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References serve many purposes in a scientific manuscript. They:

  • Establish where ideas came from
  • Give evidence for claims
  • Connect readers to other research
  • Provide a context for your work
  • Show that there is interest in this field of research

Using a reference manager (e.g. EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley) will help you keep track of publications that you have reviewed. These tools also make it easy to format, add, and remove references in your manuscript.

Because references have an important role in many parts of a manuscript, failure to sufficiently cite other work can reduce your chances of being published. Every statement of fact or description of previous findings requires a supporting reference.

Be sure to cite any publications whose results disagree with yours. Not citing conflicting work will make readers wonder whether you are really familiar with the research literature. Citing conflicting work is also a chance to explain why you think your results are different. It is also important to be concise. You need to meet all the above needs without overwhelming the reader with too many references-only the most relevant and recent articles need to be cited. There is no correct number of references for a manuscript, but be sure to check the journal's guidelines to see whether it has limits on numbers of references.

Never cite a publication based on what you have read about it in a different publication (such as a review), or based only on the publication's abstract. These may mislead you and, importantly, readers. Read the publication itself before you cite it, and then check the accuracy of the citation again before submitting your manuscript.

  • Establishing the origin of ideas

When you refer to an idea or theory, it is important to let your readers know which researcher(s) came up with the idea. By citing publications that have influenced your own work, you give credit to the authors and help others evaluate the importance of a particular publications. Acknowledging others' contributions is also an important ethical principle.

  • Justify claims

In a scientific manuscript, all statements must be supported with evidence. This evidence can come from the results of the current research, common knowledge, or from previous publications. A citation after a claim makes it clear which previous study supports the claim.

  • Connect with other research

Researchers use forward and reverse citations to find manuscripts related to those they have already read. So when you cite others' manuscripts, you increase the visibility of your own.

  • Provide a context for your work

By highlighting related works, citations help show how a manuscript fits into the bigger picture of scientific research. When readers understand what previous studies found and what puzzles or controversies your study relates to, they will better understand the meaning of your work.

  • Show there is interest your field of research

Citations show that other researchers are performing work similar to your own. Having current citations will help journal editors see that there is a potential audience for your manuscript.

Article within a journal
1. Koonin EV, Altschul SF, Bork P: BRCA1 protein products: functional motifs. Nat Genet 1996, 13:266-267.

Article within a journal supplement
2. Orengo CA, Bray JE, Hubbard T, LoConte L, Sillitoe I: Analysis and assessment of ab initio three-dimensional prediction, secondary structure, and contacts prediction. Proteins 1999, 43(Suppl 3):149-170.

In press article
3. Kharitonov SA, Barnes PJ: Clinical aspects of exhaled nitric oxide. Eur Respir J, in press.

Published abstract
4. Zvaifler NJ, Burger JA, Marinova-Mutafchieva L, Taylor P, Maini RN: Mesenchymal cells, stromal derived factor-1 and rheumatoid arthritis [abstract]. Arthritis Rheum 1999, 42:s250.

Article within conference proceedings
5. Jones X: Zeolites and synthetic mechanisms. In Proceedings of the First National Conference on Porous Sieves: 27-30 June 1996; Baltimore. Edited by Smith Y. Stoneham: Butterworth-Heinemann; 1996:16-27.

Book chapter, or article within a book
6. Schnepf E: From prey via endosymbiont to plastids: comparative studies in dinoflagellates. In Origins of Plastids. Volume 2. 2nd edition. Edited by Lewin RA. New York: Chapman and Hall; 1993:53-76.

Whole issue of journal
7. Ponder B, Johnston S, Chodosh L (Eds): Innovative oncology. In Breast Cancer Res 1998, 10:1-72.

Whole conference proceedings
8. Smith Y (Ed): Proceedings of the First National Conference on Porous Sieves: 27-30 June 1996; Baltimore. Stoneham: Butterworth-Heinemann; 1996.

Complete book
9. Margulis L: Origin of Eukaryotic Cells. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1970.

Monograph or book in a series
10. Hunninghake GW, Gadek JE: The alveolar macrophage. In Cultured Human Cells and Tissues. Edited by Harris TJR. New York: Academic Press; 1995:54-56. [Stoner G (Series Editor): Methods and Perspectives in Cell Biology, vol 1.]

Book with institutional author
11. Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification: Annual Report. London; 1999.

PhD thesis
12. Kohavi R: Wrappers for performance enhancement and oblivious decision graphs. PhD thesis. Stanford University, Computer Science Department; 1995.

Link / URL
13. Mouse Tumor Biology Database [] Accessed on date XX