Although the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has published clear guidance on the authorship of scientific papers, short-term contract research workers, who perform much of the research that is reported in the biomedical literature, are often at a disadvantage in terms of recognition, reward and career progression. This article identifies several professional, ethical and operational issues associated with the assignment of authorship, describes how a university department of primary care set about identifying and responding to the concerns of its contract research staff on authorship and describes a set of guidelines that were produced to deal with the ethical and professional issues raised. These guidelines include directions on how authorship should be negotiated and allocated and how short-term researchers can begin to develop as authors. They also deal with the structures required to support an equitable system, which deals with the needs of short-term researchers in ways that are realistic in the increasingly competitive world of research funding and publication, and may offer a model for more formal guidelines that could form part of institutional research policy.
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Competing interests: None declared.
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