A systematic review of research on the meaning, ethics and practices of authorship across scholarly disciplines

PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e23477. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023477. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


Background: The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate evidence about authorship issues and provide synthesis of research on authorship across all research fields.

Methods: We searched bibliographical databases to identify articles describing empirical quantitive or qualitative research from all scholarly fields on different aspects of authorship. Search was limited to original articles and reviews.

Results: The final sample consisted of 123 articles reporting results from 118 studies. Most studies came for biomedical and health research fields and social sciences. Study design was usually a survey (53%) or descriptive study (27%); only 2 studies used randomized design. We identified four 4 general themes common to all research disciplines: authorship perceptions, definitions and practices, defining order of authors on the byline, ethical and unethical authorship practices, and authorship issues related to student/non-research personnel-supervisor collaboration. For 14 survey studies, a meta-analysis showed a pooled weighted average of 29% (95% CI 24% to 35%) researchers reporting their own or others' experience with misuse of authorship. Authorship misuse was reported more often by researcher outside of the USA and UK: 55% (95% CI 45% to 64%) for 4 studies in France, South Africa, India and Bangladesh vs. 23% (95% CI 18% to 28%) in USA/UK or international journal settings.

Interpretation: High prevalence of authorship problems may have severe impact on the integrity of the research process, just as more serious forms of research misconduct. There is a need for more methodologically rigorous studies to understand the allocation of publication credit across research disciplines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Scientific Misconduct
  • Terminology as Topic*