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This question is related to the articles that are often cited in introduction or motivation section of any article. Often while writing an introduction, I mostly cite the famous works that are relevant to my work. Some other time I also cite the recent works from high-impact journals that are relevant to my work. This is primarily because these works are more show-cased and are widely available.

However, even though these works are relevant, is it ethical to just cite popular relevant works? What if an author published a more relevant work and it never got popular because he published in a low-impact journal? (This is refutable by saying: “Interesting work always gets cited and gets popular, irrelevant of the journal’s impact factor.”)

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    You should cite all the relevant work you know, regardless of the journal IF. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 2 '17 at 15:38
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    Why should we "accept that journal impact factor largely influence ..."? Don't you have independent judgement of paper relevance and quality? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 2 '17 at 16:03
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    You should read papers relevant to your research even from low impact journals. You are of course more likely to miss them, but nevertheless should not ignore them. This (noticing relevant papers from low impact journals) is probably the best thing that various academic "facebooks" are doing for me. – Mark Dec 2 '17 at 16:44
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    I agree with being selective. The question is what criteria to use in selecting. Why not treat probable relevance in terms of search results and reading abstracts as being more important than journal? If you ignore papers based on journal during your literature searches you risk wasting months or years, not hours, because a paper you ignored duplicates or invalidates your research. You may only find out about it when a reviewer recommends rejection of your paper for duplicating a paper you didn't read. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 3 '17 at 14:13
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    As someone who does not work in a university (and hence does not have access to a university library) I find it most useful if papers cited as far as possible are easy for me to access on the internet without having to pay to access them. Therefore when there is choose of papers to cite, please chose the paper that all of your readers will find easiest to access and understand. Citing an easy to access survey paper can be a great help to a reader like me, even if you also cite the papers that first come up with each concept. – Ian Dec 3 '17 at 15:36
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No, omitting work you know to be relevant simply because its publication venue does not have as high an impact factor is not ethical.

The purpose of citations is to point your reader to the relevant additional literature, give credit to the work that came before you, and position your work in the broader space. Indexing the most prominent venues (and thereby reinforcing their prominence) is not one of their purposes.

If you read the paper, and it materially impacted your work, you should cite it. And you should cite other papers that are relevant. You don't have to cite every thing that has ever been written on the topic (and as Googlebot mentioned, review articles are a great thing to cite), but quality of individual papers, not prestige of their publication venue, should be the deciding criteria.

This is refutable by saying "Interesting work always gets cited and gets popular, irrelevant of the journals impact factor."

I do not believe that refutation, but even if it were true, it would not be true if authors approached citation as you are proposing.

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  • If your purpose is to cite general references for a topic, it is better to cite a recent review article (if available; as suggested by the OP), as summarizes all recent works on that topic. Not only this makes your manuscript and its references better weighted but also properly guides the readers (random references are not useful).
  • If a relevant review article is not available, cite the references which better fit your statement to be referenced. If there is no other preference, it is better to cite references from the leading journals of the field (regardless of the impact factor), which are read by most of the readers.
  • If you cite a specific finding, then the reference should be cited regardless of the host journal.

As a side note, for the general references, it is better to cite references you may use in the rest of your manuscript too.

  • Also, most people who read the review article will see a list of all papers that cite it, assume the review article is open access. – Ian Dec 3 '17 at 15:39
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A decision to cite someone is not always, but very often based on the catchy title, on friendship, or on the hopes to get reviewed by authors of the cited manuscript, to do research with them if they are rich, to collaborate, to push one's PhD students to them later, to get invited by them, etc. Citation counts do not have as much to do with the actual scientific paper quality as you think. Having said that, it is not only unethical, it is simply stupid to cite only high-impact papers.

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Impact factors are calculated from citation counts. If everyone just cites based on impact factor, in the end impact factors will become meaningless as they'll just be measuring last year's impact factor.

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