Referencing or citing plays a central role in writing and communicating research works. Therefore, it is critically important to make citation responsibly in research works.

Read more on the role of referencing in the following articles:

What is referencing in academic writing? – a different perspective

Roles of references in research papers: a broader assessment

Rules for responsible referencing are (based on this study):

RULE 1: Include relevant citations

It is a no-brainer that references need to be relevant to the context of the scientific manuscripts. However, a manuscript may contain redundant and weakly connected references to give it a well-versed look of the subject area.

In fact, Scientometrics (measure and analyse scientific literature) studies strongly suggest that the number of references in an article positively correlates with the number of citation the article gets. But it does not mean that including references only to increase the number is a good idea. Read more: When and what to cite and reference?

nXr allows you to cite directly based on quotes/images from references and compare relevancy between the manuscript and the quotes/images side-by-side.

RULE 2: Read the publications you cite

Surprise to see this rule as you feel that everybody does that. Sometimes researchers just look for the facts they want to cite in the references ignoring the broader context, which may lead to an irrelevant or weak correlation between the context of the manuscript and the references. It wouldn’t be in the rule if researchers were doing it reliably.

RULE 3: Cite in accordance with the content of the references

Though this is very much self-explanatory, researchers can easily break this rule causing ‘Trojan citation’ malpractice. This happens, when a researcher cites an article, which reports similar findings, only in the context of a minor issue and ignoring its key contribution. Researchers may do this deliberately to increase novelty of his/her works or because of not following RULE2. And not citing the reference at all means violation of RULE 1.

RULE 4: Cite transparently, not neutrally

As references are used to support manuscript argument or to show superiority of the manuscript research, referencing is an act of political nature. However, many researchers are not aware of this. Acceptance of the political nature will help researchers to cite responsibly and appraise (inflate or deflate) them rightfully according to the context they are cited. Some examples of political appraisal are: ‘the authors suggest’ versus ‘the authors establish’; ‘this excellent study shows’ versus ‘this pilot study shows’. Note that, unjustifiable appraisals should be avoided as they are form of deception.

RULE 5: Cite yourself when required

To increase the citation (an impact measure of a research work) of their research, some researchers cite their own works in their manuscript unnecessarily. Cite yourself if it does not violate RULE 1, 3 and 4.

RULE 6: Prioritise the citations you include

If you cross the limit of maximum number of references a journal publisher allows, you need to prioritise the references. To reduce the number of references, you can take reference prioritisation strategy e.g., prioritise reviews for the introduction section, prioritise reviewed article over un- or pre-reviewed papers, prioritise per section (e.g., Introduction, Methods etc.). See other seven prioritisation rules here.

Overall, references have a big influence on the research impact a scientific article makes. Therefore, without ignoring the political nature of referencing, it is necessary to use it responsibly and rightfully. Indeed, right political intention is critical for progress in any field.