Cited articles (i.e., references) in a research paper play a central role in demonstrating the necessity of the research and establishing the validity and significance of the research results.

Therefore, good referencing practices (e.g., citing relevant, critical, and recent research works on the topics) not only increase the quality of the research paper but also facilitate its peer review and availability to the right audience.

Citing or referencing recent articles in the research paper assures reviewers that an extensive literature review was undertaken while writing the paper and information in the paper is up to date. This builds trust between the authors of the paper and the reviewers, which may influence peer review reports.

How old is gold?

All being said, do we exactly know how old a research article can be before it gets the label of not being recent i.e., an old article not good for citing.

There is consensus among scientists and researchers that articles less than five years old are recent publications. However, it may vary from discipline to discipline. For example, researchers in fast-moving fields (e.g., nanotechnology or artificial intelligence) may feel 5-years is too old whereas those in biology may not have the same feeling.

How many recent references make a research paper contemporaneous?

Santini et al. (20018) suggested that if the most recent reference is more than 5 years or so, it can indicate that a full up to date review of the literature has not been undertaken.

However, the suggestion is a weak indicator of the comprehensiveness of the literature review done while writing a paper as it is based on the measure of only one reference.

To build a robust understanding of the matter, nXr team analyzed how old references of 69 research papers (published in three highly acclaimed journals: Nature, Science, and Cell) were.

The graph clearly shows that 50% of references in the articles published in highly acclaimed journals are less than 6 years old. This indicates that well-written articles have the characteristic to cite more recent research papers.

How to get similar information for the references in the research paper you are writing?

No worries! When you cite using nXr reference manager and citation tool, nXr automatically creates a dashboard (accessible from your nXr.iLibrary) for the references in your research paper containing various data visualizations.

In one such visualization, you can see the publication year distribution of the references (see below). nXr also gives you an alert if 50% of the references are more than 5 years old so that you can check them.