Often researchers publish their work incrementally. Abstractly speaking, let's say, in 2010 the researcher publishes version 1.0 of his algorithm/system/framework. Two years later, he publishes an improved version 2.0 of the same algorithm/system/framework.

If I want to cite his work, should I

a) cite his oldest work (advantage: typically, older works have more citations),

b) cite his newest work (advantage: my readers will be directed to the most uptodate version of the author's work), or

c) cite both?

  • 5
    In (a), "advantage" to whom? You? the author? the reader? What does the old work having more citations have to do with anything? Mar 29, 2016 at 15:15
  • 2
    a paper with many citations can be seen like a hub in a network. if I cite the paper with many citations, all other papers which also cite this paper, will be linked to mine (via this hub). so, discoverability of my paper will be improved.
    – beta
    Mar 29, 2016 at 15:26
  • More specifically, citing the seminal paper makes you discoverable to people looking for papers that cite it, which is a distinct advantage to you. In general, though, you cite the older work when you want to give proper credit to the people responsible for the idea.
    – E.P.
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:58
  • Cite the paper that is most easy for your reader to understand and access. E.g. check with google if one of the papers is easy to read for free on the web, if so cite it unless the other one is better in every way.
    – Ian
    Mar 30, 2016 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


You might cite both by saying "Idea X, originally developed in [1] and extended in [2], shows that ..."

  • Very practical advice.
    – Floris
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:49
  • Also this shows that you properly conducted your bibliograph study and did not omit any work that is relevant. Mar 30, 2016 at 11:26

If you know why do you need a citation, it is usually easy to determine which papers to cite.

  • If you want to give credit for a contribution, you cite the original paper.
  • In computer science, journal papers usually supersede earlier conference versions of the same paper. If a journal version of the paper exists, you cite it instead of the conference version, because it is now the original paper.
  • Subsequent papers by the same authors often contain new contributions to the topic. If the contributions are relevant to your paper, you cite those papers for the contributions.
  • If you want to tell the reader what the state of the art is, you cite the most comprehensive papers on the topic. This may include survey articles or papers describing version 2.0 of the result, even if the specific contributions in 2.0 are not relevant to your paper.
  • There are obviously other reasons for citing a paper. For example, you may want to cite historically important papers in a literature survey, even if the results are no longer relevant.

So, in general, you cite (the journal version of) the original paper for the contribution, and give the reader some relevant pointers to the state of the art. If the topic is central to your paper, you may also want to cite the intermediate papers for their specific contributions.

  • 1
    The notion of "superseding" earlier papers is a little bit dangerous, I think, as it may confuse chronology, as well as possibly inadvertently replacing more accessible, primary (and possibly more correct) sources with less-accessible, in-effect-secondary sources. Mar 29, 2016 at 15:20
  • "If you want to note that some technique was already known for a long time, cite older works."
    – liori
    Mar 29, 2016 at 19:23
  • "In computer science, journal papers usually supersede earlier conference versions of the same paper. " Unfortunately, the originality of journal papers has declined CS quite a bit. Many journal papers are just more wordy versions of the original conference contribution with very little extra value. Especially for highly-ranked conferences, people almost never read the "extended journal version". They are write-only papers.
    – Daniel
    Mar 29, 2016 at 20:32
  • 1
    "Write only" is the most depressing form of communication, if you want to call it that. I've written countless pages of documentation, research, summaries and data that no one will ever read but we were told 'we need to have it'. Why? Oh you know, reasons...
    – corsiKa
    Mar 29, 2016 at 22:44

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