Q: Why do some manuscripts have a high bibliography count?
I have seen that some manuscripts have a high bibliography count. For the Introduction itself, 80% of the bibliography is cited. The remaining 20% is for the literature [review].
Review papers, by definition, will have a longer list of references than original contributions, and the more original the contribution, the fewer the references, because such contributions break new ground. An analysis of 18 review journals showed that papers in those journals, on average, cited twice the number of references as research papers of the same length in other journals. Most other papers will be somewhere in between.
Then, there is the matter of proportion: Are we talking about absolute numbers or the number of references, say, for every 100 words of text? The number also varies with the field of study. For example, The American Sociologist once published a paper that said that the “ideal number of references in a sociology article is estimated at sixty-six.”
A few studies report that papers with more references are cited more often than those with fewer references. The number of references has also shown a steady rise as searching for relevant papers becomes easier. For example, a study of eight engineering journals found that the number of references per paper increased from 8 in 1972 to 25 in 2013.
In short, the number of references appended to a paper tends to vary a great deal and is of little significance by itself. Instead of stipulating any arbitrary limit, the number of references should be as many as required, neither more nor fewer. No less a person than Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, “Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
Hope that helps. For a greater understanding of references and reviews, you may refer to the following resources:
- How to provide correct citations and references for your research [Course]
- A young researcher's guide to writing a literature review
And in case you are writing a literature review yourself, all the best!
[With inputs from Yateendra Joshi]