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Key References v1 (obsolete)

(A newer version of this proposal is available.)

The key references section of a paper points to the most similar previous articles on the same topic that were extended, improved, challenged, or built upon by the paper. Key references allow the author of a research article to highlight the most closely related previous work in the specific topic of the paper. Key references are the natural complement of key words.


Given the large amount of scholarly literature being created (books, journals, conference proceedings, technical reports, etc.), and the increasing importance of automatic search systems for accessing this literature, the problem of presenting users of search engines with short lists of relevant papers about a topic is critical.

Currently, when a system for searching the academic literature answers a query, it uses several sources of evidence to sort the resources available in its database. These sources of evidence consist mostly on text-based features and link-based features. Text-based features include the presence of certain words in the title, abstract or text of the paper. Link-based features include the amount and dynamics of the citations to the paper. There are also combined features that can be extracted, for instance, the presence of certain words in the vicinity of the references on citing papers, that are frequently good index terms for the cited document.


Key references allow search systems to show the user relevant, focused results when searching for related papers or studying the evolution of a certain specific idea in time. They also help search systems in providing alerts to users when a paper extends, challenges or complements the results in a paper of their interest. For automatic indexing systems, the idea of the key references is not to identify highly cited, influential articles, but to allow the system to track the evolution of a specific observation, method or idea in time, by following key references backwards.

Key references are also valuable for humans reading a paper, as it enables them to easily track the past and future developments related to a certain scientific topic, and to help them to quickly identify what a paper is about.


Authors are encouraged to make an effort for succinctness and include no more than 2-3 of the references of their article in the key references section, except for very long writings, in which this should be at most 1/20 of the references of the publication. The key references should highlight the papers that are more closely related to the specific topic at hand, that is, the works that are most related to theirs, not the work that is most famous, or most admired.

Authors should not be shy about including their own work as key references for their paper. In fact, this is often the case, for instance, as a journal or conference paper that extends ideas already presented in other venues must include them as key references.

Format: the section is marked with the words “Key references” followed by a colon (“:”), followed by a list of key references formatted according to the same citation style used in the rest of the article. No changes are necessary to style files for LaTeX users.

As for the placement, the first choice is to list the key references immediately after the references section.

Another choice is to include the key references after the abstract, the usual placement for index keywords and general terms.


Finally, if the key references are not acceptable in these placements because of formatting constraints, place them at the end of the conclusions section.

Fabrizio Silvestri said,

November 12, 2006 @ 4:44 am

I really liked the idea. I think it’s really good and it would help readers of scientific paper to quickly recognize, among the usually available huge number of references, those really close to the paper topic.
I will support the idea.

Eldar said,

November 16, 2006 @ 2:11 am

I think that it is a great idea too, a “why no-one has thought of it before” one. My only criticism is that I would put the cap at 5 key references, not 2-3.

Dmitriy said,

November 17, 2006 @ 2:55 am

I think your idea is very good. If it was up for a vote, I would prefer “Key references” to follow the abstract (choice two), but I’m guessing if implemented separate publishers would have separate preferences. One thing I think you should consider with this proposal, and when thinking about the limits on the number of key references are survey papers. While they have key references, the number of such references may exceed three or five. » Welcome said,

June 21, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

[...] references” on a paper the works most related to that particular paper. This is the proposal [...]

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