Q: What to do if the EiC wants me to cite some articles that are not relevant to my study?

Detailed Question -

I have submitted a manuscript to a journal and received the comment from EiC that designates some articles to be included as a reference. (All the articles are from the journal to which I have submitted the manuscript). The designated articles seem to be less relevant to my research. Should I include all or some of them into my manuscript as references?

Also, is this a common case?

1 Answer to this question

You should include only relevat references in your manuscript. If the list of references that the editor has sent you include some articles which have no relvance to your study, it would be best not to include those. However, even if there are one or two articles which have some sort of relevance, it might be a good idea to include those so that you don't seem to be completely ignoring the editor's request. You can mention in your response letter that you included the few that you felt had some relevance, but chose not to include the others as they were completely unrelated to your study. 

It is not uncommon for editors to request citations from articles published in their own journal. This is done to increase the citation count of the manuscript. As long as it is just a suggestion and you are given the freedom to choose whether or not you want to use these references, it is fine. However, if it is treated as a requirement for publication, and if you feel pressured to cite these sources, this might be a form of coercive citation or citation manipulation, which is regarded as inappropriate behavior, as per the The Council of Science Editors’ White Paper on Publication Ethics

If at any point during the intreaction with the EiC, you feel that the editor is being persistent or is suggesting that your paper might be rejected if you don't comply with the request, you can ask your supervisor or PI to step in. You can ask your supervisor to write an email to the editor on your behalf. The email should begin with a brief introduction that establishes the supervisor as an an eminent scholar. It can then continue as follows:

“I have provided academic counsel and supervision to my young colleague, _________, regarding this manuscript and especially the Review of Literature. As a scholar in my own right, one who has some significant experience of this field, I found it particularly interesting to review the list of recommended references which you drew to my young colleague's attention. I have advised him/her to incorporate one/two of them (identify which one/ones) since I believe that source has some relevance, albeit tangential, to the foundational literature both for the subject area as well as for the specific paper that was submitted to your journal. The inclusion of citations supportive of hypotheses is never truly straightforward; however, I think in this case I can support and have recommended the inclusion of one of your recommendations for this submission.

Thank you for drawing our attention to the broad literature base within your journal. I trust that you will understand, upon reflection, why I am recommending the inclusion of one/two but not all of those references.

I look forward, along with my young colleague, to learning your disposition regarding acceptance of this manuscript.”

Hopefully, the intervention of a senior academic will deter the editor from pushing this further.

Recommended reading: 

How to deal with coercive citation: A case study