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Key References v2

The key references mechanism is used to highlight references of particular or outstanding interest for the readers of a paper. It may be used to specific articles in previous work that were extended, improved, challenged, or built upon by a paper.


Key references are valuable for the readers of a paper, as they help them quickly identify what a paper is about, enable them to easily track the past and future developments related to a certain scientific topic, and recommend what to read next when seeking to learn more about the background of a paper.

Key references also may allow search systems that are able to recognize them, to show users 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.


Authors are encouraged to make an effort for succinctness and include no more than 10% of the references of their article as key references. 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 should include them as key references.

Some options for placement of key references are described below. The examples are in LaTeX but the same can be easily done in other document processing systems:

Option 1: using the “key references” text

The words “Key references” are included 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. In the examples below, this style is numeric, but using name of author(s) and year works just the same.

As for the placement, an easy way of implementing this is to list the key references immediately after the references section. In LaTeX, the following is obtained by inserting \bigskip Key references: \cite{key1,key2} immediately after the \bibliography{...} command.


If you use Natbib, you can insert the key references before the list using \renewcommand{\bibpreamble}{Key references: \cite{key1,key2}} before the \bibliography{...} command.:


Option 2: using markers

Another option to highlight key references, used in review/survey articles in some medical journals, is to use markers to highlight them. One dot indicates an article of special interest, while two dots indicate an article of outstanding interest. In LaTeX this can be obtained using \renewcommand{\bibpreamble}{\textbullet~of special interest~~~\textbullet\textbullet~of outstanding interest}:

Markers Above

The dots can be placed either below the bracketed marker, or for simplicity, next to the author names. In LaTeX, this is obtained by adding \textbullet\textbullet~ in the .bbl file, before the names of the authors whose paper we want to highlight:

Markers Inlined

A fancier placement of the bullets can be achieved, e.g.:


Thanks to Ingmar Weber for pointing out the special interest/outstanding interest bullets.

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