I spent many hours driving around swine regions of rural Canada this past spring, summer, and autumn of 2012, conducting research. All the hours on the road allowed me to do quite a bit of sightseeing along the way. Besides feeling fortunate to live on such a great continent, I had ample opportunity to ponder ideas for my editorial as I passed the many beautiful sights and acres (and acres) of corn, canola, wheat, and soybeans (repeat). In addition to my sightseeing, I have also done some “cite-seeing” over the past 8 months. I couldn’t stop thinking about the many different styles of citation and referencing I have encountered, and so I have chosen to discuss some issues surrounding scientific citation. During my short time as Executive Editor, I have already faced some instances of inappropriate citation and, unfortunately, plagiarism. I was hoping to save the discussion of such a topic for future editorials, but my recent “cite-seeing” is a fresh and relevant subject for me.
All authors, readers, and peer-reviewers can benefit from a refresher on some important topics surrounding citations. I am writing this with the intention of giving both new and seasoned authors some points to consider surrounding proper citation, in order to help them avoid some of the pitfalls. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of rules or issues surrounding citations, but rather a friendly discussion on some common topics. I encourage all authors of peer-reviewed manuscripts to review their institutions’ policies on research and publishing ethics.
Citations are crucial in published manuscripts, as authors must provide proper acknowledgment of the work of others. It is the ethical responsibility of the author to cite the publications used to support the research that he or she reports. It is also important to remember that while the editorial team will check references, it is the author who is ultimately accountable for the correctness of the citation and the reference list.
It is the authors’ duty to ensure that any citations used are reliable and reproducible. What I mean by this is that if a reader desired, he or she could find and read the reference in the same published form that the author accessed and cited. The following are three examples of references where reliability can sometimes be compromised.
Wikipedia is an easy and quick resource and I admit that I use Wikipedia on an occasional basis. However, for peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, Wikipedia should not be cited. The reason for this is simply that references need to be reliable and available in the same form to the reader. If there is any chance the reference may change in its published form, then it shouldn’t be used. Wikipedia entries are open access and we have probably all seen funny Wikipedia entries that are obviously inaccurate.
Personal communications can provide valuable information to support justification for a research project or a hypothesis, and for this reason, personal communications are generally acceptable. However, information obtained from private conversations should not be used without obtaining permission from the source. Personal communications are not exactly reproducible and hence should not be included in the list of references. They should be minimized within a manuscript.
Web references should be also used with some caution, as information on Web sites can change, too. The uniform resource locator (URL) and date accessed should be provided. I always save a screen shot of Web site pages that I cite to have as a backup, just in case a reader has difficulty accessing a URL I have provided and requests access to the information I cited.
Plagiarism is a broad topic and it takes on many forms. Regardless, plagiarism in all forms constitutes unethical publishing behavior and is considered unacceptable internationally. All authors listed on a manuscript are responsible for ensuring there are no instances of plagiarism. In addition to proper paraphrasing of others’ work, accurate citation is crucial to avoid plagiarism. It is ultimately the responsibility of all authors to ensure there is no plagiarism in the presented manuscript.
Condition of authorship is another big topic and is open to much debate, and so I am going to save full discussion of this complex topic for another editorial. But since all listed authors are ultimately responsible for the content of the manuscript, including citation concerns or charges of plagiarism, I would like to briefly mention one important issue. All authors must approve the final manuscript prior to submission to check the accuracy of the reported work as well as the accuracy of the citations.
Non-peer-reviewed versus peer-reviewed citations is alas, another controversial topic. Non-peer-reviewed abstracts and full manuscripts contribute to our scientific knowledge. They can play imperative roles in hypothesis generation and often pave the pathway for future research. Sometimes a ground-breaking non-peer-reviewed scientific poster or abstract influences a research or practice paradigm and advances research. For these reasons, non-peer-reviewed citations should not be discarded. Authors, however, should minimize the use of non-peer-reviewed citations. An expert peer reviewer will likely recognize the presence of too many non-peer-reviewed citations in a manuscript, as the reviewer will likely be familiar with what is published in the literature. When using non-peer-reviewed citations, authors should keep in mind that if there is a peer-reviewed manuscript addressing the same topic, it is considered more appropriate to use the peer-reviewed citation. When a manuscript contains many non-peer-reviewed citations, reviewers should question whether there are peer-reviewed research publications that could be used instead.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of citation rules, but rather some topics for authors to keep in mind when preparing manuscripts. I also remind all authors and peer reviewers that if there is ever a concern or question about a citation not to hesitate to contact the JSHAP office for assistance.