Educational researchers quite good at citing each other

85 percent of the references in educational research articles are substantively correct. This is the conclusion that Ard Lazonder and Noortje Janssen of Radboud University reached after analysing 500 articles from 244 different educational journals. Their research results were published in Educational Research Review on 27 December.

Educational researchers Ard Lazonder and Noortje Janssen’s idea of analysing the citation accuracy of articles from their field was literally born while they were sitting at the kitchen table. It began as a hobby project that offered a welcome opportunity to carry out research while working from home during the coronavirus crisis, but it soon became a serious undertaking.

The two researchers analysed 500 articles in order to determine whether the references to one’s own or others’ publications were substantively correct. Lazonder: “We’re quite satisfied with the results. We were obviously hoping for error-free citation, but the fact that 85% of all references were correct is in line with most other scientific disciplines.”

The probability of the content of the original text being correctly cited was independent of the specificity of the reference and bibliographical characteristics such as the journal’s impact factor. However, self-citation errors turned out to be less serious than the errors in references to other people’s work.

Previous research

Mistakes are easily made: previous research, which was carried out by colleagues at the University of Groningen, revealed that a relatively large number of authors cite their own work without double-checking the article in question, and that they either scan other people’s publications instead of reading them thoroughly or rely on secondary sources. Lazonder and Janssen were not able to determine the extent to which these shortcuts contributed to the 15% of citation errors, but they may investigate this in the future.

Although 85% is not an ideal percentage, Lazonder and Janssen do not expect that their research will result in reputational damage to the profession. The fact is that half of all citation errors involved a minor slip that did not affect the quality of the actual research. Moreover, educational research publications tend to have long reference lists because the research is not based on one idea from one article (which may sometimes be misquoted).

Nevertheless, Lazonder and Janssen advocate for improvement and offer a few recommendations for this in their article. “For example, journal editors could carry out random checks or peer reviewers who work in the editorial management system could provide an overview of the errors that they found.”

Publication

Lazonder, A. W., & Janssen, N. (2022). Quotation accuracy in educational research articles. Educational Research Review, 35, Article 100430. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2021.100430

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