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I reflect about preparing research publications and possibly starting a PhD. The subject matter of my interest has connections with the social sciences different from mine.

Specialised in Law, I intend to research a topic which is closely connected with political science and sociology. Such publications, done in the sciences different from mine, would be of a great use for me as they may improve the description of the context proper to my own topic.

Therefore, it would be nice to know whether using cross-discipline sources is allowed in academia. If yes, which precise conditions would I want to respect to avoid getting my publications rejected?

Many thanks for any informative input.

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    A yet another issue of "why?" vs. "why not?" – Oleg Lobachev Jul 17 '18 at 10:31
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    While using results from other disciplines is allowed, encouraged, and the key to several breakthroughs, be aware that it will make it harder to publish because you have to bring your audience up to speed. The issue is smaller when you bring things from closer disciplines. – Davidmh Jul 17 '18 at 13:41
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    People even cite Harry Potter in computer science (as a joke, of course, but that counts as "you can" I guess). – xuq01 Jul 17 '18 at 19:35
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    The answers are right (you can cite from other fields) but beware that if you don't have a reasonable amount of cites from your field, it could be hard for you to tell that your work is on your field. If a law thesis only cited social science references (and no law sources) I would see it more like a social science thesis. – Pere Jul 17 '18 at 20:10
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As I have previously said in an answer to another question on this site, research is about telling the truth about facts of reality. You can cite any fact of reality you want, from any source. If you want to cite sources from other disciplines that is absolutely fine. You can cite papers from any discipline. You can cite a published academic paper, a newspaper article, a blog post, a letter, a tweet, the conditions written on the back of a bus-pass, or the graffiti written on the wall of the faculty toilets. Any source of information that is relevant to your paper is fine. So long as cited information advances your work, and you specify the source, and accurately transcribe the remarks, that is okay.

Generally academics stick mostly to citing peer-reviewed research appearing in academic journals so that they are dealing with reliable information. Cross-disciplinary research frequently cites work from across disciplinary boundaries. The main thing you will want to do to make sure your work is acceptable is to do your literature review well, and make sure you are citing relevant work that bears on your results. You are unlikely to get a rejection for citing work that the referee hadn't thought of. It is more likely you will get a rejection for failing to mention relevant published work that bears on your argument that the referee wants you to add. For that reason, cross-disciplinary research generally requires citations from multiple fields.

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    Apologies for being late with upvoting the answer. It took me some time to get back here as I had accidentally posted the question as an unregistered user and then needed to merge accounts to regain control of the thread. – TomateFraiche Jul 19 '18 at 20:45
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I think that the reason the question needs to be asked is that academia has become overspecialized in many fields. Most people work in very narrow parts of a discipline - though not all.

So, the short answer is yes, you cite the work that supports your own, no matter where you find it.

But the situation is a bit more complex from your standpoint starting out on your studies. You don't say whether you have an advisor or not. Your work will need to be acceptable to the advisor, including the breadth of the field you want to pursue. That may be easy or hard, but don't neglect to consider it.

The other issue is finding a place to publish your work. The academic marketplace seems to value specialization over generalization, I think/fear. Frankly, I have no experience finding such a publishing venue. It may be easy or hard. But your advisor should be able to answer questions like that. If it is hard to publish (no appropriate journals/conferences) you can do great work but be invisible to the world at large. I've done some work of a different kind that wasn't really publishable, but it satisfied a need of my own, so was worth it, but not for reputation building.

My personal view is that work that brings together disparate ideas from across a broad spectrum is both very interesting and very valuable. Not many are willing or able to integrate ideas from across disciplines. Some public scholars have achieved success at this, but it is usually after building a reputation in a narrow field.

  • Both your answer and the one of Ben are reassuaring :) Regarding what is my motivation for this research, not that I do not care about reputation but my main goal is essentially to succeed with a personal intellectual project of writing a decent PhD. My master's studies did not include research but I do think that a thesis completes an academic education cycle and because of this I would like to write something pertinent and useful. I see PhD as an inspring challenge worth my time and attention. – TomateFraiche Jul 19 '18 at 21:05

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