I am a PhD student in Mathematics. I am writing research papers but I am confused with one thing:

What papers should I cite?

I want to know, in particular, what the criterion is for which a paper should be cited.

I received a revision from a SCIE indexed journal recently. The Reviewer shared the names of 4 papers and asked me to cite them as he/she felt those papers were related to my paper.

But I didn't take any information from those 4 papers which the Reviewer wanted me to cite. They just said that they are needed for literature review.

I agree that those 4 papers are related to mine but there are at least 15-20 papers like those which are related in that way to my paper.

I thought that if I take some information from a paper and use it in my paper, only then should that paper should be cited. Can someone please clarify this for me?

Also one more question: Is it necessary to also cite those papers which have been published when my paper was in review? I find that during the last 10 months when my paper was in review, at least 5-6 papers appeared in my field. Is it necessary to cite them all since the content of those are someway related to my paper?

I am still in my PhD days. So I want to be clear in my mind about these publishing standards. Can someone please help me out?

  • See also: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/154199/… (nearly dupe) Aug 23, 2021 at 8:01
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    Note also that the reviewer's comments might have a hidden agenda. They might not just be asking for a citation, they might be asking "were you aware of X, and if you weren't, would knowing about X have led you to take a different approach". Or they might suspect that your results are equivalent to the results of another team, without being 100% confident of this. Aug 23, 2021 at 9:31
  • "I agree that those 4 papers are related to mine but there are at least 15-20 papers like those which are related in that way to my paper." -- I suggest you cite all 20 papers. Mathematics suffers from low-citation counts and it's because some people are far too reluctant to cite papers. You don't cite a paper because you used the information in it. You cite it to make the paper more complete and to make it more valuable to its readers.
    – Nik
    Aug 23, 2021 at 19:43

3 Answers 3


I thought that if I take some information from a paper and use it in my paper, then only that paper should be cited. Can someone please help me to clarify it?

If you take information directly from another paper, that is one circumstance where you should obviously cite it. That is a sufficient but not necessary condition, and it doesn't really answer the broader question: what papers should I mention in my paper? Generally speaking, you should cite papers that are sufficiently closely related to the topic/point at hand that they will be helpful to the reader. This is a contextual decision, and it is usually informed by choices relating to the goal of your own paper, the consequent scope and depth of your literature review, etc.

Most papers will begin with an introduction that "sets the scene" for what you are doing, describes the problem at hand, and discusses literature related to the problem. Sometimes you will do a systematic literature review, but even if this is not done, you will usually want to give some context that mentions other important papers relating to the problem, method, etc., that you are using. The reason to do this is that it is helpful to the reader to learn what has already been done in the field and it provides them with other sources where they can learn more about the problem, methods, etc. Papers vary substantially in the amount of detail they give on other literature; some papers give only narrow citations of major works while others give a broad literature review.

In your case, the four papers suggested by the reviewer are related to your paper (you do not specify how) so the reviewer is suggesting that you should cite them in your paper at an appropriate point. Since you have identified 15-20 papers of this kind, you will need to make a decision on whether it is useful to cite them all, or just the major ones, or some selection of your own choosing. You should be guided by putting yourself in the reader's shoes --- what other works would it be helpful for them to know about while reading your paper?

Since you are a PhD student, you should seek guidance from your supervisor on specifics and run your ideas by your supervisor to ensure that what you are doing is good practice in your field. The above gives some general advice, but your supervisor will be able to give more specific scrutiny to this particular case.

Is it necessary to also cite those papers which have been published when my paper was in review?

Firstly, it is not necessary to cite any paper in your field simply because it exists. You should always be guided by the goal of your own paper, the desired scope of discussion of other literature, the importance and relevance of other papers, etc. For papers that have only recently been published there is the added problem that they may not have existed when you submitted your paper, or you might not yet have formed a view on the relevance/importance of new work.

If your paper is already in review then you cannot change it right now, but you might get an opportunity to change its substance one you get the referee reports back (e.g., under a "revise and resubmit" scenario). Assuming you have an opportunity for revisions (beyond merely proof corrections) you can use this opportunity to add citations to new papers if you wish. Again, there is no necessity to add these new papers just because they exist, and you should be guided by what is helpful for the reader.

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    Great answer, especially the focus on what is useful to (potential) readers! Aug 22, 2021 at 10:17
  • In paragraph 1, should that be "necessary but not sufficient" ?
    – costrom
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:53
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    @costrom No: That would mean that "Paper X is citation-worthy" implies "I take information directly from Paper X and use it in mine", but that being citation-worthy actually needs more than that. Ben means the opposite. "I take information directly from Paper X and use it in mine" means you should definitely cite Paper X, but that there are citation-worthy papers that you do not actively use ideas or facts from.
    – mme
    Aug 23, 2021 at 15:50
  • @mme I guess I just read the sentence backwards or inside-out. Agree that "Taking info from Paper X" -> "I cite Paper X" is necessary, but the "sufficient" part I read as "there are other papers I will need to cite" will be sufficient
    – costrom
    Aug 23, 2021 at 16:26

The idea behind the literature review is to provide the reader with background on the field, what has already been done and where your work fits in.

If you are getting a review that says you should cite X because it is related to your work, and there are 15-20 similar such papers, then the reviewer is indirectly saying that your literature review is incomplete. You might want to cite all 15-20 papers and give some context about how your work is related to theirs.

Having said that, if you are still in your PhD days, then you have a great advantage - you can ask your supervisor, who'll be able to give you more personalized advice than anyone. Furthermore, they are probably an author too, so they should have a say in whatever you decide to do.

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    I think the word "probably" in the last sentence is a strong exaggeration. In my experience, the idea that a supervisor co-authors most papers of their PhD students, which is customary in many fields, is completely turned over in mathematics: many mathematicians will only agree to be listed as a co-author on their student's paper if the supervisor's contribution is significantly higher than what would be expected in order to warrant co-authorship in a collaboration with other colleagues. Aug 22, 2021 at 10:29
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    I think you must be in a field quite unlike mathematics. In fact, your advisor is probably not a co-author. I have no quarrel with listening to their advice, however. But don't assume that the practices of one field carry over to another. It can result in bad advice, though is benign in this situation.
    – Buffy
    Aug 22, 2021 at 13:14
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    I agree that the referee is suggesting the literature review had some omissions -- but it's not enough to just cite what the referee said to cite. The OP needs to read the papers, and determine whether reference to them belongs in their paper. Citing them unread can lead to all sorts of issues. Aug 22, 2021 at 16:23

Ideally, you cite works that justify your motivation/area, aim, problem and solution.

In practice, what constitute justifications vary with reviewers. Some reviewers (usually inexperienced) want a paper cited because it matches some keywords, or they are the author a paper (not ethical but happens often). Some want justifications because they never heard of X. On the other hand, if you have an experienced reviewer, given his/her wealth of knowledge, he/she may require fewer justifications or citations.

In general, you do your best to cite what you think are relevant works. If the reviewers ask for more, decide for yourself whether to include them.

The more critical issue is missing critical/important/seminal works. If you did a poor job at due diligence, then a reviewer will not take your work seriously.

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