If you have already published a paper, chances are that you will want to cite it even in the next paper you write. This article discusses the practice of self-citation, i.e., the reference to a previously published article by the same author.
Self-citation might be awkward, especially if you have been brought up in a culture that encourages modestly. There is also evidence to suggest that female academics in particular are relatively reluctant to cite their own work (e.g., a study conducted in 2017 found that men are 70% likelier to self-cite than women). In fact, this post was prompted by a discussion with a junior colleague, who was wondering if citing her own work in an upcoming presentation would be “obscene”.
The TL:DR is that, in principle, an author’s responsibility is to direct the readers’ attention to all the relevant research that has been previously published, even if one happens to have been involved in its publication. So, yes, it is OK to cite your own work.
In the paragraphs that follow, I give a more extended answer, which examines:
There are three main reasons why it might be appropriate to cite your own work. These these include showing how your new work connects to your research agenda, alerting readers to how your thinking is evolving, and avoiding textual overlap.
Demonstrating research coherence
One reason why self-citation may be justified is because of the cumulative nature of scientific work. This means that, as long as your research agenda is coherent, your new research will build on what you have learnt (and published) previously. In such cases, citing your older publications is a helpful way of contextualising the new research.
Discussing your previous publications is also be a useful opportunity to point out how the new publication adds to the academic record. Establishing what is new, compared to previous work helps to avoid the impression that you are salami-slicing your research, or publishing lots of essentially similar publications.
Demonstrating conceptual progress
The second reason why you might want to refer to a precious publication is in order to demonstrate how your thinking has evolved. When working on a research topic over a long period of time, you are likely to develop new, more refined understandings. When this happens, you may need to critically re-evaluate your previous publications. If you don’t, that will likely create confusion among readers, who might not notice subtle conceptual shifts between older and newer publications.
You might sometimes find yourself in a situation where you are describing something very similar to what you have already written in the past. For example, you may need to define a key term, or might have to describe a research procedure that you have used in multiple projects. In such situations, it is better to limit yourself to a very short explanation, and refer readers to your previous work, rather than explain things all over. This is especially important in view of the increased sensitivity to self-plagiarism.
How to cite yourself appropriately
All that said, there are a couple of things you need to be cautious about when citing your own work: Firstly, self-citations should add value for the readers. This means that you should not cite your own papers just for the sake of boosting your ego, or for the more insidious purpose of increasing your bibliometric rankings (the number of times an academic has been cited is sometimes used as an indirect measure of research quality). Excessive self-citation risks annoying reviewers, who may justifiably ask for revisions.
The second thing to remember is that self-citations, when used, should sensibly contextualise your new publication. A common mistake is when a person discusses a well-researched phenomenon, but they only refer to their own work. Unless the author happens to be the only person who has published about this phenomenon, then the impression that this creates to readers is that they are either unaware of the broader literature, or just trying to self-advertise. Either way, this creates a very negative impression — that of “soliloquising on the scholarly stage“.
The last thing you might want to keep in mind is that your self-citation should not give away your identity, if you’re writing for a journal that practices anonymous (‘blind’) peer-review. Journals will often have specific instructions on how to deal with self-citation: For example, you may be asked to replace your name with “Author”, or to remove first-person pronouns. Some journals, by the way, have policies limiting the use of self-citation, so make sure you read the instructions to the authors very carefully.
Before you go
If you came to this page while preparing a publication, the following posts may also be of interest:
Feel free to add any questions or comments in the space below, or to contact me directly if you think there is any other way in which I can help you. You may also want to use the social sharing buttons below to forward this content to anyone else who might be interested. And all the best with your publishing efforts!