Let's assume that 10 empirical studies have been done for topic x. If I want to mention the following: Several studies have been conducted to deal with topic x (study 1; study 2; study 3).

My question: when I mention the word 'several', am I obligated to cite ALL the 10 empirical studies in the citation? Can I just cite a few? Should I use 'for example' to tell the reader that I am citing only 3 related studies, however others studies do exist?

2 Answers 2


Assuming the empirical studies with topic X involves the application of various methods associated with X, aspect of citing the number of available examples depends on your motive.

  • If you are illustrating a method, then citing only a few like two or three would be fine. This can be when you wish to show the applicability (or inapplicability) of a method Y for the topic X citing only few of the papers that uses Y on X.

  • On the other hand, if you wish to do a detailed study on different methods applied in different ways on topic X, then you would have to cite all the available empirical studies done on X. Note that you would also have to give an account on each of the material you have cited. This would be the obvious case for a proper survey.

  • Thanks for the illustrating example. I am just writing an essay and would like to inform my instructor that there exists many empirical studies done on topic X by showing her a few like (study 1; study 2; study 3), of course, there could be 10000 studies related to this topic, I don't want to cite ALL OF THEM! Can I just do like (study 1; study 2; study 3) without saying for example? I don't want my readers to assume that only 3 studies exist on this topic.
    – R. AS.
    May 24, 2016 at 8:08
  • @R.AS.: Just make sure you include the 'for example' part along with the citation list. For instance, "Many empirical studies have been done on X (e.g., [5], [7], [8])...". It would be better to explain at least one of them if you are stating this in the Related Works / Literature Review section.
    – Ébe Isaac
    May 24, 2016 at 8:49
  • Definitely. But is 'e.g.' the same as 'for example'? I am not sure...
    – R. AS.
    May 24, 2016 at 9:33
  • @R.AS.: Yes absolutely. E.g. stands for exempli gratia used in the place of 'for example'.
    – Ébe Isaac
    May 24, 2016 at 9:38

If you doubt that a study should be included in the bibliography, then probably you don't consider it worth citing. Make a selection and then include every one of them in the bibliography. In the body you could say something like, "An exhaustive body of empirical studies exists on this topic [see: Study 1, Study 2,... Study N]. In particular, [Study X, Study Y] are most relevant to our work...".

Not including cited work in bibliography will be considered at best a sign of laziness and at worst an indication of unethical behaviour.

  • Thanks for the answer but I am not asking about bibliography. Of course, every study I am going to cite in-text is going to appear on my bibliography list. However, assume there are 100 studies related to X and all of them are related, should I write in-text: see study 1, study 2, study 3, study 4, ..., study 100 (e.g. ALL OF THEM) or can I only mention a few without saying 'for example' like see study 1, study 2, study 3.
    – R. AS.
    May 24, 2016 at 8:06
  • That's why I suggested to make a selection of the most relevant ones. It's unlikely that there are dozens of case studies with unique/equally important findings. After a specific number of studies, the marginal utility of including additional studies quickly diminishes. Unless it's your job to really list of all possible studies ever published, stick to a few that best help your article. May 24, 2016 at 8:12
  • Indeed. That's what I am looking for. Should I include something like 'for example' or 'e.g.' to inform my readers that my list (of 3 or 4) is not exhaustive and others studies do exist?
    – R. AS.
    May 24, 2016 at 8:16

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