In another article, we discuss four criteria that must be met for an individual to qualify for manuscript authorship. In this article, we describe what types of contributions warrant mention in the acknowledgments section of a paper instead. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) describes several roles that merit acknowledgment, rather than authorship:
“acquisition of funding; general supervision of a research group or general administrative support; and writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading.”
You should also acknowledge direct technical assistance, including help with animals, cells, equipment, patients, procedures, or techniques or provision of data, equipment, reagents, or samples, as well as more indirect assistance via intellectual discussions. Note that all of these contributions are typically more mechanical, indirect, and/or one-dimensional than those of authors. Additionally, some argue that individuals who provided help and could be chosen as a peer reviewer, leading to a potential conflict of interest, should be cited.
In any case, the ICMJE states that contributors may be cited individually or collectively and that their precise contributions should be specified.
e.g., “We thank Dr. X and Dr. Y for performing the surgeries” or “We thank the physicians who performed the surgeries"
Institutional affiliations may or may not be mentioned, depending on the journal's guidelines. Finally, the ICMJE encourages written permission from acknowledged individuals “because acknowledgment may imply endorsement.”
Funding sources should also be mentioned in the acknowledgments section, unless your target journal requires a separate section for this information. Whether the funding was partial or full, relevant grant numbers, and the author(s) who received the funding, if applicable, should be detailed as well. Note that acknowledging grants and fellowships is in fact required by many funding agencies and research institutions.
In contrast, contributions that are not specifically related to your research, including personal encouragement (e.g., by your friends or parents) and very general help (e.g., from a laboratory manager who purchases all supplies for your research group), should not be cited. Additionally, anonymous editors and peer reviewers are usually not thanked in the acknowledgments section; many journals (such as American Physical Society journals) explicitly discourage this practice because it is difficult to comprehensively acknowledge all anonymous support and because this practice could potentially bias reviewers.
The writing style of acknowledgments sections may vary according to the journal, but generally, these sections are written in the first person and are as succinct as possible. A statement about conflicts of interest, citation of previous publication in poster or abstract form, and other information may also be included in this section, again depending on the journal. As you proceed through revisions for one journal or if you change your target journal, remember to reformat as necessary and to update your acknowledgments if additional help was obtained during the revision, such as with editing or new experiments.
Although an acknowledgments section may be appended to the end of your manuscript or relegated to a footnote, it is not a trivial component. By acknowledging all help received with your research, you are demonstrating your integrity as a researcher, which in turn encourages continued collaboration. You may also be bolstering your colleagues' careers, as being credited in an acknowledgments section is emerging as one of many gauges of a researcher's professional impact beyond citations (see ImpactStory, based on altmetrics). Furthermore, information about who provided certain data, equipment, protocols, reagents, or samples may be of help to other researchers in your field.
This editing tip has hopefully elucidated what to include in the acknowledgments section of your manuscript and why this section is significant. If you have any comments or questions, please contact us. Best wishes in your research and writing!