Citation Amnesia

Imagine navigating through your first literature search as a graduate student. You read an interesting article, and follow its references. You find only a limited number research papers in your area of interests. You decide that there is enough room to make a novel study. You’re ALL set, right?

What if the authors were reluctant about citing earlier studies?

An incomplete citation could lead to wastage of your time and resources. A team of researcher, Robinson and Goodman from Johns Hopkins University, decided to analyze academic papers on the online archive—“Web of Science.” The pair identified 227 meta-analyses published in 2004 that combined 4 or more trials. What they found was that—less than 25 percent of the previous (and relevant) studies were actually being cited. In addition, as many as 5 of the studies that claimed novelty were actually repeats. You can find the abstract of their study, here.

As Janet Raloff reports, Robinson was especially concerned with the missing citations on clinical trial papers (those involving human subjects). Without considering prior trails, researchers could put people on potentially risky therapies in pursuit to “discover” what is already known.

No doubt, citing the references could be tedious work. However, citation is also an important communication tool.   Don’t remember why?   Here are 3 good reasons, adapted from the web:


1.       Help readers identify and relocate the source of work—readers often want to verify the information or read further.

2.       Provide evidence that the position is well-researched—citations allow you to demonstrate that your position or argument is thoroughly researched.

3.       Give credits/ acknowledgement to original concept—giving proper attribution to the thoughts, words and ideas used in your academic writing.

So, remember to always cite ALL of your sources.  Thanks guys. See you in Refworks lab (Friday)!

(click on the video to see an introduction on refworks).YouTube Preview Image

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