For context I am an electrical engineer and this is a paper for an electrical engineering conference.

I am currently writing my first research paper, and there have been many papers published in the area but I would say that with the exception of one, none of them had any direct influence on the research that my colleagues and I did. Essentially we made improvements to a seminal paper, and really only focused on this paper during our research.

In giving a historical overview of the problem I feel it necessary to mention the influential papers on the topic, although I am unsure as to whether to cite anything else as we only looked at their papers to make sure what we did had not been done before, or that something obviously better did not exist.

So I am wondering how do I decide which papers to cite? Is there any sort of politics involved that I should be aware of in terms of which papers I should be citing?

2 Answers 2


First figure out the purpose of what you want to do

Step back a bit and ask yourself: why am I giving a historical review of the literature at all? You say that there is one seminal paper in this field and you are extending it in a way that is not related to other papers in the field. If that is the case, ask yourself what context you actually need to give to present this improvement in the literature. Is there some reason it is helpful to your reader to give broader historical context on other things done in the field? Are there other innovations in the field that your reader would want to know about to help to understand your work in this paper?

Without knowing the details of your research project, I don't know what the answers to these questions will be. But once you answer those questions, it will tell you what you are actually trying to give your reader, which will then give you a sound basis for deciding what parts of the literature are relevant to what you want to do.


Any paper that you touched across the entire project should be cited. Yes, it sounds a lot, however that is your “proof” that you did research about the topic and also your justification for your new development. For instance, when you are presenting your lit review or conclusions about the findings you can cite those previous studies as reference, and showing the added value of your work or contribution of what they did. I hope it helps!

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