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For a submitted review paper, I got a response from one of the reviewers: "More related references should be added". The thing is, I already have around 70 references, and as the topic is pretty specific, there are not many more references out there. I could probably find a few more after very time consuming search, but IMHO, the number of references is both sufficient and able to convey the point. Also the reviewer left literally only this one sentence on the issue and did not even make clear in which aspect the number of references are lacking. I am still pretty fresh to the academic publishing world, and I don't really know how to answer this request. Can I simply decline the revision request? (the other two reviers did not critisize the number of references)

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    I would just say: 'After extensive search, we have only been able to find BLAH references. They are now discussed in Section X of the revised paper.' The risk here is that you may have missed critical references. I write such a comment if I know the authors missed popular papers. This indicates to me that the authors have not done proper due diligence. – Prof. Santa Claus Apr 28 at 7:30
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    @ProfSantaClaus Arguably, it's the reviewer who has neglected due diligence by asking for more references without making clear which references are missing. A good editor would probably accept your suggested response. – lighthouse keeper Apr 28 at 9:28
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    As Prof Santa Claus said plus, eventually a note to the editor stating that you'll be glad to hear from the referee if crucial references were mixing. Warning: if the topic is specific, this is a reason to put extra care on the literature search. Actually, this should have been done as a ground for writing a review. Forgive me, but we don't know you, and there are plenty unscrupulous people even in research ;) – Alchimista Apr 28 at 9:30
  • @Alchimista: since I am writing my PhD Thesis on this topic, I regularly look for new publications on the topic, look at references from other papers and would thus say I have done a pretty good literary research. On top, what I am reviewing is rarely the main focus of any of the publications and provided info is often sparse or not extensive enough to use in my review. Thus, a lot of publications that kind of tackle the topic are not even possible to use as a reference because they don't disclose any findings. – Sursula Apr 28 at 9:47
  • Maybe the recommendation was to include references "more related" to your subject rather than simply more references. Otherwise I concur with @Prof.SantaClaus. – A rural reader Apr 28 at 14:24
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Can I simply decline the revision request?

Yes you can always decline to do what the referee asks. At the end of the day they are only suggestions and its up to the editor to take on board the recommendation of the referee as to whether the paper should be published.

If you do decline to add more references then you should explain why you chose not to. That said sometimes it just easier to do what the referee asks, especially with references which are easy to add/remove than to get into a fight over it.

If you can't find more citations, then look at the references/citations of the papers you did cite. That should be a good place to find a few more references.

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You could do the following -

  1. Compare other papers in the journal and see how many references they have put.
  2. Extend references by multiple references for one instance. Example: In deep learning there is a technique called object detection. It has 3 top notch review papers for that field (which I know of). Instead of citing one, I would cite all three in this case. You could do the same in your case.
  3. You could do what Prof Santa has mentioned in the comments.
  4. Search for relevant references from your cited papers.
  5. Cite the general stuff. Many a times, techniques used so widely, people don't cite them. You could cite them as well.

I think 70 is actually a lesser number cites for a review paper. They generally span between the range of 150-200 in the field I work in. Though I think it differs in every field.

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It may be more time-consuming to fight the referee than to squeeze out a few more references. You might also surprise yourself and find references you didn't know of.

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  • That is a sad outlook. – Sursula Apr 28 at 7:54
  • I have edited my answer to add that you might in fact find some references you didn't know of, as alluded to in @Prof.SantaClaus 's comment. – Mister Mak Apr 28 at 8:47

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