What is Self-Citation?

Did you know that when you, as researcher, do not reference or recognise your own work in a research study, it is seen as self-plagiarism? Self-citation is essential to avoid plagiarism. The term self-citation refers to the recognition of your own work when you are expanding on previous research or referring to work you have previously published.  The reasoning behind this? Research is cumulative and therefore you must refer to and attribute prior foundational academic work.

How Should it Be Used?

There is a limit to self-citation, however. When a researcher uses self-citation primarily to create a bigger impact, it becomes a matter of ethics. This unethical behaviour is called excessive self-citation, also referred to as citation manipulation.  COPE states in a study from 2019 that, “When any of the above parties, editors, board members, reviewers, or authors add or request to add citations where the motivations are merely self-promotional this aim violates publication ethics and is unethical. Additionally, whether or not they are requested, citations to the editor’s work should not be added in the belief that this will increase the likelihood of the publication being accepted” (2019).

What Does Self-Citation Look Like?

Self-citation has been called out on numerous occasions by the scientific community. In one computer science example as pointed out by Nature in a study PLoS Biology the scientist “received 94% of his citations from himself or his co-authors up to 2017.” In this same data set, they list around 100 000 researchers of which 250 scientists have attained more than 50% of their citations from themselves or their co-authors. The median rate for self-citation is in fact 12.7% (Van Noorden & Chawla, 2019).

In other words, excessive self-citation is not easy to miss.

The researcher could easily commit citation manipulation when they want to publish work and increase the impact factor. This of course would open up doors for future publications. The journal, on the other hand, could accept it to raise its own impact factor, or it may be a journal that falls into a niche audience with limited topic choices (Sanfilippo et al., 2021).

What Impact Does Self-Citation Have on Academic Integrity?

There is a direct link between self-citation and academic integrity: citations, and thus self-citations, raise the academic reputation of a researcher or journal in the form of the impact factor score, which is a very visible indicator of reputation.

It can, however, have the opposite effect. As academics become increasingly aware of this form of abuse. It has become clear that the more self-citations there are, the more likely the author is trying to self-promote.

How Can This Problem of Self-Citation Be Addressed?

As a first step, raising awareness of self-citation abuse would contribute to the mitigation of misconduct.  It is important that this awareness and underlying drive for academic integrity would guide academics to use self-citation appropriately. To support this, policies are being developed along with objective measurements for self-citation.

iThenticate, by Turnitin, is the leading provider of the professional plagiarism detection & prevention technology used worldwide by scholarly publishers, research departments, and individual researchers and authors to ensure the originality of written work before publication.

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COPE Discussion Article. 2019. Version 1 (July):3. Available Online. https://publicationethics.org/files/COPE_DD_A4_Citation_Manipulation_Jul19_SCREEN_AW2.pdf

Van Noorden, R. and Chawla, D.S. 2019 Hundreds of extreme self-citing scientists revealed in new database. Nature. August. Available Online.  https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02479-7

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