What exactly is the definition of self-citation? I have looked around but I cannot seem to find a definition. There is even a publication, but I cannot access it at the moment. Also I would like to have a definition here on Academia SE.

For example, say I publish paper with a co-author. Then my co-author cites this paper in another publication in which I am not involved. This is clearly a self-citation for him, but is it also a self-citation for me? Does my indirect involvement suffice to make this a self-citation for me?

Maybe there are other ambiguous cases, feel free to edit the question.

  • Although it's another context, I'm wondering why the self-citation is not being considered in popular citation database like scopus, google scholar? Some authors are widely using this to increase their citations, I'm not against self citation, however this metric itself is useful to evaluate the impact of an article.
    – Mithun
    Sep 10, 2017 at 13:55
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    @Mithun Scopus does have an interface to display citation counts excluding self-citations. Sep 11, 2017 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


There is no exact, official, legally binding definition of self-citation. The term occurs usually in the context of research metrics and scientific evaluations, and every developer of a system to measure such things is free to use his own definition of self-citation (or even, to ignore it).

That said, if I were to implement such a system, I would treat self-citation as a property of a paper, not as a property of an author. That means, I would consider a citation of paper A within paper B as a self-citation, if A and B have at least one author in common. The reason is that some overlap between the author lists will already make it more likely that paper A is referenced in paper B.

Note that "the citation of A within B is a self-citation" is not a moral statement. It does not mean that the authors of A, or the authors of B, or the joint authors of A and B did anything wrong. It just means that there is some aspect that makes this particular citation statistically more likely than a citation of A within another paper C, where A and C have no authors in common. Research metrics consider events that are more likely (say, a publication in arXiv) as less valuable than events that are less likely (say, a publication in Nature). They are based on statistical observations, not on a legal process that decides for each individual citation whether it is justified or not. Don't take it personally.

  • 1
    Your definition helps but it over-penalizes the authors of paper A that are not in paper B, as they are not citing themselves. Sep 12, 2017 at 9:10
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    I've added a third paragraph; please have a look at it.
    – Uwe
    Sep 12, 2017 at 10:15
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    I think self-citation, as a verb, makes more sense for an author than a paper. A paper self-citing should mean it cites itself (an internal reference). An author self-citing would mean citing one of their own works.
    – Kimball
    Sep 12, 2017 at 14:27
  • @Kimball Yes, it's abuse of terminology, but it seems to be the established convention. The usual goal is to estimate the impact of an article (and indirectly, to estimate the reputation of researchers by looking at the impact of their articles). The impact of an article with authors X and Y, however, is independent of whether we consider it as an article of X or as an article of Y.
    – Uwe
    Sep 12, 2017 at 15:11
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    @HermanToothrot you said "over-penalizes" and you seem to think self-citation is a bad thing. Improper or irrelevant self-citation would certainly be bad, but directly relevant self-citation is common and not problematic. In fact, in some circumstances, failing to do so could be improper. Nov 28, 2018 at 16:34

Increasingly, an article should cite its own representation in a Research Data Repository as researchers are being encouraged to make their research data publicly available.

'Self citation' is not a property of the paper, and does not have binary status as the sets of citing authors may not include all the cited authors. What may be a self-cite for one co-author is not a self-cite for a non-author of the citing paper. Further, citing one's own papers may be necessary to avoid redundant duplication and repeating old history.

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