Recently I had a challenge in responding to a reviewer (#2) for revising our work. The reviewer asked us to refer 16 papers in multiple parts of the paper. I decided to refer some of these references about 8 papers due to the not relevancy of the mentioned references from the reviewer to the question raised by the reviewer #2.

Now the reviewers commented on the revised version and three of them are accepted without any further comments and modification. But the reviewer #2 rejected the paper and said that the authors didn't consider my concerns and comments thoroughly and only partially answered to them.

I think that this reviewer objects to our work because of we didn't refer to all of 16 mentioned paper in his comments.

The editor asked from us to answer why we didn't answer the reviewer #2 comments and revise our work to answer them.

I have two scenarios in my mind:

  1. State clearly the unprofessional work of the reviewer #2 to forcing us to mention many papers from a group of specific people with a similar author in all of them and weak relevance of the mentioned works to that comment.
  2. Reanswer the comments of reviewer #2 and mention some of the wanted references

what should I do now?

  • 14
    Keep in mind that the editor, who is making the final decision, knows the identity of the reviewer, and will take into account if he is forcing you to cite his own work.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 10:29
  • 2
    But the reviewer #2 rejected the paper — No, reviewer #2 recommended rejecting the paper. Only editors can atually reject papers.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 4:52

3 Answers 3


Neither, you should just write an answer (not change the article) in which you mention for each paper why you did not cite it. Keep it objective, calm, and short. If the reviewer is unprofessional then that will become clear enough, and your professionalism will be all the more obvious.

  • 10
    At the same time, you need to have an open mind, perhaps you missed a body of work. I've had to do this as a reviewer more than once (the authors hadn't cited an entire relevant body of work, not my own mind you, but a group which had made major contributions). I gave them a list of citations relevant to their paper which they needed to cite for completeness.
    – daaxix
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 2:20
  • 2
    Also, remember intermediate positions are possible. You may find that some of the papers are relevant and should be cited, but that it is not necessary to cite all of them. Consider each paper, and either cite it or explain why you are not citing it. Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 14:30

You should carefully consider citing the papers mentioned by the reviewer. If you did that and still found them irrelevant for your work, then you should not cite the papers.

However, you should point the circumstances out to the editor as objectively as possible. Objectivly in this case is stating why those papers suggested by the editor are not relevant. In this case, I would go one step further, and state why they might seem relevant, but in fact are not. This will certainly make the editor aware that there is a discrepancy between the reviewer's suggenstions and the contents of the paper. If an editor sees that a reviewer is suggesting irrelevant papers to be cited (regardless of authors) it should be clear to him that the reviewer in question does not have the necesary insighst to review the paper and a different reviewer should be selected.


Your situation is a very common case in current scientific publishing. At the moment, pressure on scientists is much higher than it was in the past. Citations are one of the many measures of scientific excellence ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153730 ). Hence, everyone wants to obtain citations for their work.

In the past 5 years, I have encountered very similar situations as you did. Reviewers requested me to cite their papers (2-3 papers max), etc. Usually, some citations were not totally relevant. Nevertheless, I have never complained to an Editor or Reviewer but just cited Papers, and that's all.

However, defining your situation is much more complex than is seen at first sight. It would be good if you could specify if these 16 papers were authored by the same researcher or not. In line with this, it would be good to know if the references belong to the same journal or even journal families.

Anyway, we can outline some possible scenarios why someone would like to see 16 more references (relevant or irrelevant) in your paper.

  1. Personal benefits: Each Reviewer sees reviewing a paper as a chance to put some citations in that paper. In this case, the Reviewer obtains some valuable citations easily (let us propose that 95% of authors cite recommended references in order to avoid any complications and quick acceptance). Additionally, it is also intended to promote his/her work.

  2. Raising the Impact Factor of the journal: Some years ago, The Scientific World Journal (TSWJ) lost its Impact Factor, since this journal was used as a resource for boosting citations to other journals. If I remember correctly, there were some Editors that were also Editors in other journals and they requested to cite references of other journals in TSWJ papers.

  3. Citation cartels: The last point is citation cartels. Roots of cartels can be found in points 1 and 2, but are more sophisticated and organized. In simple words, a citation cartel is actually a group of "friends” or group of “researchers" that work together for mutual benefit. This benefit is manifested in personal benefits (to raise citations to each other) or to raise Impact Factors of journals. There are many scenarios of cartels: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fphy.2016.00049

What to do in your situation?

  1. Go with the flow: Just cite these irrelevant references and the paper will probably soon be accepted.

  2. Talk to the Editor: You can write a message to the Editor and try to present your situation. A good Editor will understand your situation fully. On the other hand, be aware that the Reviewer and Editor may be also friends (Cartel members) and your email will not the save your situation.

  3. Withdraw your manuscript and try in another venue: If you think that these irrelevant references will decrease the quality of your manuscript, then simply withdraw it. However, you will lose a lot of time and the paper will undergo once again the first round of reviews.

  • 5
    Downvoted for advocating intentional unethical behavior.
    – Peteris
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 19:16

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