An age limit on references?

“I’ve been told that I shouldn’t include any references more that 10 years old, but there are some important papers I feel I should include. What should I do?”

The problem here is with the advice you’ve been given. 10 years is an arbitrary limit; if you think those older papers are important, then cite them.

When citing other people’s work, you have to think about what is the most appropriate source for the point you want to make. For example, if you’re writing about the development of an idea, maybe there’s a reference from the 1960s that’s relevant. Using a more recent reference without going to the original source isn’t necessarily a good idea.

Beyond historical significance, some research results from 20 or 30 years ago might still be the best there is. Others will be outdated and no longer relevant. You have to make a judgement based on your knowledge of the field.

So, while you do need to know the current research and you do need to put your own work in the current context, there is nothing wrong with including some older references where appropriate.

See also:
Not everything you say needs a reference
By Mystharion, son of Heron – Houghton Library, Harvard University, Public Domain, Link


6 thoughts on “An age limit on references?”

  1. It depends on your area of specialization and discipline. But for speed, just play by the rules get your degree and be on the move to the top.

    • You don’t move to the top by doing things by the rules. If the discipline has an arbitrary limit like this, then you move to the top by being smarter.

  2. In my field the foremost research was done in the 1950’s – 1970’s. In fact, I’m quoting back to
    the seventeenth century.

  3. Yes the age limit is very crucial in the sense that some supervisors stick onto that rule and never see it the way the researcher has based it on his/her knowledge of the field.

    • Yeah, some supervisors…

      I mean there may be scenarios where some theories have been conclusively disproven, so you don’t want to base your research on out of date knowledge, but that’s a specific situation (based on a knowledge of the field). To say, “don’t cite anything over 10 years old” without a proper justification is just stupid.

      Unfortunately, there are supervisors who insist on this rule. You just have to play their game, get out and hope your next boss is a bit smarter.

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