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While reading papers I have found some paper where multiple papers are listed in a single reference:

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In the text, this is woven in with “The Cornell group [3] …”. Other papers have something like this and then use “[3-5]” and have the three consecutive references.

Is this just another way to refer to multiple papers if they are not disambiguated within the paper?

  • Bit of a guess here...Possibly this was a convenient way for the journal to maintain its citation standards. Some journals want all citations to use names in-text. So "It was shown in [3] that..." doesn't satisfy their standards, but "It was shown by Johnson [3] that..." is the sort of thing they want. When citing several works as an aggregate, this presents a special issue, especially when the list of authors is long and not always the same. As such, it may be grammatically easier to group a series of citations together, provided there is a reasonably common thread between them. – zibadawa timmy Nov 1 '16 at 4:14
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You are right about the function of this, but I think it's often not the best practice (although this is strictly my own opinion). Personally, I avoid combining references entirely. In my opinion, it can be used legitimately, when the papers combined into a single reference are by (mostly) the same authors and cover the continuous development of a single topic. However, I mostly see it used by people who want to pour a large number of references into a single number, perhaps to save a little bit of space.

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