In a linguistics paper I read, I noticed that several references in the bibliography are not actually used in the text. This is for about 10-15% of the references the case. Should I do anything with this? I always thought that all references must be used in the text, because even if they are just suggestions for further reading you would want some explanation why it is relevant and what you can find where.

I only know the author through their work and do not know the editors. The paper is from 2011. The references are rather general. They are relevant to the paper, but you would want page numbers with them unless you are familiar with them. They are all from different authors and different institutes. It is likely that the references were used in previous versions of the text.

  • Could you please add more information about these references? Why exactly do you bother? Are they all from the same author? Are they related to the paper topic? Do they contradict the results presented in the paper? Do they just reference similar topics which might be of interest for the reader?
    – J-Kun
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 6:53
  • @J-Kun I added some information.
    – user25112
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 7:01
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    It's a paper from 2011. What can you do? Even if you notify the journal, they probably won't (or can't) do anything.
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 7:33
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    @tobias_k I mean the latter. I'm sure; the paper uses author-year style and searching by any of the author names did not yield results. For one of the references I have an idea where it should have been referenced, but there is no citation there.
    – user25112
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 11:21
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    @ChrisH this is linguistics; I'll add it to the question.
    – user25112
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


There's nothing inherently wrong with this. It's sometimes done to mention sources that provided general background information, or that the author suggests for further reading, but which weren't needed to support any specific claim within the paper. Some journals don't allow this, but it's a matter of style.

Even if the journal didn't want this, or if those references were included by mistake, it's a harmless error which just wastes a little bit of space.

If you have good reason to suspect that references were given in bad faith purely for padding, or to increase citation counts of other articles, then that would be misconduct - whether they were cited in text or not. But otherwise I don't see that this represents anything improper, and there is nothing you should do about it.

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    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 14:27

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