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xkcd webcomic titled "Wikipedian Protester". The sign says: "[CITATION NEEDED]". Webcomic xkcd - Wikipedian protester.png
xkcd webcomic titled "Wikipedian Protester". The sign says: "[ CITATION NEEDED ]".

A citation is a reference to a source. More precisely, a citation is an abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose of acknowledging the relevance of the works of others to the topic of discussion at the spot where the citation appears.


Generally, the combination of both the in-body citation and the bibliographic entry constitutes what is commonly thought of as a citation (whereas bibliographic entries by themselves are not).

Citations have several important purposes. While their uses for upholding intellectual honesty and bolstering claims are typically foregrounded in teaching materials and style guides (e.g., [2] [3] ), correct attribution of insights to previous sources is just one of these purposes. [4] Linguistic analysis of citation-practices has indicated that they also serve critical roles in orchestrating the state of knowledge on a particular topic, identifying gaps in the existing knowledge that should be filled or describing areas where inquiries should be continued or replicated. [5] Citation has also been identified as a critical means by which researchers establish stance: aligning themselves with or against subgroups of fellow researchers working on similar projects and staking out opportunities for creating new knowledge. [6]

Conventions of citation (e.g., placement of dates within parentheses, superscripted endnotes vs. footnotes, colons or commas for page numbers, etc.) vary by the citation-system used (e.g., Oxford, [7] Harvard, MLA, NLM, American Sociological Association (ASA), American Psychological Association (APA), etc.). Each system is associated with different academic disciplines, and academic journals associated with these disciplines maintain the relevant citational style by recommending and adhering to the relevant style guides.


A bibliographic citation is a reference to a book, article, web page, or other published item. Citations should supply detail to identify the item uniquely. [8] Different citation systems and styles are used in scientific citation, legal citation, prior art, the arts, and the humanities. Regarding the use of citations in the scientific literature, some scholars also put forward "the right to refuse unwanted citations" in certain situations deemed inappropriate. [9]


Citation content can vary depending on the type of source and may include:

Unique identifiers

Along with information such as author(s), date of publication, title and page numbers, citations may also include unique identifiers depending on the type of work being referred to.


Broadly speaking, there are two types of citation systems, the Vancouver system and parenthetical referencing. [12] However, the Council of Science Editors (CSE) adds a third, the citation-name system. [13]

Vancouver system

The Vancouver system uses sequential numbers in the text, either bracketed or superscript or both. [14] The numbers refer to either footnotes (notes at the end of the page) or endnotes (notes on a page at the end of the paper) that provide source detail. The notes system may or may not require a full bibliography, depending on whether the writer has used a full-note form or a shortened-note form. The organizational logic of the bibliography is that sources are listed in their order of appearance in-text, rather than alphabetically by author last name.

For example, an excerpt from the text of a paper using a notes system without a full bibliography could look like:

"The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance."1

The note, located either at the foot of the page (footnote) or at the end of the paper (endnote) would look like this:

1. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1969) 45–60.

In a paper with a full bibliography, the shortened note might look like:

1. Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying 45–60.

The bibliography entry, which is required with a shortened note, would look like this:

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

In the humanities, many authors also use footnotes or endnotes to supply anecdotal information. In this way, what looks like a citation is actually supplementary material, or suggestions for further reading. [15]

Parenthetical referencing

Parenthetical referencing, also known as Harvard referencing, has full or partial, in-text, citations enclosed in circular brackets and embedded in the paragraph. [16]

An example of a parenthetical reference:

"The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance" (Kübler-Ross, 1969, pp. 45–60).

Depending on the choice of style, fully cited parenthetical references may require no end section. Other styles include a list of the citations, with complete bibliographical references, in an end section, sorted alphabetically by author. This section is often called "References", "Bibliography", "Works cited" or "Works consulted".

In-text references for online publications may differ from conventional parenthetical referencing. A full reference can be hidden, only displayed when wanted by the reader, in the form of a tooltip. [17] This style makes citing easier and improves the reader's experience.


Citation styles can be broadly divided into styles common to the Humanities and the Sciences, though there is considerable overlap. Some style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, are quite flexible and cover both parenthetical and note citation systems. Others, such as MLA and APA styles, specify formats within the context of a single citation system. These may be referred to as citation formats as well as citation styles. [18] [19] [20] The various guides thus specify order of appearance, for example, of publication date, title, and page numbers following the author name, in addition to conventions of punctuation, use of italics, emphasis, parenthesis, quotation marks, etc., particular to their style.

A number of organizations have created styles to fit their needs; consequently, a number of different guides exist. Individual publishers often have their own in-house variations as well, and some works are so long-established as to have their own citation methods too: Stephanus pagination for Plato; Bekker numbers for Aristotle; citing the Bible by book, chapter and verse; or Shakespeare notation by play.

The Citation Style Language (CSL) is an open XML-based language to describe the formatting of citations and bibliographies.


In some areas of the Humanities, footnotes are used exclusively for references, and their use for conventional footnotes (explanations or examples) is avoided. In these areas, the term "footnote" is actually used as a synonym for "reference", and care must be taken by editors and typesetters to ensure that they understand how the term is being used by their authors.


Sciences, mathematics, engineering, physiology, and medicine

Social sciences


In their research on footnotes in scholarly journals in the field of communication, Michael Bugeja and Daniela V. Dimitrova have found that citations to online sources have a rate of decay (as cited pages are taken down), which they call a "half-life", that renders footnotes in those journals less useful for scholarship over time. [32]

Other experts have found that published replications do not have as many citations as original publications. [33]

Another important issue is citation errors, which often occur due to carelessness on either the researcher or journal editor's part in the publication procedure. For example, a study that analyzed 1,200 randomly selected citations from three major business ethics journal concluded that an average article contains at least three plagiarized citations when authors copy and paste a citation entry from another publication without consulting the original source. [34] Experts have found that simple precautions, such as consulting the author of a cited source about proper citations, reduce the likelihood of citation errors and thus increase the quality of research. [35]

Research suggests the impact of an article can be, partly, explained by superficial factors and not only by the scientific merits of an article. [36] Field-dependent factors are usually listed as an issue to be tackled not only when comparisons across disciplines are made, but also when different fields of research of one discipline are being compared. [37] For example, in medicine, among other factors, the number of authors, the number of references, the article length, and the presence of a colon in the title influence the impact; while in sociology the number of references, the article length, and title length are among the factors. [38]

Studies of methodological quality and reliability have found that "reliability of published research works in several fields may be decreasing with increasing journal rank". [39] Nature Index recognizes that citations remain a controversial and yet important metric for academics. [40] They report five ways to increase citation counts: (1) watch the title length and punctuation; [41] (2) release the results early as preprints; [42] (3) avoid referring to a country in the title, abstract, or keywords; [43] (4) link the article to supporting data in a repository; [44] and (5) avoid hyphens in the titles of research articles. [45]

Citation patterns are also known to be affected by unethical behavior of both the authors and journal staff. Such behavior is called impact factor boosting and was reported to involve even the top-tier journals. Specifically the high-ranking journals of medical science, including The Lancet, JAMA and The New England Journal of Medicine, are thought to be associated with such behavior, with up to 30% of citations to these journals being generated by commissioned opinion articles. [46] On the other hand, the phenomenon of citation cartels is rising. Citation cartels are defined as groups of authors that cite each other disproportionately more than they do other groups of authors who work on the same subject. [47]

Research and development

There is research about citations and development of related tools and systems, mainly relating to scientific citations. Citation analysis is a method widely used in metascience.

Citation analysis

Citation analysis is the examination of the frequency, patterns, and graphs of citations in documents. It uses the directed graph of citations links from one document to another document to reveal properties of the documents. A typical aim would be to identify the most important documents in a collection. A classic example is that of the citations between academic articles and books. [48] [49] For another example, judges of law support their judgements by referring back to judgements made in earlier cases (see citation analysis in a legal context). An additional example is provided by patents which contain prior art, citation of earlier patents relevant to the current claim.

Documents can be associated with many other features in addition to citations, such as authors, publishers, journals as well as their actual texts. The general analysis of collections of documents is known as bibliometrics and citation analysis is a key part of that field. For example, bibliographic coupling and co-citation are association measures based on citation analysis (shared citations or shared references). The citations in a collection of documents can also be represented in forms such as a citation graph, as pointed out by Derek J. de Solla Price in his 1965 article "Networks of Scientific Papers". [50] This means that citation analysis draws on aspects of social network analysis and network science.

Citation frequency

Modern scientists are sometimes judged by the number of times their work is cited by others—this is actually a key indicator of the relative importance of a work in science. Accordingly, individual scientists are motivated to have their own work cited early and often and as widely as possible, but all other scientists are motivated to eliminate unnecessary citations so as not to devalue this means of judgment [51] .[ citation needed ] A formal citation index tracks which referred and reviewed papers have referred which other such papers. Baruch Lev and other advocates of accounting reform consider the number of times a patent is cited to be a significant metric of its quality, and thus of innovation.[ citation needed ] Reviews often replace citations to primary studies. [52]

Citation-frequency is one indicator used in scientometrics.

Progress and citation consolidation

Various results from scientific citation analysis
(more graphs from it) Papers and patents are using narrower portions of existing knowledge.png
Various results from scientific citation analysis
(more graphs from it)

Two metascientists reported that in a growing scientific field, citations disproportionately cite already well-cited papers, possibly slowing and inhibiting canonical progress to some degree in some cases. They find that "structures fostering disruptive scholarship and focusing attention on novel ideas" could be important. [54] [55] [56]

Other metascientists introduced the 'CD index' intended to characterize "how papers and patents change networks of citations in science and technology" and reported that it has declined, which they interpreted as "slowing rates of disruption". They proposed linking this to changes to three "use of previous knowledge"-indicators which they interpreted as "contemporary discovery and invention" being informed by "a narrower scope of existing knowledge". The overall number of papers has risen while the total of "highly disruptive" papers hasn't. The 1998 discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe has a CD index of 0. Their results also suggest scientists and inventors "may be struggling to keep up with the pace of knowledge expansion". [57] [55] [53]

IT systems

Research discovery

Stages of research and publication processes and metadata, including citation metadata Stages of the publication process, the generic research process, and The OPTIMETA Way with their connections.png
Stages of research and publication processes and metadata, including citation metadata

Recommendation systems sometimes also use citations to find similar studies to the one the user is currently reading or that the user may be interested in and may find useful. [59] Better availability of integrable open citation information could be useful in addressing the "overwhelming amount of scientific literature". [58]

Q&A agents

Knowledge agents may use citations to find studies that are relevant to the user's query, in particular citation statements are used by to answer a question, also providing the associated reference(s). [60]


Years of publication of a set of analyzed scientific articles referenced in Wikipedia Box and violin plots for the years of publication of the scientific articles referenced in Wikipedia (outliers are shown in red).png
Years of publication of a set of analyzed scientific articles referenced in Wikipedia

There also has been analysis of citations of science information on Wikipedia or of scientific citations on the site, e.g. enabling listing the most relevant or most-cited scientific journals and categories and dominant domains. [61] Since 2015, the altmetrics platform also shows citing English Wikipedia articles for a given study, later adding other language editions. [61] [62] The Wikimedia platform under development Scholia also shows "Wikipedia mentions" of scientific works. [63] A study suggests a citation on Wikipedia "could be considered a public parallel to scholarly citation". [64] A scientific publication being "cited in a Wikipedia article is considered an indicator of some form of impact for this publication" and it may be possible to detect certain publications through changes to Wikipedia articles. [65] Wikimedia Research's Cite-o-Meter tool showed a league table of which academic publishers are most cited on Wikipedia [64] as does a page by the "Academic Journals WikiProject". [66] [67] Research indicates a large share of academic citations on the platform are paywalled and hence inaccessible to many readers. [68] [69] "[citation needed]" is a tag added by Wikipedia editors to unsourced statements in articles requesting citations to be added. [70] The phrase is reflective of the policies of verifiability and no original research on Wikipedia and has become a general Internet meme. [71]

Differentiation of semantic citation contexts

Percent of all citances in each field that contain signals of disagreement Disagreement in the scientific literature by field.jpg
Percent of all citances in each field that contain signals of disagreement

The tool tracks and links citations of papers as 'Supporting', 'Mentioning' or 'Contrasting' the study, differentiating between these contexts of citations to some degree which may be useful for evaluation/metrics and e.g. discovering studies or statements contrasting statements within a specific study. [73] [74] [75]


The Scite Reference Check bot is an extension of that scans new article PDFs "for references to retracted papers, and posts both the citing and retracted papers on Twitter" and also "flags when new studies cite older ones that have issued corrections, errata, withdrawals, or expressions of concern". [75] Studies have suggested as few as 4% of citations to retracted papers clearly recognize the retraction. [75] Research found "that authors tend to keep citing retracted papers long after they have been red flagged, although at a lower rate". [76]

See also


  1. The field of Communication (or Communications) overlaps with some of the disciplines also covered by the MLA and has its own disciplinary style recommendations for documentation format; the style guide recommended for use in student papers in such departments in American colleges and universities is often The Publication Manual of the APA (American Psychological Association); designated for short as "APA style".

Related Research Articles

<i>The Chicago Manual of Style</i> Academic style guide by University of Chicago Press

The Chicago Manual of Style is a style guide for American English published since 1906 by the University of Chicago Press. Its 17 editions have prescribed writing and citation styles widely used in publishing. It is "one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States". The guide specifically focuses on American English and deals with aspects of editorial practice, including grammar and usage, as well as document preparation and formatting. It is available in print as a hardcover book, and by subscription as a searchable website as The Chicago Manual of Style Online. The online version provides some free resources, primarily aimed at teachers, students, and libraries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific citation</span>

Scientific citation is providing detailed reference in a scientific publication, typically a paper or book, to previous published communications which have a bearing on the subject of the new publication. The purpose of citations in original work is to allow readers of the paper to refer to cited work to assist them in judging the new work, source background information vital for future development, and acknowledge the contributions of earlier workers. Citations in, say, a review paper bring together many sources, often recent, in one place.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bibliography</span> Organized listing of books and the systematic description of them as objects

Bibliography, as a discipline, is traditionally the academic study of books as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology. English author and bibliographer John Carter describes bibliography as a word having two senses: one, a list of books for further study or of works consulted by an author ; the other one, applicable for collectors, is "the study of books as physical objects" and "the systematic description of books as objects".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BibTeX</span> Reference management software for formatting lists of references

BibTeX is reference management software for formatting lists of references. The BibTeX tool is typically used together with the LaTeX document preparation system. Within the typesetting system, its name is styled as . The name is a portmanteau of the word bibliography and the name of the TeX typesetting software.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">APA style</span> Academic style and writing format

APA style is a writing style and format for academic documents such as scholarly journal articles and books. It is commonly used for citing sources within the field of behavioral and social sciences, including sociology, education, health sciences, criminal justice, and anthropology, as well as psychology. It is described in the style guide of the American Psychological Association (APA), which is titled the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The guidelines were developed to aid reading comprehension in the social and behavioral sciences, for clarity of communication, and for "word choice that best reduces bias in language". APA style is widely used, either entirely or with modifications, by hundreds of other scientific journals, in many textbooks, and in academia. The current edition is its seventh revision.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific literature</span> Literary genre

Scientific literature comprises scholarly publications that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences. Within an academic field, scientific literature is often referred to as "the literature". Academic publishing is the process of contributing the results of one's research into the literature, which often requires a peer-review process.

Reference management software, citation management software, or bibliographic management software is software for scholars and authors to use for recording and utilising bibliographic citations (references) as well as managing project references either as a company or an individual. Once a citation has been recorded, it can be used time and again in generating bibliographies, such as lists of references in scholarly books, articles and essays. The development of reference management packages has been driven by the rapid expansion of scientific literature.

The impact factor (IF) or journal impact factor (JIF) of an academic journal is a scientometric index calculated by Clarivate that reflects the yearly mean number of citations of articles published in the last two years in a given journal, as indexed by Clarivate's Web of Science. As a journal-level metric, it is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field; journals with higher impact factor values are given the status of being more important, or carry more prestige in their respective fields, than those with lower values. While frequently used by universities and funding bodies to decide on promotion and research proposals, it has come under attack for distorting good scientific practices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bibliometrics</span> Statistical analysis of written publications

Bibliometrics is the use of statistical methods to analyse books, articles and other publications, especially in regard with scientific contents. Bibliometric methods are frequently used in the field of library and information science. Bibliometrics is closely associated with scientometrics, the analysis of scientific metrics and indicators, to the point that both fields largely overlap.

Scientometrics is the field of study which concerns itself with measuring and analysing scholarly literature. Scientometrics is a sub-field of informetrics. Major research issues include the measurement of the impact of research papers and academic journals, the understanding of scientific citations, and the use of such measurements in policy and management contexts. In practice there is a significant overlap between scientometrics and other scientific fields such as information systems, information science, science of science policy, sociology of science, and metascience. Critics have argued that over-reliance on scientometrics has created a system of perverse incentives, producing a publish or perish environment that leads to low-quality research.

Parenthetical referencing, is a citation system in which in-text citations are made using parentheses. They are usually accompanied by a full, alphabetized list of citations in an end section, usually titled "references", "reference list", "works cited", or "end-text citations". Parenthetical referencing can be used in lieu of footnote citations.

ASA style is a widely accepted format for writing university research papers in the field of sociology. It specifies the arrangement and punctuation of footnotes and bibliographies. Standards for ASA style are specified in the ASA Style Guide, which is published by the American Sociological Association, the main scholarly organization for academic sociologists in the United States. The ASA Style Guide, published by the American Sociological Association, is designed to aid authors preparing manuscripts for ASA journals and publications.

Scientific writing is writing for science. English-language scientific writing originated in the 14th century, with the language later becoming the dominant medium for the field. Style conventions for scientific writing vary, with different focuses by different style guides on the use of passive versus active voice, personal pronoun use, and article sectioning. Much scientific writing is focused around scientific reports, traditionally structured as an abstract, introduction, methods, results, conclusions, and acknowledgments.

The Vancouver system, also known as Vancouver reference style or the author–number system, is a citation style that uses numbers within the text that refer to numbered entries in the reference list. It is popular in the physical sciences and is one of two referencing systems normally used in medicine, the other being the author–date, or "Harvard", system. Vancouver style is used by MEDLINE and PubMed.

ResearcherID is an identifying system for scientific authors. The system was introduced in January 2008 by Thomson Reuters Corporation.

<i>A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations</i> Style guide for writing

A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is a style guide for writing and formatting research papers, theses, and dissertations and is published by the University of Chicago Press.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Altmetrics</span>

In scholarly and scientific publishing, altmetrics are non-traditional bibliometrics proposed as an alternative or complement to more traditional citation impact metrics, such as impact factor and h-index. The term altmetrics was proposed in 2010, as a generalization of article level metrics, and has its roots in the #altmetrics hashtag. Although altmetrics are often thought of as metrics about articles, they can be applied to people, journals, books, data sets, presentations, videos, source code repositories, web pages, etc.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Altmetric</span>

Altmetric, or, is a data science company that tracks where published research is mentioned online, and provides tools and services to institutions, publishers, researchers, funders and other organisations to monitor this activity, commonly referred to as altmetrics. Altmetric was recognized by European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 2014 as a company challenging the traditional reputation systems.

Metascience is the use of scientific methodology to study science itself. Metascience seeks to increase the quality of scientific research while reducing inefficiency. It is also known as "research on research" and "the science of science", as it uses research methods to study how research is done and find where improvements can be made. Metascience concerns itself with all fields of research and has been described as "a bird's eye view of science". In the words of John Ioannidis, "Science is the best thing that has happened to human beings ... but we can do it better."


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Further reading