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Citations, self-citations, and citation stacking | Editor Resources


Citations, self-citations, and citation stacking

Citation metrics

We have covered the diverse range of citation metrics in a previous post and
although their number continues to grow, the Impact Factor is still the
most important. Despite increasing concerns about how the Impact Factor
is being used, far beyond its main purpose to evaluate citation
profiles of journals, it is a key metric on which authors choose
journals and often editors want to ensure theirs is as high as possible.

The challenge

Given the simplicity of the Impact Factor, there is a range of
methods at an editor’s disposal to improve the metric; some ethical and
some not. All editors want to maximize their journal’s Impact Factors.
In a future post we will cover how we can support you in doing this.

This post will give information about unethical practices that should be avoided by editors, board members, and reviewers.


All journals have some level of self-citation and this is natural
behavior for journals. However, problems arise when journals attempt to
increase Impact Factors by increasing self-citation rates. Small, highly
specialized journals will tend to have higher self-citation rates than
larger broad journals; as such there is no predefined level of what is

However, certain behaviors from editors or reviewers is unethical.
Editors or peer reviewers must never engage in any behavior that
implicitly or explicitly makes citing their journal a prerequisite for
acceptance. Recommendations on any additional citations should be based
on relevance to the author’s work with the goal of improving the work
for users of the final article.

Citation stacking

Citation stacking and citation cartels have recently appeared as
another method used to increase journal Impact Factors. This practice
involves improper citation relationships between a group of journals,
either as an informal arrangement or abuse of editorial positons with
other journals to increase citations back to a particular title. As with
self-citations, editors and reviewers should never implicitly or
explicitly make citing a specific journal a prerequisite for acceptance,
even if this journal is not the journal to which the author has

Ethics summary

Taylor & Francis does not condone any unethical attempt to
manipulate Impact Factors or other metrics. If you are unsure about what
constitutes ethical best practice in this area, please contact your
journal’s managing editor, who will be able to assist you. The metric
providers such as Thomson Reuters have tools to evaluate citation
patterns and will suppress journals from receiving an Impact Factor if
they believe them to be suspect. Should the anomalous citation patterns
continue, then the journal may be removed from Web of Science entirely.

As a general guide, suggesting additional citations that improve the
quality or readability of the published article is a perfectly normal
part of the peer-review process. It becomes unethical when citing
certain journals is either explicitly – or believed to be – a condition
of acceptance in a journal.

Published: February 11, 2015 | Author:

James Hardcastle ,

Research Manager

| Category: Citations, impact and usage, Front page, News and ideas |
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Citations, self-citations, and citation stacking | Editor Resources

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