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How To Give Credit

There was a maxim I once heard as a teenager and have valued ever since: give credit, take blame.

Giving credit is an essential part of being a decent human. I see people fail at it surprisingly often.

Different fields have their own ways of doing it, and we can learn from these different approaches and try to taxonomize and find the tactics that best apply to our own situations.

In cinema, the focus is often on key roles the audience values like directors and lead actors. Academia has a nuanced system; the order of authors can indicate the level of contribution. Journalism uses bylines, putting the lead reporter's name first, and crediting photographers and graphics producers in captions next to their work, but almost never crediting Editors.

Looking across industry and history, let's find insights into how to properly acknowledge the work of others.

If you care to look, your music streaming app doesn't just tell you the Artist who released the track; it tells you who's strumming the guitar, who's hitting the drums, and who's tweaking the soundboard. Streaming sites get a lot wrong when it comes to compensation, but in this one area, they are a model for an approach to proper credit, even if the media is distributed long after it was created, in ways the authors could have never predicted.

Journalism is another industry where stories are often the work of a team, at least one editor, a writer, maybe a photo editor and a graphics person. Yet, the byline at the top of the story often only features a single writer.

What if each article credited the entire team? The editor who pruned the excess, the fact-checker who sifted fact from fiction, the intern who unearthed that crucial data point—all given their due.

Credit isn't a zero-sum game. Acknowledging the collective doesn't diminish the individual; it enriches the entire endeavor, both for the creator and whoever receives the work.

Why Giving Credit is Important

In a world that often rushes to the finish line, the act of pausing to give credit might seem like a luxury. The skeptics might argue that giving credit muddies the waters, complicates the narrative, or even sparks legal quandaries. These people suck.

Let's be clear: the absence of acknowledgment isn't simplicity; it's wrong. It's a poisonous silence that can breed resentment, stifle innovation, and ultimately, erode entire teams.

The time it takes to attribute fairly is not a detour but an investment, one that pays dividends in trust and respect.

How to Give Credit Properly

Alright, you're convinced. You want to give your team credit for their work. But how do you do it properly, equitably, and consistently?

Verbal Acknowledgment

  • Be specific: value precision when describing each person's contributions, and actually pay attention to the parts of the project each person cared about deeply.
  • Timing: be upfront when giving credit, do it often, and in public.
  • Consistency: don't overlook quieter contributors, make sure to take the time to understand the contributions and speak honestly about each person
  • Understand your team: some people prefer private thank-yous or different approaches
  • Culture: encourage a culture of credit where everyone acknowledges each other's contributions as a habit
  • All forms: include all forms of contribution, from the person writing code to the person who washed dishes after that late-night working session

Written Acknowledgment

  • Document the Details: In reports, emails, or any official documents, be explicit about who contributed what. This ensures everyone's efforts are recognized and in the record.
  • Email Shoutouts: When communicating project updates, make it a point to name individuals and their specific contributions. It's a direct and effective way to show appreciation and highlight their achievements.
  • Social Media: Utilize social media and company platforms to publicly acknowledge team members. A LinkedIn mention or a spotlight in the company newsletter can significantly uplift morale and visibility.

The Impacts of Giving Credit

Positive Impacts

  • Enhanced credibility
  • Strengthened relationships; boosted morale and motivation
  • Career advancement in academia and journalism

Negative Impacts of Failing to Give Credit

  • Plagiarism and its consequences
  • Strained professional relationships

Case Studies

Rosalind Franklin and DNA Structure Discovery: Rosalind Franklin's contribution to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure is a famous case of credit not being given where due. While James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for this discovery, Franklin's crucial contribution, particularly her X-ray diffraction images of DNA, was not adequately acknowledged during her lifetime.

Phil Knight and Nike’s Swoosh Logo: The iconic Nike Swoosh was designed by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student, for a mere $35 in 1971. While Phil Knight and Nike gained massive recognition and profits, Davidson's contribution was relatively unknown until much later. Nike later acknowledged her role and compensated her with stock in the company.

The Matilda Effect in Scientific Research: This term refers to the under-recognition of female scientists' contributions, named after the suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. A prominent example is the case of Chien-Shiung Wu, a physicist whose work was critical in the field of particle physics, but who did not receive the same level of recognition as her male counterparts.

James Somerton Youtube Controversy: The saga of James Somerton is a recent and particularly egregious example of not giving credit. Somerton, known for his thought-provoking essays on LGBTQ+ representation in media, was found to be a serial plagiarist by HBomberguy, another YouTuber, who dissected his work in a comprehensive video titled "Plagiarism and You (Tube)." This wasn't a fleeting mention; nearly half of the four-hour video was dedicated to analyzing Somerton's content, highlighting dozens of instances of plagiarism where Somerton took a writer's work and modified it slightly before reciting it to a camera and soliciting Patreon supporters.


The notion that giving credit diminishes the role of the leader or disrupts industry norms is a relic of a bygone era—an era that didn't understand the synergistic magic of collective intelligence. True leadership is magnified, not minimized, by the act of extending credit where it's due. It's a gesture that says, "I see you, I value you, and I recognize that my success is interwoven with your contributions."

Credit and gratitude are a practice that transcends contractual obligations and enters the realm of ethical integrity. In a world full of competition and individual accolades, the act of giving credit becomes a revolutionary stance, a commitment to a culture of inclusivity, transparency, and mutual respect.

In a world obsessed with individual achievement, giving credit is a radical act. It disrupts the narrative of the lone genius and recognizes the collective effort behind any meaningful endeavor. It's not just ethical; it's profoundly human. It's the way we say to each other, "Your presence in this world makes a difference."

Additional Resources

Industry Practices in Credit

IndustryGood PracticesBad PracticesWhat Can Be Learned
ArtLists all contributors including the artist, muse, framer, etc.Spotlight often solely on the artistBroad acknowledgment enriches the endeavor
JournalismByline for lead reporterOften omits editors, fact-checkers, internsLayered credits could offer a fuller picture
MusicDigital platforms list all roles: songwriter, producer, vocalistIssues with uncredited samplesTransparency can be an art form
Software DevelopmentOpen-source projects maintain a contributors listContributions in proprietary code can be obscuredDemocratic, transparent crediting fosters collaboration
Visual ArtsArtist biographies in exhibitionsArt theft and plagiarism onlineContext adds depth to acknowledgment
ArchitectureCredits both the firm and lead architectsJunior architects may go uncreditedBalance between collective and individual acknowledgment
SportsHighlights key players and team effortCoaches and support staff may go unnoticedCollective effort is as important as individual performance
PublishingDetailed biographies of contributing authorsGhostwriting obscures actual contributorsTransparency in crediting invisible labor
FashionLead designers share runway applauseFast fashion copies without creditGenerous crediting avoids ethical pitfalls
Video GamesExtensive end creditsCrunch culture may lead to unacknowledged labor
HealthcareMedical papers list all researchersNurses and other providers often go uncredited
Culinary ArtsChefs credited in cookbooks and menusRecipes often shared through generations without acknowledgmentOrigin acknowledgment respects cultural heritage
PatentsPatents list all inventorsJunior researchers or collaborators may be left off author listsCapitalism incentivizes against credit

The Importance of Giving Credit

Authorship: Giving credit where it’s due

CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy)