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citation etiquette for previous lit review


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Hi all, 

 

I'm in the process of writing a literature review and I'm wondering what the etiquette is for citing a previous review that has some overlap with your paper? For example, if you are writing an updated review on a focused topic but some of the subtopics overlap with another broad review done previously: Is it enough to cite the previous review in the introduction and state that you are building on and updating some of the findings or do you need to specifically cite this paper every time you reach similar conclusions? This is my first time doing a review so I'm rather paranoid.

 

 

Thanks for the help!

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I would personally err on the side of caution. Do both: mention that your paper builds on this previous work, and in addition make it clear in individual sections where what you are saying is essentially the same as what was said previously, where you are expanding on it (and specifically what part is the expansion), and where you are disagreeing or saying something completely different or new. Your contribution should be clearly delimited and previous work should be clearly acknowledged. 

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I agree with fuzzy. I've only written reviews as the introduction section of papers, not an entire review paper so I'm not that experienced. But when I wrote my review, my advisor made sure I did what fuzzy suggests--clearly delimit your own work from previous work. Any time you say something that has been said before by someone else, cite them. There are a few key papers in my field that get cited multiple times in my introduction section. Later, when I write about my results and conclusions, I always cite previous results of the same measurement (whether they agree with me or not) and compare them to mine.

 

The way we think about it is that it costs you at most, 3-4 words to add a citation (e.g. Smith et al. 2010), but there could be a lot of upset emails and accusations if someone feels that you slighted them or tried to pass off their work as your own. So, if it's possible that you should cite someone, just do it. (Of course, don't take this to the other extreme either--this advice is given with a "common sense" disclaimer and based on the fact that there is academic merit to putting the citation there and you're just not sure if you need to or not).

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Even if conclusions were derived independently? It seems weird to me to continually cite another paper when you went through the effort of gathering and synthesizing the papers on your own.

 

 

I'm going to take the suggestion to just cite where the similar conclusions are in the discussion section.

 

Thanks for the responses!

Edited by Grimnir
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Even if conclusions were derived independently? It seems weird to me to continually cite another paper when you went through the effort of gathering and synthesizing the papers on your own.

 

Let's say another team, Smith et al. 2010 analyzed a publicly available dataset and came to the conclusion that 80% of cows in Canada are green. My project also analyzes the same dataset (or even a different but similar dataset, perhaps an updated one), but we did it completely independently--we didn't use their analysis in any way. We find that 82% of cows in Canada are green.

 

I think that at some point in my discussion, I need to mention the Smith et al. 2010 result. It doesn't matter whether or not we used any details/analysis from Smith et al. 2010 to reach our conclusion. A big part of scholarship is to show the reader where your work fits in relative to other researchers and previously completed work. When I do this, I usually also compare my result/conclusion with other previous work, and state whether they are the same/consistent, or if they are not consistent, try to figure out why. If Smith et al. 2010 actually studied a lot of things about cows in Canada and my study also have additional overlapping attributes, I would certainly cite Smith et al. 2010 over and over again as I systematically discuss each of my Canadian cow findings one by one.

 

A literature review is a little different than e.g. an experiment, but I think the main idea here is the same. You definitely went through all the work to compile and analyze the papers on your own. But you did this to address a question in your field, right? And other people have also gone through the literature in the past and came to their own conclusions to address this question. It's important that you cite them to acknowledge what was found in the past, distinguish what you found in your updated review, and to reconcile these differences/compare your results.

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