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Collaborative writing in academic medicine gives rise to more richly informed scholarship, and yet challenging ethical issues surrounding authorship are commonly encountered. International guidelines on authorship help clarify whether individuals who have contributed to a completed scholarly work have been correctly included as authors, but these guidelines do not facilitate intentional and proactive authorship planning or decisions regarding authorship order.In this Commentary, the author presents a heuristic approach to help collaborators clarify, anticipate, and resolve practical and ethically important authorship issues as they engage in the process of developing manuscripts. As this approach illustrates, assignment of authorship should balance work effort and professional responsibility, reflecting the effort and intellectual contribution and the public accountability of the individuals who participate in the work. Using a heuristic approach for managing authorship issues prospectively can foster an ethical, collaborative writing process in which individuals are properly recognized for their contributions.