I'd like to know your opinion on citations in abstracts. At my university, there is no rule on that matter so it's basically a question of preference.

Do you think it's okay to have citations in an abstract or do you personally prefer to have the abstract be a ``stand-alone'' piece of work?

  • To complement the 3 good answers below, it seems to be up to the author. Here's a nature article with citations and without in the abstract. That being said, I generally see little reason to cite as abstracts are not standalone pieces of work, but a subset of the full work. i.e. your abstract should not contain any material/references not in your full article.
    – RTbecard
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 20:18

3 Answers 3


It is not entirely unreasonable to include a citation in an abstract, if the reason you are citing it is because your paper is a major extension, rebuttal, or counterpoint to the cited article.

In that case, however, you do have the responsibility of providing the reference within the body of the abstract. For example,

We extend upon the results of Smith [Journal of Very Important Results, 1, 374 (2012)] to include the effects of a doohickey at the end of the thingamajig.

In such a case, the abstract remains self-contained, with an important citation included. (This is especially essential if an author is well-known for multiple papers, in which case the reference can be used to distinguish the varous works that could be intended.)

Large numbers of citations, however, should be avoided, as should "secondary" citations. Only the most critical literature for a paper should be cited, and that should normally be limited to one or two. Any more than that, and the abstract becomes hard to read.

  • 33
    I like the Journal of Very Important Results. It's seems to contain many important results.
    – bjb568
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 1:43
  • 10
    I'll submit to that journal if I find a very important result some day.
    – adipro
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 4:36
  • Why does an author "have the responsibility of providing the reference within the body of the abstract"? That's what the list of references at the end of the paper is for. This list of references is typically freely available with the abstract, so anyone reading the abstract would be able to find the reference. Is your claim based on a specific journal?
    – jvriesem
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 0:20
  • @jvriesem: How would you do that, exactly? If the journal uses numbered references, you need to have access to the paper to figure out what reference is meant. I don't want to have to dig through dozens or hundreds of references to figure it out. Making it explicit saves everybody time and effort and, as I said, keeps the abstract self-contained. You shouldn't need to have the paper if you're citing a work in the abstract.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 3:24
  • 1
    An additional note is if you are submitting an abstract to a conference, you won't have a list of references for readers to go through separately.
    – WnGatRC456
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 0:59

This issue may depend on the academic field of the publication. In the case of the social sciences, abstract are generally written to be independent of the other sections of the paper or manuscript, so citations in the abstract are avoided. You may include a citation, but sometimes you have to include all the bibliographic details. Considering that abstract are usually required to be short, you may be unnecessarily wasting words.

Moreover, as the abstract is intended to be an interesting summary of the research described in the manuscript, it is not probably useful to include citations. An exception is the case when a manuscript heavily draws on a previous work. For instance, if you are replicating a previous study, then you may have to include a cite. In this paper, the author replicates and extends a study. The title and the abstract have a citation of the previous study.


It depends on the situation.

An abstract for a paper must be stand-alone, because the bibliography is hidden in the paper itself. The abstract must contain all information required for people to judge if they want to read the paper, and as there is no bibliography, the reader does not know what the citations relate to. Therefore, there should be no citations.

It may be a bit different if the abstract is for a conference. Maybe in some situations it's possible to add one or two references at the end of the abstract. In that case, it can be okay to have citations.

So the most important question here is: can the reader use the abstract as a stand-alone unit? If using citations cause the answer to this question to be no, don't do citations.

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