Being acknowledged in research by Eva Thackeray

A while back, at one of the LIHNN Clinical Librarians group meetings, we discussed the question of how we could/should ensure that our contributions to research are acknowledged. By ‘our contributions’ we were mainly thinking of literature searches, and by research we were thinking of published journal articles, conference abstracts, posters, etc. An acknowledgement could be anything ranging from a thank you at the end of an article to co-authorship (if involved in the literature search plus the write-up of a systematic review, for example).

We felt that we weren’t as often acknowledged as we should be, but weren’t sure how to improve this situation. So as a first step, we decided to put the question out on some mailing lists (LIHNN@JISCMAIL.AC.UK and CLIN-LIB@JISCMAIL.AC.UK) to collect some ideas. Many thanks to all those who responded; we received some really helpful replies!

In my library service, my colleagues and I really liked Tom Roper’s suggestion of including a sentence in the search report, and as we are in the process of redesigning our results templates anyway, it’s the perfect time for us to add such a sentence. We’re also in the process of adding a paragraph on acknowledgements to our Trust’s staff guide on ‘The research pathway’. Overall, we now feel much more prepared and are better able to raise the issue with our staff who are conducting research.

Below is the question I posted, a summary of the themes in the replies, followed by the replies themselves. The question I posted was:

“We have been talking about how to secure acknowledgements for our contributions (in form of literature searches etc.) to published papers/projects at the last couple of regional LIHNN Clinical Librarians group meetings. To gather some ideas of how to go about being acknowledged, we would now like to collect a few examples/case studies and some practical tips. So, if you have been acknowledged in published research, please let us know how you secured the acknowledgement!

How did you broach the subject with the researcher?

Did you have a verbal or written agreement?

Any tips?

Things you would do differently next time?”


Themes in the replies:

  • The distinction between acknowledgement and co-authorship
  • Ask to be acknowledged
  • Sentence in search report asking for acknowledgment
  • Written agreements
  • Depends on who researchers are writing for, target journal and its rules
  •  Information on webpage
  •  Having good, close contacts with researchers

Below are the anonymised (apart from Tom’s) replies. I have also taken the liberty of shortening some replies.


I think it would be a good idea to have some kind of written agreement that they have to sign stating that the library will be acknowledged. I think it’s also good to stress that having an acknowledged librarian will make their research more robust.

I also think it depends who they choose to publish with. For example, I have been helping a group of researchers who are writing a systematic review for BEME (Best Evidence Medical and Health Professional Education). In the BEME guidance it says that they should involve a librarian where possible so they have been much more eager to include me as an author as it strengthens their proposal.


I’ve started simply saying as much to people when they tell me they’re working on an article. Usually along the lines of “I’d appreciate it if you could acknowledge my or the library’s role in this work”.

With systematic reviews I’ve been involved in the Orthopaedics department; they originally approached me, and asked me to attend meetings. I develop the search, but I also write the search part of the methods section, and keep the PRISMA flowchart updated.

We’re considering following the University of Texas method and drawing up a written agreement for systematic reviews.

I’ve been involved in at least 6 full systematic reviews in this way, and none have yet been published! But I have been cited as an author on at least two for definite. What’s important to remember is that you must have input into the final manuscript to claim any form of authorship.


One thing we do is include a sentence in the search report – an example:

Please acknowledge this work in any resulting paper or presentation as: Evidence search: Incidence of SIADH with individual antidepressants. Tom Roper. (23rd September, 2016). BRIGHTON, UK: Brighton and Sussex Library and Knowledge Service

We think this encourages acknowledgement, and I have been acknowledged a number of times.

We don’t have formal agreements, and it’s left to the individual searcher to raise the subject. Being clinical librarians, I and my colleague are probably at an advantage, in that we have a closer relationship with search requesters than members of the searching team who just pick up search requests cold.

We have some champions among clinicians, who are quite fierce with juniors and make them acknowledge, and many who say, without prompting, that they’ll acknowledge; the promise is not always fulfilled, though.

Even when we are acknowledged, and we give them a form of words to use, there’s frequently variation in the way names, job titles, and organisation are reported in the final paper, sometimes in embarrassing ways.

I do get acknowledged as an author from time to time.

The criteria here are the standard ISMJE ones, so I not only do searches, but write the search report, and possibly other sections, and review the whole draft with my fellow authors.


We have discussed this subject within the medical information specialists-groups in The Netherlands. Quite a number of the group regularly claim co-authorship. Some only claim acknowledgement.

In our medical library we have agreed within our team of information specialists that we always request (‘demand’ is maybe too strong) co-authorship for systematic reviews and other published literature research. We inform the researchers via our webpage. We also discuss this with the researchers at the first appointment. And they usually agree… We believe that we have to be held responsible for the search strategy and therefore also describe the search in the methods-section. To make this responsibility clear we want to be named as co-authors.

Acknowledgement only is sometimes agreed between our team and the researchers if it is not possible to become a co-author or if we feel that the search is not ours (enough) to be held responsible.

The tips here may be: explain your role and your responsibility concerning the publication of a SR, show examples of SRs with the support of information specialists

An article we sometimes refer to in discussions with researchers: Koffel JB. Use of recommended search strategies in systematic reviews and the impact of librarian involvement: a cross-sectional survey of recent authors. PLoS One. 2015 May 4;10(5):e0125931. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125931. PMID: 25938454; PMCID: PMC4418838.


I have taken to asking the person who has requested the literature review, search or support to acknowledge either myself or the library.

On a number of occasions now I have been acknowledged on several Conference posters and papers and in several short papers. On some published papers I have been added as a 3rd author as I wrote up the Search Methodology and did the references and bibliography.


I have another post at a University, where I often advise students on searches for dissertations and theses.  I don’t know if I have ever been acknowledged in writing.  I have found published papers involving people I remember helping, but have not yet spotted an acknowledgement.

But that might be because I have never asked!   Here, we are looking at written agreements.

At the University, I have done the searches for two research projects.  I was named as an author on one and am named in Prospero as a collaborator for the other.   Some time back I updated the searches for a Cochrane review and am named there in the acknowledgements. I never thought to ask for any of this – all involve academic departments that I have supported for some time and in the case where I was named as an author, I know the lead researcher well.


This seems like a contentious subject within the healthcare with regards to publication acknowledgements.  I have yet to publish any papers within the healthcare sector, though I have written, co-written and published several scientific and academic papers in the past.


Certainly within the scientific and academic community, the author is bound by an unwritten ethical rule to include anyone that has helped to achieve that research/discovery.  Whether it be joint consultation, analysis or more, the assistance is reflected somewhere within the published paper.  The paper must also include any funding and resources which the author used.  One paper that I have published had a list of named contributors longer than my arms, as well as acknowledging EPSRC for funding and other external sources of funding.

This seemed to be quite different within the healthcare sector to me which may or may not be bound by such unwritten rule.  I would certainly suggest speaking directly with the author and request them to acknowledge you/department at the end of the publication/paper.  Unless the librarian did a substantial amount of work e.g. systematic reviews, of which the results were quoted and used within the paper, then you can ask the author to include you as one of the named contributors at the beginning of the paper.


I would ask about this, if it is not raised by the other members of the team or requester of the search at the start.

If people have asked for help with searches, training and checking search then, mostly, people have acknowledged at the end of the paper.

If it is a literature review where you carried out the searches, collected  and managed the data, and of course any other stages, I think you should be an author & be asked to sign if the journal is a member


We are going to develop a memorandum of understanding that people with SR projects will have to sign. It will specify acknowledgement is required and authorship if we write the search methodology. I’ve asked outright for authorship in the past when I was getting increasing amounts of potential SRs.

As for the other projects, we should be acknowledged! I haven’t thought about it with these other projects in mind, but we should ask if it involves a conference poster or talk when the search requestor marks Research/Talk on the lit search form we have.


Eva Thackeray, Assistant Clinical Librarian
This entry was posted in Systematic Review, Top Tips and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s