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

Gupta et al., 2005 (PMID: 15767709) expresses the importance of references vividly by the following:

References are akin to mortar, which not only binds the bricks together in a wall but also lends it the most vital things, i.e., strength and durability.

Anybody will assume that, if references are so important, they must undergo thorough checking by someone to assure that the research paper used the references correctly for substantiating its claims.

However, there is no system in place to assure that a thorough check has been done. Moreover, authors of the paper don’t have to make any declaration in their research paper that they have cited references correctly.

Therefore, quotation/citations errors are quite common in research papers and have become a quite big issue impacting the quality of science/research.

To reduce the impact, it is necessary to understand various stakeholders’ circumstances and interests so that all stakeholders can collaborate effectively to assure that references are cited correctly in research papers.

Are peer-reviewers/editors responsible?

A research paper may contain 30-60 references whereas a systematic review may contain 100 to 400 references.

Checking a reference requires reviewers to find and access the reference article, read or skim through the article to find quotes that the research paper refers to, and finally correlate the quotes with the research paper claims.

You can easily imagine how much effort and time is necessary to check all/majority of the references.

Peer-reviewers or journal editors are busy scientists/researchers who are doing the peer review of the research papers for the sake of scientific progress without any payment. Therefore, a reviewer can invest a limited amount of time to peer review a research paper.

With this limited time, it is impossible for the reviewers to check all references (even 40% of references) as understanding the propositions and results from the authors’ perspective and making an evaluation of the paper is already a huge and time-consuming task for the reviewers. Reviewers usually don’t check references for their accuracy until they find something odd as they have some experience in the topics the paper is discussing.  

Therefore, reviewers are not responsible for assuring the accuracy of the references used in a research paper.

This leaves only the authors to bear the responsibility for assuring the use of references correctly. And indeed, it is the authors’ responsibility.

Why are authors responsible?

Authors are supposed to know their subject matter in detail. They are most aware of which references and which quotes of references support their claims. Authors usually keep themselves up to date with current literature. Writing a research paper and internal review (review by mentors and colleagues) of it usually takes one month to three months.

Good attention to referencing focuses attention on the whole research procedure. It aids scientific thought and analysis and makes for better research reporting. Good referencing not only makes you a better researcher but enhances your reputation amongst editors, reviewers and readers.

Therefore, authors have the time and knowledge for citing/referencing accurately and can gain benefits by doing it.

Many authors may have the false belief that peer-reviewers, journal editors, or publishers have the responsibility of checking. However, it is the authors’ responsibility to assure that they have cited references accurately in their research papers.

Does your reference manager support good referencing and demonstrate it to reviewers?

If it is not nXr, then NO.

nXr is the only reference manager and citation tool that supports citing based on quotes/images, specifying quote/image page numbers in article PDFs, providing citation intent.

Then, you can share all cited materials as well as reference PDFs and URLs with the reviewers to accelerate peer review.

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