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Unverified history: an analysis of quotation accuracy in leading history journals

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The accurate use of references is vital to the academic search for truth. Despite this, previous bibliometric studies of many academic journals suggest that approximately 25% of references do not substantiate the propositions for which they are cited. This lack of substantiation is termed a “quotation error.” This paper presents the first assessment of quotation errors in history journals. Researchers compared articles in five leading journals with the references they cited, finding an error rate of 24.27%. Due to research difficulties posed by some citation conventions in history journals, this number likely underestimates the actual prevalence of errors. Additionally, this paper provides several potential methods for decreasing errors and improving the feasibility of future quotation error reviews.

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  1. Excluding the meta-analysis (Jergas & Baethge, 2015, pp. 2–4) and one extreme outlier (Buijze et al., 2012, p. 278) the mean sample size for all studies previously cited in this paper was 200.

  2. This excluded some—but certainly not all—books from the sample set. As long as the citation referred to a page range of less than 100 pages within a given book, the book was eligible for review. In the end, a total of 146 book references (making up 39% of all reviewed references) were reviewed.

  3. This form of referencing is requested in the journal’s submission guidelines (The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, n.d.), but a small number of reviewed articles did not comply with the direction.


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All authors contributed to the study design, material collection, and data collection. The first draft of the manuscript was written by AC. All authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Aaron Cumberledge.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

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The dataset used in this article is available in a repository at

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Cumberledge, A., Smith, N. & Riley, B.W. Unverified history: an analysis of quotation accuracy in leading history journals. Scientometrics 128, 4677–4687 (2023).

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