Inspired from this question, I think the reverse can be an interesting discussion so I will set up an artificial example.

Suppose I cite XYZ in a published or under review paper. I am not affiliated or have had past contact with the author(s), so we are personally unknown to each other. This can also include a passing chat in a conference/ seminar, but certainly not something regular or memorable. For ease, let us assume that the citation is of some importance, i.e. it is a key paper and my work relies on it, or the results/ methodology are related. This, therefore, excludes "lit review" or "professional/ courtesy/ standard" citations. My intentions are honest: I genuinely intend to say "thank you, your work is good and it helped me a lot, feel free to contact me in the future" and do not intend to trade citations, disguise a suggestion (Trojan horse) or have a hidden agenda. I would be happy to discuss further, or end up working with XYZ in the future, but the purpose of the email is not that.

Given the above, is it good practice to politely email, Tweet or PM the author(s) with something along the the following lines?

I found your paper XYZ to be interesting and relevant to my work, and I cited it in my recent paper ABC. My paper is related to yours in Way 1, Way 2 and Way 3. I believe you would be happy to know that a colleague found your work to be useful and I took the liberty of contacting you. Please consider me open for future contact and feel free to email me with any thoughts you may have.

If yes, when is that true? Conversely, under which circumstances can such an email be seen as unprofessional, impolite or suspicious? Are such emails considered sound academic/ professional practice, or is there a danger to be misunderstood, appear offensive or seen as having other intentions? Basically, is it a good idea or will it backfire spectacularly?

3 Answers 3


I think emailing authors when you find their work particularly interesting or useful is nice, and I'm sure everyone loves to recieve such emails. However, I don't think citation has anything to do with it. That said, I don't think I would ever find it "unprofessional" or suspcicious to recieve such an email.

  • I agree with this answer. However, I think the risk is quite high that such an e-mail will be unnoticed between the vast amount of other, similar e-mails which are fake, especially if the recipient does not know the sender. Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 10:49

I'd worry that you'll come across as trying to obsequiously ingratiate yourself with potential journal referees.

Yes: if you come across relevant prior work you should contact those authors, but you should do that with the aim of having a substantive discussion as early as possible, ideally while you can still incorporate any suggestions into your own project. There shouldn't be any expectations of citations by either party.

With certain types of citation - a "Personal Communication", grey literature or preprint - there may be a reason to contact that author when about to submit your own paper, but in general I think waiting until the last moment - as you seem to be suggesting here - to contact those likely to be considered for refereeing your paper will come across badly and possibly cause conflicts of interest.

Your citation will act as its own reward. If you want to contact people for some other reason, do so for that reason.

  • Thank you for your answer. Just to clarify, in my example the paper has already been published, or is under review, i.e. a referee has already been appointed in the 1st/ 2nd round. I agree with your point if this is a first submission, and there are conditions where that also holds for papers under submission, but that is not what I described. Have I read your answer correctly?
    – user117109
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 20:41
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    You wrote "Suppose I cite XYZ in a published or under review paper." I think that until it's fully accepted you are potentially causing a conflict of interest (by revealing your identity to anonymous referees). Soon after that, your paper's published, they get possibly notified by an alerting service, and their citation count increments anyway. So I'm not sure how much that email adds - though that's a personal thing, I suppose.
    – Lou Knee
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 20:59

It is not practical to email authors you cite; nevermind the fact that some may have left, may be retired or deceased. Plus, if you have many citations it would be a burden to do just this.

What is more practical is to email select active authors, with a copy of your manuscript. I would let these authors draw their own conclusions as to how your work related to theirs. Thus:

Dear Prof. Suchensuch, Please find enclosed a copy of my most recent manuscript on this topic. I am aware of your recent results in the field and I hope you will find my contribution of interest. Kind Regards etc.

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