Accurate citation is so important: ensure you’ve actually read a paper before citing it in your own work and be honest with your references.
Please ask yourself a very important question when you write your next academic paper: How many of the citations in your reference list have you actually read? This is important because studies and experience show that most academic authors have not actually read many of the papers they cite in the reference lists of their own work.
What tends to happen is people ‘cross cite’ from other similar studies or pieces of research within their own field and do not check the actual contents, arguments, and conclusions of the papers they are listing. This can be a problem; studies that track citations across academia have shown that incorrect ideas or those that the community simply ‘thinks are correct’ can very easily become ‘fixed’ in the literature because of ‘cross citation’. Academics assume that certain hypotheses, questions, or even outcomes are ‘accepted’ or ‘correct’ simply because of the number of times they have been cited in other articles, often without going back to actually check what the original paper had to say on the subject.
The Hawthorne Effect
One recent example of this phenomenon is the so-called ‘Hawthorne effect’, a theory that suggests people change their behaviours once they know they're being watched. This idea has been cited a great deal in the relevant academic literature and has always been ‘accepted’ as fact, or at least that’s the impression given by citations in subsequent articles. In actual fact, however, few academics in this research field seem to have actually read the original article
Most of the 196 papers to recently utilise the original ‘Hawthorne effect’ article actually mis-cited the initial 2000 paper, noting that it affirmed rather than questioned the validity of this effect. Nevertheless, the ‘Hawthorne effect’ has gradually gained traction as ‘being real’ across the academic literature because of cross citation.
Researchers tend to only read recent papers in their area and copy those papers’ citations across into their own articles without actually checking the primary literature. Once this happens, incorrect ‘cross citation’ can be very hard to correct because, of course, academia tends to work on a consensus basis: If you read more papers with a favourable view towards a particular theorem or hypothesis then you will tend to assume that it’s correct.
Have you read and checked the literature in the reference list of your most recent article?
Our goal at Charlesworth Author Services is to help you to be more effective with your English academic writing and at the same time enhance your publishing career. Although we can check the formatting of your reference lists to ensure they match your target journal’s style, it’s up to you to make sure that citations are correct!
Helpful tips for effectively citing academic literature:
- Start each research write-up afresh and collate the relevant literature as photocopies and/or PDF files. Skim read all the key papers before you start to write your own work up for journal submission, and never assume that previous authors have correctly cited the work of others;
- Why not use one of the many available software packages to collate and file the literature in your field using a series of keywords? These can help you track down key papers on particular topic quickly and easily and can also help you with formatting when it comes to putting articles together for journals;
- Keep up-to-date with key papers in your field using email alerts, search engines, and mailing list threads. It’s possible to also cite preprints, pre-peer reviewed articles, and online content in your work, but styles for these sources can vary journal-to-journal. Our online courses and other training materials can help you to more effectively use and cite the key literature in your field.
The Charlesworth Author Services team also provides a range of expert English language editing services, including reference formatting and consultancy services, all designed to significantly enhance your chances of being successfully published in your preferred journal.
Why not get in touch with a member of the Charlesworth Author Services team for more information, and get your paper and grant writing edited by one of our PhD-level specialists working in your research field? To find out more click here.
Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher. More details can be found here.
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