Struggling with citation and references in research papers? Automate your checks with Paperpal 

by paperpal
Automate checks for citation and references in research papers

Every research paper builds on prior research, and this process begins with a literature review—the crux of scholarly research. In academic publications, citations and references constitute the sources—published and unpublished—consulted when writing your paper.1 Proper referencing of published literature is non-negotiable; it enables others researchers to (a) know wherefrom you obtained a specific information, (b) access the materials you used in your research, (c) prevent plagiarism or misrepresentation of scientific ideas, (d) ensure novelty of your research, etc. Incorrect referencing can lead to delays in acceptance/publication, claims of plagiarism, or even retraction of published papers. While seemingly straight-forward, working with citations and references in research papers can be a tricky business.  

The reference and citation style “depends on the discipline in which you are writing, and where, or by whom, your work will be published or read.”2 Medical and clinical literature usually follow the American Medical Association style guide for citations and references in research papers, whereas chemistry papers usually adhere to the American Chemical Society guidelines. The subtle aspects of citations and references in research papers—superscript or in-line citations, italicization, use of parenthesis/brackets, etc.—depend on the style guide followed by the target journal. As such, it is impractical to keep abreast of the style guides that are continually updated. However, there are some definite aspects of references and citations that can be checked via an automated approach using Paperpal

Paperpal: Automating reference assessments with 5 key checks 

In a previous post, we elaborate on how you can get your pre-submission checks right with Paperpal and Paperpal Preflight.3 One of the technical checks offered by Paperpal is for citations and references in research papers. Paperpal Preflight currently offers the following checks: 

1. Reference Count 

Reference count depends on the type of article and the specific journal guidelines. Nevertheless, Paperpal scans the document to ensure that a reference section is present in the manuscript and that there are at least 5 references (maximum: 100) and citations. 

2. Age of References 

Citations and references should be recent, unless it is an original, landmark paper. Paperpal automatically scans the reference section for recency. All references older than 10 years are flagged for author review. 

3. No Citations in Abstract 

The abstract is a stand-alone section by itself, and most, if not all, journals do not permit citations in the abstract. Paperpal identifies and scans the abstract section of a paper to ensure there are no citations present. 

4. One-to-One Correspondence between References and Citations 

Occasionally, not all references are cited in the main text, or not all references cited in the main text are present in the final reference list. This leads to unnecessary requests for revision and delays in the peer review process. Paperpal ensures a 1-to-1 match between the in-text citations and the final references. This ensures that no citations/references are missed. 

5. Self-citations 

Self-citation is when an author references another of their own publications. While it is a legitimate way to reference earlier findings and set background and context, reviewers might consider too many self-citations as an attempt to increase an individual’s overall citation count. Paperpal flags a manuscript if more than 15 self-citations are found or if more than 80% of your references are self-citations. This ensures that unbiased and pertinent references are cited in the manuscript. 

Thanks to Paperpal and Paperpal Preflight, checking citations and references in research papers have never been easier. The only action needed from you is to upload the final draft of your manuscript, and Paperpal handles the rest!  

Paperpal Preflight is currently advocated by 13 leading publishers carrying over 300 journals and is available to use directly from the journal website. If you do not have a target journal in mind, you can use the standard configuration and check your work with Paperpal for Manuscripts. 


1. Organizing academic research papers: 11. Citing Sources. Available at:,%2C%20Turabian%2C%20etc.%5D. [Accessed: September 20, 2022]. 

2. Citation: Citation Styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). LibGuides. Available at: [Accessed: September 20, 2022]. 

3. Nair, S. Manuscript submission: Get your pre-submission checks right with Paperpal! August 2022. Available at: [Accessed: September 20, 2022]. 

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