Well the question is pretty much self contained :

Can you cite articles if you only read the abstract ?

In a more general case :

1) Do reviewers actually read (or read) articles you cite ?

2) If the abstract is well structured, and you flied through the article content, everything seems reliable, and you do not need to have a thorough understanding of the methods for example, is it ok to cite it ?

EDIT : following O.R Mapper insightful comment

3) What if you cannot access the paper in no way ?

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    Can you? Yes. Should you? No. I personally wouldn't feel comfortable citing work for which I haven't read all relevant parts, e.g. Abstract + Introduction + all relevant Methods + Conclusion. Jun 24, 2016 at 9:25
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    @101010111100 I understand your high standards academic POV. But let's take an example. The article is about planting carrot in Birman. Im interested in how much carrots did they get and their size. Do I really need to know and read thoroughly about how did they plant them or how much water did they use for watering ? Jun 24, 2016 at 9:33
  • For 1) it obviously varies, but I have at least had reviewers point out that they were unable to find a result I cited in the given paper (I had accidently given it the wrong number). Jun 24, 2016 at 10:19
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    @Blue_Elephant Sort of? Using your example, I don't see why you wouldn't need to know how the authors managed to obtain their results. Plucking pieces of data like that from different sources, without understanding the context of that data, can be really dangerous. And I find it strange that you can't, at the very least, spend a few minutes to read through the conclusions and skim through the methods. Jun 24, 2016 at 12:26
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    @101010111100: Without commenting on whether the abstract should be relied upon for results: In the age of paywalls, having no access and failure to find anyone among one's contacts from other institutions who does have access to the full text means that it "spend[ing] a few minutes" is not necessarily the problem. Jun 24, 2016 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


1) Do reviewers actually read (or read) articles you cite ?

Sometimes, but not always. When I review a paper, I'll generally check a random subset of citations to make sure the right paper is linked. (It's surprisingly common for references to get out of sync, so that citation [12] in the manuscript actually should be citing reference [13] in the bibliography.) I'm often familiar enough with the literature to know if the authors are citing an appropriate paper for common points, so I'll skim over these to make sure everything I already know makes sense. In both cases, I don't actually read the papers, just make sure they pass the sanity check.

If something looks odd (they cite an author supporting something that I didn't think she worked on, or a fact seems reversed, or there's some detail I didn't know about) I will often take a look at the referenced paper. This averages to probably a couple of papers read per paper reviewed, but when I find one oddity I'll often find several, so it's more like some reviews I'll read 4-5 papers, more often I'll just glance at one.

So you shouldn't count on slipping something by reviewers.

As for looking at abstracts only, you can but probably shouldn't. The only time it's relatively safe is when the abstract explicitly states the single point you're using that paper to support ("We found that 72% of Bulgarian tractor repairmen are left-handed"), but even then you may be missing important qualifiers ("We limited our sample to red-haired tractor repairmen with pre-existing arthritis"). As I noted, reviewers may well be familiar enough with the literature to catch these.

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    "It's surprisingly common for references to get out of sync, so that citation [12] in the manuscript actually should be citing reference [13] in the bibliography." All hail automatic reference numbering.
    – JAB
    Jan 18, 2018 at 16:53
  • What if I'm writing a review article? Would it be alright to read then cite the abstract? The field I am currently writing in is in systems biology; my formal training is in math. (1) I know next to nothing about the methodologies; should I even bother with methodologies? (2) I do read into the molecular interactions and their overall effects in the "discussion" section apart from the abstract. Would this ever suffice? Mar 25, 2020 at 10:43

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