The Fair Cite initiative sprung forth from a series of conversations beginning in November 2011 that asked how best to cite a web-based collaborative project developed in the humanities. Whose names should be included in the citation? What types and levels of contributions constitute “enough” to be listed as an author of this non-traditional form of academic output? Should authorship be limited to principal investigators, or should we also include project managers, database builders, web designers, and student assistants?

After some an initial post responding to the conversation and some further digging, it’s become clear that there are actually three issues related to citation in the humanities, all of which could be solved by Fair Cite.

  1. There is resistance in the humanities amongst principal investigators and administrators to the idea of extending “authorship” to “non-academic” staff, students, or contractors. In some cases these concerns may be valid. Therefore, any solution must actively address the concerns of these groups to be accepted and widely implemented.
  2. There is currently no generally accepted set of criteria for determining “authorship” as opposed to “contribution” in collaborative projects. No academic field takes an ultra-inclusive approach to authorship that includes everyone who had any involvement whatsoever in the project. Instead, authorship comes after a certain level of contribution, the definition of whichFair Citehopes it can help shape through a public consultation of stake holders.
  3. An ordered or unordered list of author’s names in a citation is ambiguous and does not provide any information on what types of contributions each person made to the project. Current models used in the sciences and public history fields offer a means of disambiguating contributions, which may relieve some of the concerns of principal investigators.

Resistance to Extending Authorship

The issue of “Fair Cite” first arose because a principal investigator in a traditional academic position was resistant to the idea of extending authorship credit to technical and Alt-ac members of the project team, opting instead for a “no-names” approach to citation. The project did have a “project team” page on the website, in which everyone was credited along with their job title; however the internal policy on citing the project itself was that no one’s names be used – the project “was created” rather than created by someone. In a traditional monograph, this policy would be akin to an edited collection appearing with no information on who wrote, edited, or published the work. While this may be frustrating to those seeking credit for their work, it’s worth noting that some of the concerns of those who resist the idea may be valid and should be addressed if the hearts and minds of mainstream academia are to be won over by the Fair Cite initiative.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of the typical complaints gathered from principle investigators in January 2012 when posed with the question of fair citation. Readers are encouraged to add to this list in the comments below.

  • Technical work is not a scholarly output and should be listed as a period of employment on the CV.
  • If someone was hired specifically for the project and paid for the work completed they do not need to be credited. If he or she were hired by a corporation would they ask for similar credit?
  • The project involved the input of the public / users in specific areas and it would be unethical to claim authorship of the larger project because of this external input. You wouldn’t cite Jimmy Wales, “Wikipedia” would you?
  • The science model of too many authors is frequently abused (honourary authors, ghost authors) and should not be replicated.
  • If the project has 40 listed authors it suggests each person did 1/40th of the work, but that’s not necessarily the case.
  • Discussing authorship is awkward and it’s a conversation I’d rather not start having.
  • My department isn’t used to seeing these types of citations and it’s easier if I do not include them rather than have to explain them. They may think I’m trying to pad my own CV.
  • This new model may have unintended consequences related to intellectual property.

Criteria for determining “Authorship”

The humanities seem to have few models for collaborative work. The single-authored paper or monograph is still the expected output of a humanities scholar. However, there are some precedents and useful guidelines in a number of related fields including academic sciences, digital humanities, computer science, and public history (broadly speaking).

Academic Science

The sciences are known for multi-authored papers and provide the most comprehensive model. However, there is not one model and each journal can have their own guidelines. Nevertheless there are some attempts at standardization, which may prove a useful starting point for extending the principles of multiple-authorship to the humanities. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) supports the following standards and expects authors to meet all three conditions:

  1. substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data;
  2. drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and
  3. final approval of the version to be published.

Journals under the RSC Publishing umbrella provide the following guidelines:

“There is no universally agreed definition of authorship. As a minimum, authors should take responsibility for a particular section of the study. The award of authorship should balance intellectual contributions to the conception, design, analysis and writing of the study against the collection of data and other routine work. If there is no task that can reasonably be attributed to a particular individual, then that individual should not be credited with authorship. All authors must take public responsibility for the content of their paper. The multidisciplinary nature of much research can make this difficult, but this may be resolved by the disclosure of individual contributions.”

The note that all authors must take public responsibility is particularly difficult for this case because if the principle investigator refuses to accept a co-authorship model, anyone who worked on the project is unable to ethically “feel empowered to express their contributions honestly and comprehensively”. To do so would require either claiming the entire project as their own – which may not be the case – or to include someone else’s name as a co-author without their permission.

Digital Humanities

The most relevant documents are the Collaborator’s Bill of Rights (2011) and the upcoming 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), which measures scholarly output for academics working at universities in England.

The Collaborators’ Bill of Rights suggests papers should use an “author” model that includes anyone who collaborated on the project as authors in a “fair ordering based on emerging conventions”. However, the document does not extend this idea specifically to projects with digital outputs. Instead it suggests websites should use a “credits” system like used in films. In itself this does not answer the question of how to cite a digital output but does repeatedly emphasize the importance of giving project team members the right to “feel empowered to express their contributions honestly and comprehensively”, which is at the core of the Fair Cite initiative.

Governments too may provide a useful model for encouraging a new system of credit. The REF may prove particularly useful. The REF is England’s new system for assessing the quality of research in English higher education institutions, not unlike a nation-wide “impact factor” for each scholar, department, and university. In the 2014 version of the assessment, digital outputs such as databases, digital media, and software will be considered a form of scholarly output and will be assessed alongside journal articles and monographs. This means that in the UK at least, scholars will have a vested interest in including their names with project outputs and the “no-names” policy may disappear out of a need for career advancement and departmental ranking.

Computer Science

Contrary to what one might expect, most computer science outputs seem to take the form of journal papers rather than software or web-based outputs. The traditional model is one of co-authorship not unlike that used in science papers and may vary from journal-to-journal. We would be happy to hear from computer scientists who may have more insight to share on practices in that field.

Public history

The museum and gallery industry has long been involved in non-traditional collaborative outputs in the form of exhibits, many of which are now online. The practices seem to be discipline specific, but it is not unusual to include job title or role after each person’s name in a citation:

Jim Smith, Curator; Eve Jones, Exhibit Designer. “Wonderful Exhibit” My Museum. 20 January, 2012.

Disambiguating the Nature of Contributions

The Nature family of journals does not explicitly outline criteria for authorship, but requires all papers to outline the contribution each author made in a footnote. This policy is mandatory for all new Nature papers and is meant to eliminate the problem of “Honourary Authors” – people whose names are included on the paper despite no actual input from the person. Nature also believes this policy ensures the right person can be made responsible should problems with the research arise in the future. Examples from Nature papers look like the following:

  • S.H.C. designed and performed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper; N.C., M.T. and J.M.G. designed and performed experiments; D.R. and M.B.G. developed analytical tools; and C.I.B. designed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper.
  • Y.O. and Y.Z. designed the experiments and prepared the manuscript. Y.O. performed the experiments. G.S., M.K.R. and Y.M. generated the chimaera mice from the BayGenomics ES clone.

Science papers commonly include a footnote attached to the author list, which provides details on where each person works and how they can be contacted, as in the example below from Nature. This footnote space could be used in digital humanities projects to outline contributions from each person. The wording of this could be left up to individual projects, or could be standardized with a limited set of contribution keywords (writer, designer, database, project manager, etc).

Nature editors have contributed a number of editorials discussing the issue of authorship, many of which are relevant to our current discussion and are available below.

As not all people who participate in a project meet the criteria for authorship, it is common in science papers to “acknowledge” more minor contributors in the same way one acknowledges funding bodies. The ICMJE provide guidelines for acknowledgement, similar to their guidelines for authorship and outlines the appropriate model for acknowledging said contributions. For example:

“The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Adam Crymble who helped with data entry, as well as the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for their financial support”.

Relevant Articles:

For those interested in reading more on the discussions related to authorship and citation, the following articles may be useful background reading.

Digital Humanities:

  1. M. Kirschenbaum, B. Nowviskie, T. Scheinfeldt, D. Reside. “Collaborators’ Bill of RightsOff the Tracks. 21 January 2011.
  2. Dacos, Marin. “Manifesto for the Digital Humanities”. 26 March 2011.
  3. Crymble, Adam. “Citation in Digital Humanities: Is the Old Bailey Online a Film, or a Science Paper?Thoughts on Public & Digital History. 13 January 2012.
  4. McDayter, Mark. “Tagging the Faces behind the Code: Why DH Projects Need to Acknowledge All ContributorsClick Here. 18 January, 2012.
  5. Various. “A query about citation practiseH-Albion Discussion Logs for January 2012 January 2012.
  6. Denbo, Seth. “Query about citation practise” Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 613.
  7. Nowviskie, Bethany. “Where credit is dueBethany Nowviskie. 31 May 2011.
  8. Scheinfeldt, Tom. “New Wine in Old Skins: Why the CV Needs HackingFound History 27 May 2010.


  1. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Ethical Considerations in the Conduct and Reporting of Research: Authorship and Contributionship
  2. Maxine Clarke. “Author contributions auditNautilus. 5 November 2007.
  3. Ethical Guidelines and Conflict of Interest – 3.0 AuthorsRSC Publishing.
  4. The responsibilities of authorsNature Nanotechnology. Vol. 4, No. 331 (2009).
  5. Attribution and accountabilityNature Cell Biology. Vol. 11, No. 667 (2009).
  6. What did you do?Nature Physics. Vol. 5, No. 369 (2009).
  7. Authorship policiesNature. Vol. 458. No. 1078. (30 April 2009).
  8. Credit where credit is dueNature Cell Biology. Vol. 11, No 1. (2009).
  9. Authorship mattersNature Materials. Vol. 7, No. 91 (2008).
  10. Who is accountableNature. Vol. 450, No. 1 (1 November 2007).
  11. Authorship without authorizationNature Materials. Vol 3. No 743 (2004).


  1. Research Excellence FrameworkHigher Education Funding Council for England.
  2. Academic authorshipWikipedia.

Thank you to Michelle Hamilton, Director of Public History, University of Western Ontario, for her expertise on citation in public history.