Ofen Software authors request that users cite a paper of theirs in publications resulting from projects using their software.

As such an software author, what logic governs what kind of papers you can reasonably ask to cite? I see 5 cases:

  1. The paper is about the software explicitly. Eg Theano

  2. The software is a direct implementation of an algorithm described in the paper. Eg anything from here

  3. They created the software to use in research presented in the paper. It has not changed since.

  4. They originally created the software for use in the research paper, but since then it has undergone fairly large changes as it has continued to be developed. Eg DeepLearnToolbox

  5. The paper has nothing in common with the software, except sharing an author.

In which cases is it acceptable to request the paper be cited? 5 seems like an obvious no-no, but are the others in the clear?

This question is the flip-side of Should I cite Papers to acknowledge usage of tools?

  • 1
    All of 1-4 seem like fair game to me. Also, note that they can only "ask" you to cite their paper anyway. If you think it is not warranted in your specific case, it is essentially your ethical judgement call.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 29, 2015 at 7:19
  • xLeitix, you seem to have reversed the point of view. You mean to say: "Also, note that you can only "ask" them to cite your paper anyway. If they think it is not warranted in their specific case, it is essentially their ethical judgement call." Jan 29, 2015 at 7:54
  • Depends on who "you" and "they" are. I meant "you = the paper writer" and "they = the author of the software".
    – xLeitix
    Jan 29, 2015 at 8:05
  • this question is asked from the point of view such that 'you=software writer' it would be clearer to keep to that convention (and topic), in comments and answers. Jan 29, 2015 at 8:07

1 Answer 1


When I am using someone else's software and this software has been used in my paper, the least I can do is cite the related paper. In many cases when the tool is available online, authors typically include the citation along with the download (on the readMe or documentation file). In those kind of cases, I must admit I have never really checked the overlap between the paper and the software, because citing the author's paper seemed to me more a matter of professional courtesy and attribution of their contribution to my work than anything else. After all, if I trust the authors enough to assume their software gives correct results, not trusting them for which paper they tell me to cite seemed like an oxymoron.

On the other hand, if I was the software author I would be careful so that there is a significant overlap between the paper and the software (your cases 1-4). All of those cases seem to me like a reasonable reason to cite the related paper. There is also a case 6 when the tool was developed during the duration of a research project and there is a published paper that describes this project. In that case, citing this paper like this:

We use the 'tool' that was developed during the 'myName' project [citationToMyNamePaper]"

when using this tool, would also seem like a reasonable choice.

I must say that I have never met your case 5 ("The paper has nothing in common with the software"), when I actually checked for overlap. Do you have any concrete examples of such a case yourself? Because although something like that is possible, I do not think it is common.

  • The first paragraph describes how people (from a sample of one - me) react to using a tool provided by other researchers. After all, what you want to do with your software, depends on how other people will react to you doing so. In this case, it is relevant to the way you should present your work.
    – Alexandros
    Jan 29, 2015 at 4:49
  • 1
    While all is relevant, I don't think this is a complete answer. Your first paragraph seems like it is answering a different question. and the second contains only 1 sentence answering the questions, and the rest is speculating about the question. Point 5 is mostly there to provide a baseline. Jan 29, 2015 at 4:52
  • @Oxinabox In that case, I have provided the "baseline" of an "answer" as your case 5 provided the "baseline" for the question :-) Cheers
    – Alexandros
    Jan 29, 2015 at 4:56
  • The section you added just now is what I feel was missing "All of those cases seem to me like a reasonable reason to cite the related paper" Jan 29, 2015 at 5:01

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