Everyday gripes of a journal editor, part 94: why can’t people cite online references properly?

Here in the Annals’ office I’ve just been check­ing through an accep­ted paper before passing it on to our type­set­ters so that proofs can be sent to the authors, and not for the first time I’ve found myself trawl­ing through the inter­net try­ing to track down incor­rectly cited online-only, open access art­icles in the ref­er­ence list. Open access is a won­der­ful thing, mak­ing sci­ence avail­able to every­one imme­di­ately on pub­lic­a­tion, and the num­ber of ref­er­ences to such art­icles in papers we pub­lish is gradu­ally increas­ing, par­tic­u­larly in the field of genet­ics. But ‘open access’ doesn’t equate to ‘ease of access’ if authors don’t cite the art­icles correctly.

Let’s take an example: a paper by Robert Grant-Downton and col­leagues in BMC Genomics (chosen entirely at ran­dom, hon­estly, even though its cor­res­pond­ing author does hap­pen to be Chairman of the Annals of Botany Company!). The cita­tion for this paper, as clearly stated on both the online and PDF ver­sions, is BMC Genomics 10: 643. doi:10.1186/1471–2164-10–643: yet if ten authors were to refer to this art­icle I would expect at least four of them to cite it as BMC Genomics 10: 16; which is because the PDF ver­sion has 16 pages (and des­pite the fact that BMC help­fully write ‘page num­ber not for cita­tion pur­poses’ under­neath every page num­ber!). And I doubt that one in ten authors would include the doi num­ber at the end of the cita­tion. True, this may seem a bit of a lux­ury if you’ve got the volume and issue num­ber cor­rect, but the doi plays the role of ‘Mr Reliable’ – it’s a unique iden­ti­fier that’s always there: even if the web­site address should change the doi will still lead you to the paper (espe­cially if you book­mark this site: http://​dx​.doi​.org/).

For our own papers, we pub­lish a corrected-proof ver­sion in our AoBPreview pages before the final ver­sion sub­sequently appears, com­plete with volume and page num­bers, in a prin­ted issue – but the doi num­ber remains con­stant and will always take you to the most up-to-date ver­sion (sharp-eyed browsers will spot that links on this blog go via http://​dx​.doi​.org/ and not dir­ectly to our OUP web­site where the actual files are stored, so we don’t have to update them when the paper moves from Preview into a monthly issue).

So authors, a simple plea: take a few extra seconds to cite online-only art­icles cor­rectly – it will be appre­ci­ated by journal offices every­where and, more import­antly, by all those read­ers who find them­selves look­ing at a paper on bac­teria (BMC Genomics 10: 16) rather than the one on Arabidopsis (BMC Genomics 10: 643) that they thought you’d referred them to.


Dave Frost is the Managing Editor of Annals of Botany. You can contact our Editorial Office at annalsbotany@le.ac.uk

3 Responses

  1. Nice piece on “Mutations of Citations” in The Scientist this week: http://​www​.the​-sci​ent​ist​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​d​i​s​p​l​a​y​/​5​7​6​89/ Opinion: Mutations of cita­tions: Just like genetic inform­a­tion, cita­tions can accu­mu­late her­it­able mutations

    An import­ant ini­ti­at­ive got off the ground at the start of Septenber 2010 — track­ing the iden­tity and names of authors: ORCID, Open Researcher & Contributor ID, http://​www​.orcid​.org ORCID aims to over­come the author/contributor name ambi­gu­ity prob­lem in schol­arly com­mu­nic­a­tions by cre­at­ing a cent­ral registry of unique iden­ti­fi­ers for indi­vidual research­ers and an open and trans­par­ent link­ing mech­an­ism. I expect the Jim Smith’s, Yang Chen’s, and Joshi Patel’s will be helped by this. More about it from Martin Fenner at http://​blogs​.nature​.com/​m​f​e​n​n​e​r​/​2​0​1​0​/​0​1​/​0​3​/​o​r​c​i​d​-​o​r​-​h​o​w​-​t​o​-​b​u​i​l​d​-​a​-​u​n​i​q​u​e​-​i​d​e​n​t​i​f​i​e​r​-​f​o​r​-​s​c​i​e​n​t​i​s​t​s​-​i​n​-​1​0​-​e​a​s​y​-​s​t​eps
    You will see Annals of Botany among the sup­port­ers: http://​www​.orcid​.org/​d​i​r​e​c​t​ory