Can a reference list for a research paper contains references for resources that are never cited in the text but was useful for the research?

  • 5
    Why would you want to provide a reference when you in fact never reference it?
    – Ian
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 8:04
  • Can you insert a mention of it into the writing? Even a single sentence, e.g. "This issue was further supported in, for example, X (1990) and Y (1992)."
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:49
  • This question is stated in a misleading way, because answering "no" to the title means the complete opposite of answering "no" to the question text. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 9:39
  • 1
    @FedericoPoloni I don't think that is such a big problem. An answer shouldn't just say 'no' anyway, and it's not that hard to phrase an answer to make sense. It's a lot better than the ones where the question text says 'see title'.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 7:00

5 Answers 5


A reference list is the list of things that are referenced. A list containing other items that were used is called a bibliography.


No, a reference list only provides the list of references that were cited in the main text. If additional literature was useful for the research, it should be cited accordingly. Unlike a syllabus, a reference list is not just a collection of literature on a certain topic.


No, it can't. This is actually checked during the proofreading step and you are asked to remove all items from the reference list that have not been cited in the text. That is actually pretty common to happen (as is the opposite of missing items in the reference list) since it's easy for citations and reference list to be out of sync if you don't use a reference manager and have a lot of revisions.

  • This is pretty common? This would mean a lot of people don't use reference managers?
    – user64845
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 9:45
  • 1
    Correct. I know many older colleagues who don't use them at all. There is also the problem of different reference managers used by collaborators and resulting compatibility problems.
    – user9482
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 9:58
  • @DSVA Yes, many people write references without a reference manager. For documents with several authors and a number of references in the 20-30 range, a reference manager is actually more hassle than help.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:07
  • In my experience even for 10 references using a manager is less work than doing it manually. And it's also quite easy to coordinate with others, the main author handles the references and everyone else just puts down the DOI if they want to add a reference.
    – user64845
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:25
  • 2
    @DSVA I agree. But that doesn't change that I have coauthored a number of papers where no reference manager was used.
    – user9482
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 13:36

Yes, all references in a reference list need to be cited at least once in the text. If you wish to include other sources that were helpful but not cited, you need a bibliography, which can include references, as well as sources not referred to. A useful source on this is Cite Them Right by Pears & Shields, from Bloomsbury.


I think it's technically ok, but It's defininitely bad style. How was it useful and yet not worth refering to in your manuscript? It also leaves unclear which part of your research it supported.

Elsevier e.g. actually state in their author guidelines that cited references must be mentioned in the text and vice versa: https://www.elsevier.com/journals/learning-and-instruction/0959-4752/guide-for-authors#68000

  • 1
    No, it's not technically OK.
    – user9482
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 9:12
  • I'd go further: It is downright unethical to pad the list of references, even, or perhaps especially, if a publisher requests it to bring up a journal's impact factor. That is, unless there is a clear connection between the cited material and the current paper, the citation should be removed. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 20:40
  • @Roland You are right. I added a link to the author guidelines of an Elsevier journal to respond to your criticism.
    – akid
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 8:03

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