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Cite Right – Phantom References

Cite right coverAccording to Google Scholar, the following paper has been cited 1180 times, as of November 11, 2020:

Van der Geer, J., Hanraads, JAJ., Lupton, RA. ([2000]2010). The art of writing a scientific article. Journal of Science Communication. 163(2):51–59.

Must be an important one, right? The problem is that there is no such article in that journal! The journal does exist. Although there is a scholar called Van de Geer, one letter short and in a different discipline according to his scholarly profile, no full text of such article can be found anywhere.

How is it possible that there have been over a thousand scholars who cited a non-existent paper? Not speaking about the same amount of journal editors who never checked the validity of the reference?

Is this a phantom article written by a ghost?

citation exampleThis particular phantom publication was discovered by Prof. Anne-Wil Harzing, famous for Publish or Perish, a popular software application we have used many times to locate, retrieve, and analyze citations, based on a variety of data sources, e.g., Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search.

In fact, the citation shows up as an example to illustrate changes in reference style in a style guide by Elsevier. In her article entitled The mystery of the phantom reference Dr. Harzing presents how she tracked down the origin of the phantom reference and its citations, about 400 at that time, in Web of Science to find that papers citing it, about 90%, were in conference proceedings published in Procedia conference volumes. Analyzing the way the reference was cited, she discovered that the culprit was most probably a template, where the citation showed up, along with two others, as a sample citation in the reference section.

In a follow-up article, The phantom reference and the propagation of error, the Leng-researchers pointed out that, additionally, several other citing papers seem to have copied references from previous papers without checking the referenced paper! One phantom reference, 1000+ citations!Inspired by Dr. Harzing’s advice for good academic referencing in 12 guidelines published in 2001, here are our tips to cite the appropriate sources and cite them properly.

  1. Never copy someone else’s references from another paper, see above example.
  2. Always reproduce the correct reference by retrieving the original article, for example, by typing the title in quotes in QuickSearch.
  3. If you use citation manager software (RefWorks, EndNote, or Zotero), check the software-generated citation against the article for inaccuracies.
  4. Do not misrepresent the content of the reference, use it for what it is and not for your agenda.
  5. Do not use “empty” references. Each article cited should have a matching in-text reference.
  6. Make clear which statement the actual reference supports.
  7. Use reliable sources – beware of predatory publishing.

Sources from Rutgers University Libraries to cite right

QuickSearch: Use the citation symbol in the record and select APA Style 7th edition.

  • BEST for: articles found in QuickSearch, scholarly article found elsewhere, newspaper artciles
  • TIP: paste the title in quotes in QuickSearch, check the Expand My Search box on the right to search for the record in libraries other than Rutgers

2. Databases: Look for a CITE option. E.g., in the ProQuest databases, select the article and click on the citation symbol in the top right corner (currently providing APA Style 6th edition)

  • BEST for: saving instant citations for articles found in the particular database, including newspaper articles in many
  • ALTERNATIVES: QuickSearch, Google Scholar, manually

3. Google Scholar: preferably from the RUL link. Use the citation symbol below the record and select APA Style.

  • BEST for: scholarly articles found anywhere.
  • TIP: paste the title in quotes in Google Scholar

4. Manual editing: Always double check the citations generated by any of the above methods! Use the OWL from Purdue or the APA Handbook online.

  • BEST for: anything and everything, if you want that A+ for your paper!!
  • TIP: use it for web sites and other primary documents

See more from Purdue OWL on how to format your references, including a detailed list with APA Style citation examples with the most relevant examples to your paper.

Chang Library“Cite Right” Series

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