorship is a very important subject to discuss with your colleagues. It is important to document your role in the project from its inception. If you have questions about your, our, or anyone else’s role as an author, ask! The following are general guidelines for the assignment of authorship for projects conducted through or with the GRL:
    1. Likely authorship: Analysis of data, particularly when original thought is put into explaining results in writing, suggests that authorship should be attached. Creation of key components of the data collection mechanism, such as new computer programs, implies authorship that should be discussed with the project leader.
    2. Possibility of authorship: The development of secondary data collection or analytical strategies, such as minor surveys, for the project, or the generation of the idea for the project suggests that authorship is warranted. This should be discussed with the project leader.
    3. Likely acknowledgement instead of authorship: The following research-related activities are examples of work that do not automatically imply authorship on a paper or presentation. Significant contribution to several of these tasks may warrant authorship and should be discussed with the project manager. DISCUSS THE AUTHORSHIP IMPLICATIONS OF YOUR WORK EARLY IN THE PROJECT!
      1. Collection or entry of data
      2. Performance of inter-rater reliability tests
      3. Running of statistical tests
      4. Reviews of written work.
      5. Participation in group meetings or discussions of research
      6. Minor contributions to instrument modification or content. “Minor” is defined by the project leader.
      7. Training of personnel on computer programs, instrument development, research methods or other routine research skills.
  4. Always give your co-authors time to review a manuscript or abstract before submission for review. All authors should approve final drafts before submission for publication. Finally, always make sure that you have permission to include someone as an author or in your acknowledgements before doing so.

The Changing Publication Landscape

The nature of academic publishing is changing, especially as access to resources and publications has become easier with the wide use of the internet. Authors have a growing obligation to ensure that they:

  1. Properly cite the work of others. This includes citing blogs, online articles, and even email exchanges appropriately. See this quick guide on APA referencing.
  2. Publish in reputable sources only. This means identifying:
    1. Who publishes a journal or book, or hosts a conference, and ensuring that the publisher is reputable. Use existing resources, such as the Scholarly Open Access site hosted by librarian Jeffrey Beall.
    2. How peer review occurs (review by a committee alone is NOT peer review) – make sure you are getting the type of review you expect. Less reputable journals will use a sitting advisory/review board to review manuscripts; others will obscure the process. Make sure you know HOW your manuscript will be treated before you submit!
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