Three papers on a new technique came out at almost the same time. They are all similar and introduce a new method that I use in my research by providing a range of examples of that technique.

Below are the dates the journals record it as received, accepted, first available online, and then the year of the official citation.

 Paper#  Received     Accepted     Available    Citation Yr.
 P1      2011-11-29   2012-06-21   2012-08-11   2012
 P2      2011-12-12   2012-11-01   2012-11-08   2013
 P3      2012-01-09   2012-08-30   2012-09-05   2012
  • By order received: P1, P2, P3
  • By order accepted: P1, P3, P2
  • By citation year: (P1 P3), P2

Q: Should I cite all of them? I assume so. In which case, which order?

I would like to cite all three, since all are in reputable journals and their submission dates were so close that I assume all three did independent work and are deserving of a proper citation. I am not sure what order to cite them in.

  • 4
    All of them! You can fatten your citations list by three entries in a nearly a single stroke. :)
    – Kaz
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 1:10
  • 2
    I intend to cite all three. I'm not sure fatter citation list is always a good thing.
    – mankoff
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 4:41
  • 2
    I would cite all three, in alphabetical order (in the text, not just in the bibliography), with the phrase "independently discovered/developed by...".
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:19

3 Answers 3


Different journals have different ways of listing multiple references. I am used to see chronological order in which case P1/P3-P2 would be the order. I write P1/P3 because usually one does not keep track of chronology within a year (although it can (now) be done). It is otherwise common to put authors alphabetically within the same year. If a journal uses aplhabetical order as a basis then the order is of course different. P1-P3-P2 is of course the most straight forward way.

I would definitely put all three in, acknowledging their work. Citing only one of them may come across as not knowing the other publications and thereby the field.

  • 1
    chronological order in which case P1/P3-P2 would be the order — But there are multiple chronological orders. Arguably the order of submission (P1,P2,P3) is a better indicator of priority than the order of publication (P1,P2,P2). And all three papers were actually published (= made available) in the same year, so why isolate P2?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:24
  • I agree, but it is not certain that all dates are known. Submission dates could of course be more representative than publication dates for the order in which ideas have grown but not even that is certain (if one wants to represent the true first thought on the matter). It really is difficult to be "correct" at this level of detail. Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:56

This could be a very delicate diplomatic issue. There might be three groups arguing over the paternity of the original idea. I strongly suggest citing all three.

As for the order, first of all check the journal guidelines. In my field, typically citations are numbered in alphabetical order in the bibliography; if it's the same in yours, then I suggest you to cite them ordered by their citation number (thus alphabetically), i.e., put them in the same bracketed list [a,b,c], with a<b<c.

Ordering the references like this is a good habit to adopt exactly because of these attribution issues.

  • In the bibliography it is alphabetical, but in the text it is "Author (YYYY)" I could say "Method foo [AX (YYYY), AY (YYY), AZ (YYYY)]", and the AX,AY,AZ could be any order. That is the focus of this question (now clarified).
    – mankoff
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 4:39
  • Yes, I understand what you are saying. My suggestion is: put AX, AY, AZ in alphabetical order. In the text as well, not only in the bibliography. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 14:38

You should absolutely cite all three papers, if they are all equally relevant to the work at hand. There's no logical reason to exclude one or more of them—even if there were (for instance) a flaw in the methodology, you could still say "introduced by paper X, and an improved version by paper Y" or something similar to that.

As for the actual order of citations, I don't think, in the context of a single citation, which order you pick. You could even pick alphabetical order, if that's what you thought was most appropriate.

Now, if all three were in development more or less simultaneously—which appears to be the case here—establishing "true" priority is somewhat more complicated. I would choose whichever order best fits the "flow" of the arguments you wish to make with these papers.

The most important thing, as I mentioned at the top, though, is that you cite the papers; everything after that is "author judgment," and is unlikely to be argued (unless one of the authors ends up reviewing your paper!).

  • 2
    establishing "true" priority is somewhat more complicated — No, not really. Assuming everyone acted in good faith (which we must), all three authors were first.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 7:26

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