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As we know, citation counts are important to judge one's research activity. Is it good to cite one's previous works? Will it be viewed as an act of advertisement or self-promotion?

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If it's relevant to the present study, yes. –  gerrit Oct 7 '12 at 17:19
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Usually things are structured so that self-citations do not affect citation-counts. –  paul garrett Oct 7 '12 at 17:33
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@Ran ... Yes, I think there is the presumption that self-citations might be motivated simply by increasing citation-counts, rather than intellectual/scientific reasons. "Conflict of interest" potential, once again, even if the conflict does not actually occur. –  paul garrett Oct 7 '12 at 18:04
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Sometimes they are the only citations you'll ever get. –  Dave Clarke Oct 8 '12 at 5:10
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@paulgarrett just a minor comment on your comment: there are two questions and your comment-answer concerns the first question. I was confused in the beginning, somehow, and thought your comment is a response to the last question which didn't fit the picture. –  Nikos Alexandris Oct 24 '12 at 15:57
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up vote 23 down vote accepted

Although it's true that citations are always helpful, there are obviously limits. If the majority of your citations are self-citations, that's usually considered a "red flag." If your paper that came out two years ago has 10 citations, and two or three are from within your group, nobody's really going to have a problem with that. But if your paper gets cited 45 times, and 40 of them are you citing yourself, that's not so good.

Citation counts not being "in sync" with the journals they're published in are also problematic. Publishing in no-name, third-tier journal X, your paper is probably unlikely to generate many citations. It looks suspicious when such papers get many citations.

But again, much of this can be sorted out by a judicious use of search tools like Web of Science or Scopus.

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Which use of search tools like Web of Science or Scopus can be considered judicious? –  Nikos Alexandris Oct 24 '12 at 16:02
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Judicious as in "sensible," and "using good judgment." In other words, not just looking at cite counts, but going in to the cite counts, and seeing who was doing the citing. Looking to see if the number of citations corresponds with what one expects given the quality of the journal, that sort of thing. –  aeismail Oct 24 '12 at 20:05
    
your comment reads (as in "sounds") both sensible and judicious. Thanks. –  Nikos Alexandris Oct 29 '12 at 17:12
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The ethical rule has to be: cite your work if it's relevant, and don't give it preferential treatment over the work of others. In short: use the same criteria for previous references to your work as you would use for citing others. No excessive citation, no self-censorship.

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Unfortunately, some bias is impossible to avoid: the papers I cite are a subset of the papers I know of. I always know of my own papers, but I might never have heard of some other one. –  Federico Poloni Oct 8 '12 at 8:01
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@FedericoPoloni Bias is inevitable, but you can strive to avoid it as much as possible… and doing extensive literature search is a prerequisite for a review. –  F'x Oct 8 '12 at 8:47
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I hear that as you get older this bias goes away. But the guy who told me that couldn't remember why it is true... –  David Ketcheson Oct 9 '12 at 16:41
    
@DavidKetcheson Eventually you end up where you're going to end up - I think people have warrant for letting their personal ambition fade when that happens. –  Hal Apr 4 at 21:50
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As with all referencing, the referenced works must be pertinent to what is being described in the paper referencing them. If one writes about a specific topic where much of the work has been done by the same researcher or research group then self-citing will be quite common. There is of course a fine line between that and "self-promoting" self-citing. It is impossible to try to draw the line based on number or references or percentages of the total number of references. However, it is not common that most science in a field has been made by the same person so referencing own publications where they are only vaguely related is obviously not a good way.

Having many self-citations is clearly not a sign of widely spread science, either because it is not that interesting or because the field is very isolated (or very new). Citing ones own work will definitely become obvious when looking at the citations as you have done. The normal citation index or h-index obviously does not capture this although it is possible to calculate such indecees without self-citations. But as stated above a certain quantity of self-citation is inevitable since it is likely that one publication follows on many others from the same person or group. So self-citation is acceptable to a point. It becomes less and less acceptable when the reason for the citation is pogressievly less obvious and where other papers would be equally good (or better).

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Just to build on that, I would add that self-cites are particularly found mostly where they are citing previous methods or research the current paper directly comes out of. –  Amory Aug 1 '13 at 0:16
    
What Amory describes is exactly why I have self cited. –  user7130 Aug 1 '13 at 2:37
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Citing your previous work can be both good and bad. The biggest benefit is it might make people more aware of your work and how it fits in with a bigger topic. The risk is that people do not understand the relevance and think you are self-promoting and therefore take a negative view of you.

The worst case of this is when a reviewer tells you to cite some piece of work. If it is a big laundry list of articles all by the same author, you tend to get a little angry and think the reviewer is trying to promote that author. If it is a single article that is obviously related and the reviewer clearly states that he/she is an author, I tend to be happy to cite it.

The question you need to ask is: are you citing the previous work to promote it or to help the reader.

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I think self-citation is not a bad practice in general, specially if you consider how most scientific branches work ("standing on the shoulders of giants", although you can also stand on the shoulders of normal-sized people, including yourself). However, there are two scenarios where self-citation or the lack of it can be seen as a bad practice:

  1. Superfluous self-citation. (already discussed in previous answers). It refers to citing minutiae contained in your previous papers. For instance: "we consider the change of variable $y=x^2$ as in myself (1974,1975,1977,...,2012)"

  2. Not using self-citation in order to inflate your results. Sometimes not citing your previous papers can produce a beneficial result. I have seen some researchers publishing a good/decent result, followed by a sequence of clones and mutant papers that do not cite the big one. This, of course, has a good effect on the child papers since it makes them look more original.

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+1 for "sequence of clones and mutant papers," which is a phrase I will certainly be stealing to refer to this phenomenon. –  wsc Aug 1 '13 at 14:14
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