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Scientific Writing: Citing Sources

When looking at cited work or citation metrics, we make certain assumptions about the work. Primarily, we assume that the work is being cited because the paper was read, used, and important. However, citations are a form of documentation and reasons for citations can vary. 

Here are some examples of reasons work is cited:

1. Paying homage to pioneers 9. Alerting to forthcoming work
2. Giving credit to related work (homage to peers) 10. Providing leads to poorly disseminated, poorly indexed, or uncited work
3. Identifying methodology, equipment, etc. 11. Authenticating data and classes of fact--physical constants, etc.
4. Providing background reading 12. Identifying original publications in which an idea or concept was discussed
5. Correcting one's own work

13. Identifying original publications or work describing an eponymic concept or term as, e.g., Hodgkin's Disease, Pareto's Law, Friedel-Crafts Reaction, etc.

6. Correcting the work of others 14. Disclaiming the work of others (negative claims)
7. Criticizing previous work 15. Disputing the priority claims of others (negative homage)
8. Substantiating claims  

From Eugene Garfield (1965) "Can Citation Indexing be Automated?"

Why We Cite

Source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [here]

Citation Assumptions

These assumptions are inherent in citation metrics and are often assumed about citation practices:

  • A citation implies the use of the cited paper in someway for the present paper
  • We assume that citations are made to the best work pertaining to the present topic
  • There is a content-based relationship between the cited paper and the citing paper (a network of sorts)
  • All citations are equivalent and the use of cited material is balanced
  • We presume that citation of a work means that the work has been read

These assumptions are not always true when looking at the text of an article. Example: an article might rely considerably on a single source and only tangentially reference another, but we assume from the bibliography that they have been used equivalently. 

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