Recently I submitted a paper to a journal and I got the following feedback from the Editorial Office:

The reference lists of manuscripts submitted to our journal should include a variety of English-language journals that reflect the diversity of resources in the scholarly field of the manuscript.

I regret to inform you that it was found to be unsuitable for publication because the reference list did not contain sufficiently diverse, English-language sources.

Now, my question is, if some research is novel and does not have much information about it on the internet (for eg, a newly developed algorithm), then how will such papers get published, if the editors reject it on the basis of the size of the reference list rather than focussing on the quality of the manuscript?

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    "if some research is novel and does not have much information about it on the internet" I think that would actually apply to the majority of published papers. Commented May 7, 2020 at 7:04
  • 4
    The editor should have given more specific feedback. Commented May 7, 2020 at 7:18
  • 15
    The comment is more about the quality of the references, rather than the number. The editor is saying that if you cite 100 similar papers, this is not as useful as citing 10 different papers. Commented May 7, 2020 at 7:20
  • 4
    Are most of your cited works in English, or in other languages?
    – bta
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 0:55
  • 4
    The all cited works were in English Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:03

4 Answers 4


the editors reject it on the basis of size of the reference list rather than focussing on the quality of the manuscript.

I think that's a false distinction. From the view of the journal (and most publication outlets I know), one aspect of a manuscript's quality is that it needs to defend its novelty by appropriately considering related work.

The feedback does not mention the size of your reference list, but a lack of diversity, which indicates that your article is limited in the perspective of considered related work. For example, if your algorithm uses a new idea from X to solve a new problem Y and presents applications in Z, you should discuss papers about X, Y (or similar problems), and Z.


Often, most of the citations in a paper are not work that you directly rely on.

Of course you cite a paper if you use their model, their method, or if your model or method or algorithm is a direct extension of theirs.

But you also cite papers of people you solved (or attacked) similar problems or used related methods. You discuss what they have done and how it differs from what you do. Ideally, you can argue that some problems in the field are solved, but the one that you are working on, is not.

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    I think its worth pointing out that this context-setting is one of the most important parts of a paper. Putting a result in its proper context tells the reader why they should care.
    – user1729
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 13:25

tl;dr: Your editor is right: a limited bibliography reflects poor quality of the literature review. Improve your manuscript by finding relevant work of others and comparing your results with them.

Even if your algorithm is completely new — and this is a big if, because most new algorithms are actually variations and combinations of previously known ideas — you probably want to show that it is useful. To demonstrate this, you need to apply this algorithm to solve an important problem, and compare the results of your new algorithm with other methods that were previously used for this class of problems. Hence, you need to discuss the origins of your problem, the context in which these problems appear, what other methods have been proposed, and why are they not good enough, so your algorithm is needed. All these statements must be supported by references.

An overview of the research landscape is an important part of any research paper, and the bibliography supports this part and reflects its quality. If your bibliography only includes the papers of your research group, it is very likely that your research misses some aspects of a bigger picture. In this case your paper can mislead readers in believing that you are the only group actively working in this area. Your editors are right in rejecting it.

So my advice is: add more context about the problem (with citations), and about the work of others (with citations). Compare your algorithm with other methods used for the same problem. Clearly demonstrate in your manuscript why your new algorithm is not just new, but more useful, than previously used methods. Then submit the manuscript again.



Even if you specific algorithm has not been discussed, you should point the readers to related algorithms (maybe in other contexts), or to others algorithms that solve the same problem.


The response has a weird focus on English-language references.

If you have a comprehensive set of references that are not in English, you might want to add some instances of

This problem has been discussed in [normal references]. The closest work published in English we could find are [as closely related papers in English as you can find].

This allows you to include the relevant references and satisfy the editor's request of references in English.

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    I don't think it's weird to expect that most references are in English for most fields nowadays. E.g., in math, if all of the papers I reference are in Chinese, then (1) they won't be verifiable to a majority of international readers, and (2) it indicates that the problem is not of broad interest, as almost all quality original research papers are written in English now (or occasionally still in French in my field at least).
    – Kimball
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 15:58
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    References are also most helpful when the reader can actually read them, so if you're publishing in English, I'd expect many of the references to be in English too, especially when you've got some flexibility in what to cite (e.g., "The role of X is controversial, with some studies finding A [ref, ref] and others finding B [ref, ref]").
    – Matt
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 19:53
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    There are areas in research where most of the work is done by a national group. I know of methods which were done primarily by Russians, others mainly by French. Both group publish a lot in their native language and have even conferences in their native language. So the body of papers might even be non-English. Still, they also visit international conferences and publish in English, too. But correct references might be in Russian oder French. You cannot change this. I heart similar cases for Japanese research.
    – usr1234567
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:20
  • @Kimball French and Chinese are both non-English, and thus do not count as parts of literature review according to this editor.
    – Tommi
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 7:36

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