Advancing collaborative research with contributor roles

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by Julien Colomb, Mohammad Hosseni, Violeta Ilik, Nicole Vasilevsky, Barbara Kern, and Kristi Holmes

Better contributorship is needed

In an ideal world, it would be easy to recognize and credit contributions. In practice, however, optimal representation of contributor roles is much more complicated. The FORCE11 Attribution Working Group (AWG) collaborates on a wide range of issues related to authorship, credit, and attribution. FORCE11 has provided a collaborative home for attribution work, including the OpenVIVO platform, deployed at the FORCE16 conference to enable artifact-level annotation of works with contributor role data [1], and a new collaboration launched during the FORCE19 conference which led to the recent paper, “Is authorship sufficient for today’s collaborative research? A call for contributor roles”. [2]

A FORCE19 Collaboration

The Attribution Working Group met at FORCE19 for a breakout session to discuss topics such as authorship, credit, and social perspectives of recognition and collaboration. The discussion was productive yet unfinished, leading to the genesis of the paper. Given the highly multidisciplinary and distributed nature of our group, we used different collaborative tools to facilitate the work and recognize contributions to our collaboration. The entire manuscript was generated in Google Docs and content was migrated to Manubot ( to allow for increased visibility as it developed and to represent contributor roles of the collaborators. We extended the metadata format to include a list of contributor roles for each author based on CRO, an extension of CRediT, and modified the frontmatter template to note each author's role along with their identifiers and affiliations, so that readers of the online manuscript could have quick access to this information. The discussion and implementation of adding contributor roles are available on GitHub, highlighting the role that tools like Manubot can play to support attribution and provide a transparent public record of contributions.

Moving contributorship forward

Recent online discussions [e.g., 3-13] have generated a number of interesting aspects to explore on the topic of contributor roles and credit. We’re grateful for these and other global discussions and especially for feedback on our paper. We are eager to continue progress in this area, although much work is needed to fully realize better crediting of contributions in scholarship. A few key questions to answer include: 

  1. What is contributorship? How to best represent contributor roles for non-authors? 
  2. What are the legal complexities of authorship? Of contributorship? 
  3. Should we go beyond 14 roles in the CRediT taxonomy? How many roles is too many? And how do we balance this with appropriate representation of contributor roles across widely varying disciplines? 
  4. What technical components are needed to make frictionless contributorship possible?
  5. What social components are needed to ensure equitable and ethical credit of contributions?
  6. Will better contributorship workflows make research evaluation better or worse? How will it change? How should it change?  
  7. How can contributorship improve institutional promotion and recognition workflows?
  8. How is contributorship best applied to the full range of research artifacts at different stages in the research process, from the early stages of a project to the generation of new knowledge?
  9. How can we assure contributorship information is released as open and FAIR data? 
  10. How do different groups working on contributorship find opportunities to work together in a harmonized way for the benefit of all?

Understanding the flow of knowledge and who is responsible in today’s scholarship can be tricky. On one hand, evaluation of a researcher is often (or even solely) dependent on authorship of papers. On the other hand, research outputs are increasingly produced by large teams of researchers and depend on a wide range of contributions of non-research personnel. Unfortunately, the present ecosystem does not easily facilitate crediting non-authors with these critical contributions. Leveraging contributorship more fully would enable the recording, organization, aggregation, and presentation of contributions made to that research, and ideally build a more fair and less biased reward system in academia. We’re grateful to the entire FORCE11 community as a catalyst to “facilitate the change toward improved knowledge creation and sharing” and look forward to our ongoing work together! If you are interested in contributing or learning more, please join the Attribution Working Group at

All authors participated in conceptualization, writing the original draft, and review and editing of this post.


  1. Violeta Ilik, Michael Conlon, Graham Triggs, Marijane White, Muhammad Javed, Matthew Brush, Karen Gutzman, Shahim Essaid, Paul Friedman, Simon Porter, Martin Szomszor, Melissa Anne Haendel, David Eichmann, and Kristi L. Holmes. "OpenVIVO: transparency in scholarship." Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics 2 (2018): 12. DOI: 10.3389/frma.2017.00012
  2. Nicole A. Vasilevsky, Mohammad Hosseini, Samantha Teplitzky, Violeta Ilik, Ehsan Mohammadi, Juliane Schneider, Barbara Kern, Julien Colomb, Scott C. Edmunds, Karen Gutzman, Daniel S. Himmelstein, Marijane White, Britton Smith, Lisa O’Keefe, Melissa Haendel & Kristi L. Holmes (2020) Is authorship sufficient for today’s collaborative research? A call for contributor roles, Accountability in Research, DOI: 10.1080/08989621.2020.1779591
  3. Alex Holcombe. Farewell authors, hello contributors. Nature. 2019;571(7764):147. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-02084-8
  4. Elizabeth Gadd. CRediT Check – Should we welcome tools to differentiate the contributions made to academic papers? London School of Economics (LSE) Impact Blog. 
  5. Alex Holcombe. Announcing Tenzing. Medium. 
  6. Key Milestones Achieved in CRediT-NISO Collaboration. NISO. 
  7. @ceptional. Twitter. 
  8. @RickyPo. Twitter.
  9. @LizzieGadd. Twitter.
  10. @ceptional. Twitter. 
  11. @loyalgoff. Twitter.
  12. @HanaScientist. Twitter.
  13. PubPeer (comment & responses).

About Kristi Holmes

Kristi Holmes is the Director of Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center. In her role at Galter and through her research, she works to forge strong partnerships and open workflows that facilitate access and use of data and knowledge by all. As Associate Director of NUCATS for Evaluation, she has developed a robust assessment... More

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