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PLOS Authorship policy update: Adopting a more inclusive standard

Author: Renee Hoch, Managing Editor, PLOS Publication Ethics Team

Journals’ and publishers’ authorship policies set expectations with regard to credit and responsibilities, and can help support researchers in making authorship decisions. By rooting our policies in industry-wide standards, journals across the sector can help to align authorship practices and safeguard the meaning of authorship within academia and the publishing industry. However, it is important to recognize, and adapt as needed, when the standards anchoring our policies fall short in serving our author communities.

On May 10, 2023, PLOS updated our Authorship policy. Among other changes, we updated our authorship criteria: all PLOS journals except PLOS Medicine now apply the authorship criteria put forth in a 2018 PNAS article by Marcia McNutt et al. (PLOS Medicine is an ICMJE member and continues to apply ICMJE authorship criteria.)

Prior to this change, all PLOS journals followed the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria for authorship. These criteria were developed by and for the clinical and biomedical research communities, and were the dominant standard in STM publishing when PLOS launched our initial journals and established our initial editorial policies. 

In 2018, an alternative standard emerged from National Academy of Sciences efforts to develop standards relevant across a broader range of disciplines. The 2018 guidance aligns with ICMJE on core requirements of credit and accountability: both advise that substantial contributions should be credited with authorship, all who meet criteria should be listed authors, and authors must fulfill certain responsibilities before and after publication. However, the two standards differ on some specific details.

Importantly, the 2018 guidance takes a more inclusive position on what types of contribution warrant authorship: it supports authorship for software tool development, and does not require all authors to have made substantial contributions to the research AND to manuscript preparation or revision. The allowance that writing or substantial manuscript revision can in itself be deserving of authorship better reflects standards in place within some research disciplines. Given the breadth of communities that PLOS serves, we decided that the more inclusive 2018 standards are better suited for our journal portfolio. 

The newer guidance also aligns better with how PLOS journals approach authorship in practice. We generally entrust authors with authorship decisions, and we require that each author’s individual-level contributions be described using CRediT terms. With these considerations in place, not all PLOS journals have rigidly enforced whether listed contributions satisfy all ICMJE criteria. Even so, our requirement for transparency around contributions, combined with other terms in our policies, help us to address authorship issues when they arise.   

With this policy update, PLOS is continuing in our efforts to advance open science, serve diverse research communities, and promote an inclusive and transparent approach to credit within the published record. We also hope that this update will improve authorship access for individuals – including those involved in global research – who make substantial contributions to research or reporting but who may not have the opportunities, skills, or resources needed to satisfy all ICMJE criteria.

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