I am proof-reading a student's PhD thesis and I find that the student repeatedly cites one reference, up to 40 times in one single chapter alone.

I suspect that this reference is an influential work and provides a lot of material but I feel this is too much. Apart form the obvious advise (don't cite as much), what effective strategies can one use to reduce the number of citations e.g. comment at the start of the chapter that "this chapter builds on the foundational work \cite{ref} done by Prof X..."

  • 4
    Is this perhaps an indicator that the student should've read a little more widely?
    – jovisg
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 8:21
  • 1
    Is this paper simply a good review, and the student very afraid of plagiarism?
    – Louic
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


Can a reference be over-cited?

Assuming you are using in-text citation, it is necessary to cite the reference in-text every time you use information from it. So, there is no upper limit on the number of times a reference should be cited. Increase the number of citations until there is no ambiguity, and then stop. 40 times is not that many.

In most styles each reference is only listed once in the reference list.

  • Saying "you have two many citations" sounds like a petty complaint to me. I suggest not saying that. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 3:13
  • I agree with this answer, but will sound one note of caution: even for an "influential work that provides a lot of material" or a "good review", there's a non-zero probability that the source is revealed to be complete rubbish, either due to scientific fraud or due to an innocent but serious error. If it's the only source cited for many of the 40 claims, the student may be betting far more than is sensible on a single source not falling into this category (especially if say, the source is not peer-reviewed and therefore has an enhanced probability of falling into this category). Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 14:28

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