The Office of Research Integrity’s¬†Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research (to which the HKU Policy on Research Integrity makes reference) states the following:

The names that appear at the beginning of a paper serve one important purpose. They let others know who conducted the research and should get credit for it. It is important to know who conducted the research in case there are questions about methods, data, and the interpretation of results. Likewise, the credit derived from publications is used to determine a researcher’s worth. Researchers are valued and promoted in accordance with the quality and quantity of their research publications. Consequently, the authors listed on papers should fairly and accurately represent the person or persons responsible for the work in question.

Contribution. Authorship is generally limited to individuals who make significant contributions to the work that is reported. This includes anyone who:

  • was intimately involved in the conception and design of the research,
  • assumed responsibility for data collection and interpretation,
  • participated in drafting the publication, and
  • approved the final version of the publication.

There is disagreement, however, over whether authorship should be limited to individuals who contribute to all phases of a publication or whether individuals who made more limited contributions deserve authorship credit.

The ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research recognises that:

Practices for determining authors vary considerably by discipline … This places most of the responsibility for decisions about authorship on the researchers who participated in the work reported in each publication. These decisions are best made early in any project, to avoid misunderstandings and later disputes about authorship.

Further, the ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research states the following:

Importance. Authors are usually listed in their order of importance, with the designation first or last author carrying special weight, although practices again vary by discipline. Academic institutions usually will not promote researchers to the rank of tenured faculty until they have been listed as first or last author on one or more papers.

As with the principle of contribution, however, there are no clear rules for determining who should be listed as first author or the order in which other authors should be listed … Some journals have specific rules for listing authors; others do not, again placing most of the responsibility for this decision on the authors themselves.

Corresponding or primary author. Many journals now require one author, called the corresponding or primary author, to assume responsibility for all aspects of a publication, including:

  • the accuracy of the data,
  • the names listed as authors (all deserve authorship and no one has been neglected),
  • approval of the final draft by all authors, and
  • handling all correspondence and responding to inquiries.

In accepting this responsibility, corresponding authors should take special note of the fact that they are acting on behalf of their colleagues. Any mistakes they make or fail to catch will affect their colleagues’ as well as their own careers.

Honorary authorship. The practice of listing undeserving authors on publications, called “honorary” authorship, is widely condemned and in the extreme considered by some to constitute a form of research misconduct. However, common agreement notwithstanding, honorary authorship is a significant problem in research publication today … Researchers are listed on publications because they:

  • are the chair of the department or program in which the research was conducted,
  • provided funding for the research,
  • are the leading researcher in the area,
  • provided reagents, or
  • served as a mentor to the primary author.

Persons in these positions can make significant contributions to a publication and may deserve recognition. However, they should not be listed if these are the only contributions they made.