Guidance and Educational Resources

Below are guidance documents and educational resources to help researchers navigate responsible and ethical conduct of research.  These resources can be used to answer specific questions or to be utilized as educational materials.

Publishing and Authorship

Data Presentation

Research and scholarship relies on the integrity and the reliability of the published literature.  In this vein, transparency and reproducibility are key components to any published manuscript.  The reader should have full access to all the data reviewed. Most journals have instructions on access to data and on data an image beautification.  In general some publishing practices to be avoided are:

  • Misleading statistical analysis
  • Incomplete reporting of results
  • Cherry-picking eliminating outlying data without explanation
  • Failure to maintain or share data

Images are often considered data.  Manipulation of an image may be considered falsification.  All image beatification should be carried out on an image copy.  Original images should be maintained and made available to the publisher.  Image beatification is only acceptable when it is applied equally across the entire image and is applied equally to controls. Excessive manipulations, such as processing to emphasize one region in the image at the expense of others (for example, through the use of a biased choice of threshold settings), is inappropriate, as is emphasizing experimental data relative to the control.

You should check with individual journals regarding their policies. Generally:

  • Image cropping is usually considered acceptable to center on an object of interest, or to permit the image to fit into a defined space. Relevant data should never be cropped from an image.  Cropping should not alter the representation of the data.
  • Any image manipulation should be performed on the entire image, not just a select area.
  • Digital images that will be compared to one another should be acquired under identical conditions, and any post-acquisition image processing should also be identical.
  • Brightness and contrast -High Contrast images should be avoided (Contrast should not be adjusted so that data disappear).
  • Any electrophoresis blot splicing should be vertical only and should be indicated either in the image or figure legend.
  • Blot stripping and re-probing is permissible, but should be clearly described.
  • Cloning or copying objects in to an image from other parts of the same image or a different image is usually unacceptable.
  • Avoid the use of Lossy compression on digital images.

For further information on image beatification see:

Authorship Guidelines

Every field of study experiences conflicts with authorship and attribution of work. USC has published guidelines on Authorship and Attribution to Research Products and Creative Works.

Predatory Publishing

Predatory publishing is an exploitative open-access publishing business model that involves charging publishing fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals. Publishing in predatory journals:

  • Limits the availability to publish with reputable publishers
  • Can negatively affect career.
  • Perpetuates potentially bad research
  • May force you to sign away copyright
  • May have heavy fines for withdrawal (if allowed to withdraw)
  • Provides no academic benefit (nothing for CV)
  • Many PP articles are retracted.

For more information on predatory journals and how to spot them see the Committee on Publishing Ethics Discussion Document on Predatory Publishing.  


Data Acquisition and Management



As a mentor you are directly responsible for the development of your research trainee.  However, trainees also have a responsibility to the mentor-mentee relationship.  Below are resources for finding a mentor at USC as well as tips and guidance for building a successful mentoring and, for trainees, how to maximize the relationship with your mentor.


Laboratory Contract/Handbook

The life of a PI is filled with a multitude of time-consuming responsibilities.  You are passionate about your research interests, but you also need to keep up with writing manuscripts and proposals, serving on committees, maintaining records of expenditures, and teaching responsibilities.  On top of all of that, you have a research group to both manage and train.  With so many responsibilities, it can be easy for one or more of these competing interests to fall by the wayside.

One of the most important responsibilities is a task you may not think about often: educating your research group on the responsible conduct of research.  Your lab group is the next generation of scientists and you have the opportunity, some might even say obligation, to foster integrity in your field.  But where do you start?  Much of the training of new lab members might be done by senior members in your group, so how do you make sure that new members get all the information they need when you know you don’t have the time to talk them through each item yourself?  Are you making assumptions about the skills they already have?

Creating a handbook of resources for new lab members is one fantastic way to make sure new members know the rules of your lab (and of your field) from the beginning.  Some PI’s choose to use the handbook as a contract for laboratory members to sign.  Such contracts can be customized to the individual researcher and modified as needed.  Whether you decide on a Laboratory Contract or Handbook format, the document should certainly include policies that promote the responsible conduct of research. This is also an opportunity to share any other information that you believe new lab members should have.  Some topics you might want to include are:

  • Individual research plan and expectations (if using contract format)
  • Lab safety policies
  • Definition of research misconduct
  • Questionable research practices to avoid
  • Your lab authorship policy
  • Your expectations around work hours
  • Lab meeting schedule and expectations
  • Your expectations for vacation and sick day policies and how/whether your institution has related policies
  • Standard operating procedures for frequently used techniques in your research
  • Standard operating procedures for shared equipment
  • Standard operating procedures for processing images and data for publication
  • Anti-discrimination and harassment policy
  • Points of contact for university officials and services such as student health, the ombudsperson, the research integrity officer, and appropriate deans.
  • Your institution’s data management policy as well as specifics of data management for your group
  • Lab notebook expectations
  • File and sample naming conventions for your group
  • Links to pertinent University and School Policies

While the new member contract/handbook can be an excellent tool for establishing norms in your research group, it is important to remember that a new member’s training does not end the moment you hand over the handbook.  Reinforce the topics contained in the handbook.  If you see files on the lab computer that are not being saved in the format you prescribed, say something.  If safety standards are not being met, refer your student to the guidelines in the handbook and discuss the proper way to stay safe.  By incorporating the handbook into your day-to-day interactions with your trainees, you reinforce the importance of adhering to its contents.


Conflict of Interest In Research

Peer Review