RCR Framework Interpretations: Publication Guidelines
1. What publication guidelines should researchers follow?
The RCR Framework sets out minimal requirements for responsible publication (Article 2.1.2). Researchers are also encouraged to understand the publication conventions of their disciplines and the targeted journals. Where there are differences between the relevant conventions, researchers should follow the convention with the more stringent requirements. International publication guidelines such as those developed by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) may also be helpful.
The basis of responsible publication is transparency to the readers and to the publishers, i.e., the results are presented honestly, the methods are described clearly, any elements not original to the work are referenced, all authors are listed, all contributors are acknowledged, and funding sources and conflicts of interest are disclosed.
2. When should researchers reference the work of others?
Researchers should inform readers and journals of any work that has already been reported or published that is referred to in their paper or on which their paper relies. Work includes “theories, concepts, data, source material, methodologies, findings, graphs and images” (Article 2.1.2.c). Where exact text has been taken from the work of others, it must be identified as a quotation. When in doubt, researchers should err on the side of including references.
It is a breach of the RCR Framework if a researcher presents and uses another’s published or unpublished work or parts of their work as his/her own without an appropriate reference (Article 3.1.1.d).
3. When should researchers reference their own work?
Similar to the authorship principle explained above, researchers should reference any of their earlier work that is in the public domain when they are including that work, or parts of that work, within a new work. Examples of work in the public domain include theses that have been defended and submitted, material that has been published in a journal or a book and content that has been posted to a public website.
It is a breach of the RCR Framework if researchers re-publish their own previously published work or part thereof without adequate acknowledgment of the source or a justification, such as an accepted practice within a discipline (Article 3.1.1.e). This includes the reuse of data, methodology descriptions or introductory materials for use in a new but related study. For the purposes of the RCR Framework this type of breach is referred to as redundant publication or self-plagiarism.
4. Who is an author?
The RCR Framework defines authorship as “all those and only those who have made a substantial contribution to, and who accept responsibility for, the contents of the publication or document” (Article 2.1.2.d). The assessment of contribution is made by the authors responsible for communicating with the journal. Those who have made less than substantial contributions may be acknowledged as contributors.
Accepting responsibility for the contents of a publication or document goes beyond merely being accountable for the accuracy and integrity of one's own work. It includes being familiar with, and having confidence in the accuracy and integrity of, the work of the other authors of the publication or document. All authors share the responsibility of investigating and resolving questions about the accuracy or integrity of any part of the publication or document.
In accordance with authorship guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), “Conversations around negotiating authorship should begin early in the life of a project, and changes in status and order may occur multiple times throughout the process up to the date of publication. Therefore maintaining a record of meetings, project agreements/contracts, and discussions can help to remind authors of the history of the agreements to date and to provide the framework for completing authorship contribution requirements for journal submission.”
Journals also have a responsibility for ensuring that all authors listed on a manuscript have agreed to be authors on a paper.
5. What is a contributor?
A contributor is a person or institution that contributes to the research but not to the same extent as an author. A contribution to research may take many forms, e.g., writing assistance, direct financial support, or sponsorship, such as the supply of samples or equipment (Article 2.1.2.e).
6. Who determines appropriate attribution?
Authors themselves are responsible for determining who should be included as authors and who should be included as contributors. Authors and contributors should address authorship and acknowledgement issues (e.g., author order) prior to writing the work and definitely prior to submission to the journal. Any subsequent authorship or acknowledgement disputes, including final authorship list and order, should be addressed at the time an article is submitted to a journal for publication.
Inaccurate attribution of authorship, including “attribution of authorship to persons other than those who have made a substantial contribution to, and who accept responsibility for, the contents of a publication or document” is a breach of the Framework (Article 3.1.1.f). Failure to appropriately recognize contributions of others is also a breach of the RCR Framework (Article 3.1.1.g).
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