Contributorship: tracking who did what

| April 29, 2014

Recently I’ve been hearing some buzz about “contributorship.” Especially in the sciences, article author lists can become downright gargantuan in size, so the idea behind contributorship is to move beyond the one-dimensional system of labeling everyone as an author to a more nuanced way of recording who did what in a research project.

The issue caught my eye because contributorship is actually a library and information science problem of knowledge organization. In a recent comment in Nature, a group of scholars (Liz Allen, Amy Brand, Jo Scott, Micah Altman and Marjorie Hlava) detailed a taxonomy that could be applied when linking a person to a paper. In essence, it’s a controlled list of terms that describe roles a person could have in relation to the production of a piece of research. Here are some of the terms:

Taxonomy category Description of role
Study conception Ideas; formulation of research question; statement of hypothesis.
Methodology Development or design of methodology; creation of models.
Computation Programming, software development; designing computer programs; implementation of the computer code and supporting algorithms.
Formal analysis Application of statistical, mathematical or other formal techniques to analyse study data.
Investigation: performed the experiments Conducting the research and investigation process, specifically performing the experiments.
Investigation: data/evidence collection Conducting the research and investigation process, specifically
data/evidence collection.
Resources Provision of study materials, reagents, materials, patients, laboratory samples, animals, instrumentation or other analysis tools.
Data curation Management activities to annotate (produce metadata) and maintain research data for initial use and later re-use.
Writing/manuscript preparation: writing the initial draft Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically writing the initial draft.
Writing/manuscript preparation: critical review, commentary or revision Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically critical review, commentary or revision.
Writing/manuscript preparation: visualization/data presentation Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically visualization/data presentation.
Supervision Responsibility for supervising research; project orchestration; principal investigator or other lead stakeholder.
Project administration Coordination or management of research activities leading to this publication.
Funding acquisition Acquisition of the financial support for the project leading to this publication.

These terms break down the singular conception of authorship and give “credit where credit is due.” It’s an exciting proposal, though the benefit of more clearly defining roles could also be seen as a negative, depending on your position in academia (where authorship is an important part of standing in the community). For more, check out Matt Taylor’s post on Elsevier Connect.

What do you think? Would you want to describe your research in this way?