February 11, 2015 | James Hardcastle , Research Manager

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 acceptable.

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 submitted.

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 | Tagged with: