Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Six Tips on Citing References in a Research Paper

I thought my first winter holiday on the academic job would have been very relaxing. Somehow I started the holiday by doing review and editorial work for at least 10 manuscripts. After reviewing half of them, I had a strong desire to write a blog post about how to cite references in a research paper. Below are six tips from me written on a Christmas Eve. Hopefully they are helpful to the students and scholars who are struggling with the list of references.

1. Cite relevant papers only
Some authors cite as many papers as possible to demonstrate the understanding of the literature. If the authors have done literature review carefully, they should be able to tell which papers are relevant to the proposed work. When I see a long list of irrelevant references, I tend to believe that the authors have no idea what's going on in the field.

2. Cite high-quality papers
Some authors cite the papers that they never read beyond the title. Many low-quality papers with major flaws are being cited many times simply because of the buzz words in the title. Citing low-quality papers without criticizing them would discount the credibility of the manuscript. One of my papers (Fuzzy Interaction Regression for Short Term Load Forecasting) actually criticized a highly cited paper on the same subject.

3. Cite your own papers
Some authors are hesitant to cite their own papers, because 1) the manuscript is not much different from their recently published paper; 2) they haven't done any related work in this area; or 3) they just don't like to cite their own papers. With today's search engines, there is no need to hide a published paper. A responsible reviewer would check it out anyway. Citing your own relevant papers help show your confidence and credentials to the reviewers.

4. Cite at least one or two papers from the most active research groups in the same area
Very likely a manuscript will be reviewed by some folks from the active research groups. If you don't acknowledge their existence on your reference, they won't be happy.
There are also instances that the authors are asked by the reviewer to cite a paper, which is sometimes the reviewer's paper. If the paper are relevant, the authors should thank the reviewer in the response letter and cite the paper. Sometimes the papers are irrelevant or low quality. Then it is up to the authors to cite or not. I would put my criticism of that paper in the response letter with the hope that the editor can stand on my side.

5. Cite a few papers from the targeted journal
In today's world, many journals try hard to increase the impact factor. One way to achieve this goal is to have their papers being cited more frequently than before. Some journals even have unwritten rules, such as "if a manuscript does not cite at least X number of papers from this journal, the editor can reject it right away". Some of these journals already have the bad reputation of manipulating the impact factor. From the author's perspective, citing a few papers from the targeted journal doesn't hurt. On the other hand, if there are no relevant papers from this journal, you should probably reconsider whether it is a good fit for your work.

6. Pay attention to formatting and spelling
Do a sanity check before you submit the manuscript. Make sure the format meets the requirements. Do not mis-spell the author names on your reference list. A solid reference list shows the audience that you are serious about your work.

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

Note that you may link to your LinkedIn profile if you choose Name/URL option.