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Recently, I submitted an article and got a response from a reviewer that I cited 6 of my own articles out of 44. The reviewer said that it’s a cheap act of self promotion.

  1. If I do not cite my own work, how can I expect others to?
  2. Is it bad practice to cite your own work?

The reviewer didn’t say I cited senselessly, rather he complained about the citation of my own work. How to respond in this given situation?

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    Related: Will self-citation be viewed as self-promotion in academia? – user68958 Jan 6 at 12:52
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    Someone, either you or the reviewer, is a citation-metric-driven [fill in your negative word of choice]. Decide who it is and act accordingly. – image Jan 6 at 15:08
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    @image this work is built on my previous work. However, it is possible for 3 references where I can give reference of some other work as well, which I did along with my work. His comment "it is a cheap way of self promotion" made me feel bad, as if I did something wrong. However, after seeing the answers i am glad I am on right side. – MBK Jan 6 at 16:48
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    “If I do not cite my own work, how can I expect others to?” — Do you cite other work? According to your question, you do. Well, there’s your answer. I find this question a bit concerning: maybe the reviewer was right and some of your citations are gratuitous? The reviewer seems quite blunt in their assessment, maybe it’s because they have a point (rather than lacking any sense of tact and proportion, as implied by the answers). – Konrad Rudolph Jan 6 at 19:17
  • Note that whether or not the concern is valid, stating it as "cheap act of self promotion" is unprofessional. Reviewers should be respectful of the authors and their work even if they don't like it. – Reid Jan 9 at 16:50
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The answers here of Solar Mike and corey979 are correct, but let me point out two additional issues.

First, it might be that without your citations you could validly be accused of self plagiarism. Readers of the current work need to be able to trace back the ideas to earlier work. This is why we cite ourselves rather than just reuse old work.

Second, if you want a mental check on whether a self-citation is proper or not, just ask whether you would still be giving this citation if the other paper were written by someone unknown to you. If the answer is yes, then it is certainly proper - even essential - to cite it. If the answer is no, then you should probably forgo.

As for a response, you could simply ignore it. However, if you think that it is affecting the editor's decision, you could point out the self-plagiarism aspect.

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    Have to upvote the point about the risk of self-plagiarism... – Solar Mike Jan 6 at 12:28
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6 out of 44 is less than 14%... If the cited works are relevant, such as building on previous results or analysis then there should be no problem.

If you are citing works that are by you but not relevant then that is an issue (I don't think you are doing this but just for both sides).

If the only works you are citing were your own then that may be an issue, but could still be relevant ie further work etc as above.

Perhaps you respond by pointing out the relevance of each cited work and, also consider if the links between the works cited and the current paper need to be strengthened.

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    Thanks for your answer. My work is relevant and this work is built on previous work. However, it is also possible for 3 references where I can give reference of some other work as well, which I did along with my work. His comment "it is a cheap way of self promotion" made me feel bad, as if I did something wrong. – MBK Jan 6 at 9:47
  • How can you think that he is not doing this without reading his paper? – Kami Kaze Jan 9 at 10:33
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The phrase "cheap act of self promotion" might be viewed as offending, and is surely unprofessional (it's just the reviewer's opinion). I'm a hothead, so I would point this out to the editor and ask him to discipline the reviewer.


Overall, self-citations are a way of self promotion – yes, you point the reader to your earlier relevant works in the topic, but you also advertise your previous papers in hope that those that missed them will cite them in their own future articles. Citations are a valuable asset in academia, so it's not surprising authors go after them. Self-citations, however, don't stand on equal grounds as citations – in my field, many evaluations require "number of citations excluding self-citations", so self-citations are not just an easy way to boost ones metrics.

Referring to one's earlier works in the topic is definitely a good thing, showing the author's experience, linking to previous state-of-the-art, and simply telling a story that's behind research ("previously, I've made the analysis in 1D, and herein, for the first time, a 2D analysis is performed"). If your self-citations fulfill any of these roles, I see no reason to remove them.

In the response to the reviewer point out the relevancy of the citations used, like Solar Mike suggests. And the 6/44 ratio is all fine to me – after all, you're the expert in the field, so it's natural you have achievements. If it was 38/44, that would look silly.


Heck, I've seen reviewers flooding their (anonymous) reviews with a list of "suggested" references, orbiting around one author – it's hard not to be convinced about the identity of the reviewer, and think of it as a "cheap act of self promotion"...

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    It is sad that you treat citations as "promotions". I thought a citations were a way to refer to previous studies in the field which are necessary to understand concepts in the paper, not for namedropping and promoting people. – pipe Jan 6 at 12:09
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    Through citations you promote work not people. People get promoted thanks to the work that they promote. Promote means to move/put forward or to the front, which is an essential action in science dissemination, communication and debate. Promotion can be a honest activity if done honestly, IMHO, and need not be perceived as a hint to unethical practices in and of itself. Like all good things it can degenerate if not preserved correctly; conceded. – XavierStuvw Jan 6 at 14:53
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    What does “disciplining” a reviewer even mean? Punishing them by asking them for reviews more often? – Noah Snyder Jan 6 at 15:43
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    Anyone care to explain the downvotes? Or everyone here publishes anonymously, uses the internet telepathically, feeds on cosmic radiation and generally never used money? – user68958 Jan 6 at 19:53
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    +1 for asking the editor to discipline the reviewer. @Noah disciplining the reviewer means making it clear, that such opinionated attacks on a personal level are unprofessional, unwanted and have no place in a review. – technical_difficulty Jan 7 at 10:35
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In all likelihood, I would ignore the comment. (If you need to respond to editor, just write that the references are all related to the current paper and were left as is. Make your comment short...no elaborate arguments.) Obviously take a look at the paper and see if there are any papers that are blatantly on very different topics. But if they are all in same area of exploration, leave it as is.

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    Ignoring is a bad idea, you should always response to requests (here accusations) to explain your point of view to the editor. – usr1234567 Jan 7 at 7:51
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    Could be right. I have had no bad/good reviewer interaction. Wrote very direct papers on non groundbreaking things for ACS specialty journals and they got accepted without revision...never saw the reviews. Still would go with something relatively terse (not turning the thing into an argument). "Understand the reviewer objection but we have looked at the cited references and they are all closely related. Think it is better for the reader to be able to follow the story of this research effort. Leaving cites as is." – guest Jan 7 at 15:07
  • @usr1234567 There is no request here for OP to offer any explanation, unless this post has been edited and that's no longer present. But regardless, just being accused of something is not grounds to interject your stance with a response. – user45266 Jan 8 at 23:56
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Merely counting the number of self-citations is meaningless. The appropriateness of each citation should be judged on its own merit.

If you do decide to respond to the comment (and you may choose to ignore it), you should ask the reviewer if there is any specific citation he or she objects to.

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    This is similar to the answer I'd write, but it lacks a powerful test of the merit. The OP could check, for each one of the 6 self-citations, which exact place in the new article is referencing them; if there's at least one very specific reference, the OP needs to fight back for that citation. If it's hard to locate the connection between the old and new work, perhaps the new work could be modified to make the connection more obvious and easy to locate, but otherwise the reviewer might be having a good point. (Some journals style guidelines do not even allow citations without references.) – Jirka Hanika Jan 9 at 10:56
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You can reply that citing your other works will be valuable for the reader to be able to follow your train of work.

Just reading a paper without context it can be hard to get a grasp of why to even research what this paper tries to address.

With context, it is much easier to explain to a new reader why this latest paper is relevant to the trail of papers.

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