In academic writing, is it proper to cite something to provide it as an example of something else? For instance, we have lines like this in a number of our papers:

Many research endeavors, including environmental and coastal hazard prediction [1], climate modeling [2], high-energy physics simulations [3,4], and genome mapping [5] generate large data volumes on a yearly basis.

Each citation is merely providing an example of a research project that generates large volumes of data (more often than not, it's not even a paper, just a URL), and content from the cited source is not otherwise used anywhere in the paper.

I suppose I tend to think of citations as references to work whose content contributes to a significant portion of content in the paper. A citation then indicates some kind of "weighty" relation between the paper and the thing being cited. In the example I provided, it seems to me that invoking the "weighty" power of citation simply to say "yes, such a data producing project of this type does in fact exist, in case you were wondering"--and doing so five times--is somewhat excessive and that it might serve better as a footmark.

To me it seems these should either be footnotes or just be left out. In any case, it seems they should not go in the bibliography.

  • 13
    A citation then indicates some kind of "weighty" relation between the paper and the thing being cited. Not at all. A citation simply indicates that you are saying something that is not common knowledge and not an original contribution of your work. If you give examples that are not common knowledge, you should certainly cite them.
    – ff524
    May 29, 2014 at 23:27
  • 6
    Though citations are valued in academia, no distinction is being made between the reasons behind a citation. Even if you reference some publication only to thouroughly deconstruct it, it still “gets” a normal citation and all its positive aspects.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 29, 2014 at 23:37

3 Answers 3


I am not sure about other disciplines, but this is certainly neither uncommon nor in any way frowned upon in my field (Computer Science).

  • Thanks for your response. I'm in computer science as well. I'm just concerned about having "too many" citations I guess.
    – user15888
    May 29, 2014 at 22:13
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    Why do you care about "too many citations" ? there's no limit on cites :) ? And I agree with xLeitix that this is neither uncommon or frowned upon.
    – Suresh
    May 29, 2014 at 22:18
  • And if the editor thinks they are superfluous, it is trivial to take them away.
    – Davidmh
    May 30, 2014 at 9:16
  • @Suresh: there are cases of overdose of citations. Some articles have ridiculously long bibliography. It may look like sort of name dropping of famous researchers; or on the other side, citations of irrelevant articles of friends working in the same area.
    – Taladris
    May 30, 2014 at 9:36
  • But this is hardly an example of that.
    – Suresh
    May 30, 2014 at 9:55

I agree with the other answers. It is better to provide citations to good articles that back up or give examples of your statements. In the example you have shown, the use of the citation is allowing the reader to see for themselves what you mean without you having to provide painstaking details that may detract from the main point of your writing. I, myself, have written some articles that have been very heavy on citations, and were not criticized for it.


This is common practise as has already been established by other answers. In fields where the Harvard style is used it is common to add "e.g." (for example) to the references so that the example would read

Many research endeavors, including environmental and coastal hazard prediction (e.g., Smith et al., 1989), climate modelling (e.g., Doe and Smith, 2007), high-energy physics simulations (e.g., Svensson, 2005; Fischer, 2006), and genome mapping (e.g., Iglesias, 2010) generate large data volumes on a yearly basis.

It is not uncommon to add more than one example although there is no "law" either way.

With the Harvard style it becomes easier to see that these are just examples, one of possibly many alternatives.

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