Are referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility?
Discusses how myths are created through careless referencing
My first-ever academic article, written in disbelief during my PhD studies, was titled:
- Harzing, A.W. (1995) The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates, International Journal of Human Resource Management, 6(May): 457-475. Available online... - Publisher’s version - Referenced in BBC Earth news story
It grew out of disbelief that academics could be so sloppy in their referencing and provided a critical analysis of research, and notably of referencing, in the field of expatriate failure rates. It has become almost "traditional" to open an article on expatriate management by stating that expatriate failure rates are (very) high. In this paper I argued that there is almost no empirical foundation for this assertion and that the persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates seems to have been created by massive (mis)quotations of three articles.
Generalising to 12 guidelines for academic referencing
As the paper didn’t quite have the impact I had hoped (academics kept making the same unjustified assertions) I updated my analysis in 2001 and generalised it to provide 12 guidelines for good academic referencing:
- Reproduce the correct reference
- Refer to the correct publication
- Do not use “empty” references
- Use reliable sources
- Use generalisable sources for generalised statements
- Do not misrepresent the content of the reference
- Make clear which statement references support
- Do not copy someone else’s references
- Do not cite out-of-date references (to evidence a statement of fact at the present time)
- Do not be impressed by top journals
- Do not try to reconcile conflicting evidence
- Actively search for counter-evidence
You can find the full write-up in here:
- Harzing, A.W. (2002) Are our referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility? The case of expatriate failure rates, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(1): 127-148. Available online... - Publisher’s version - Referenced in BBC Earth news story
A long journey towards publication
The paper obviously had a fairly unusual format, presenting these twelve guidelines and illustrating how each of them was violated in the expatriate failure literature, before drawing conclusions about the impact of inaccurate referencing on academia, practice and the interaction between the two. As a result, the paper was desk-rejected by more than a dozen journals as “not fitting our mission”, before Denise Rousseau (bless her!) at Journal of Organizational Behavior was courageous enough to give me a chance.
I was particularly lucky with one of my reviewers, Nancy Adler, who not only provided the most constructive and encouraging review I have ever read, but also signed her review with an offer to help me polishing my paper. I am forever grateful to Nancy and have kept in touch with her ever since. In 2009 and 2016 we published papers together on the problematic nature of academic rankings and the phenomenon of predatory open access journals.
Abandoning the expatriate failure concept altogether?
The final paper in this series was a piece with Claus Christensen, at the time a masters student in Denmark, and one of my virtual co-authors (co-authors I have never met in real life). In this paper we suggest that it might well be time to abandon the concept of expatriate failure altogether and instead draw on the general HR literature to analyse problems related to turnover and performance management in an expatriate context.
- Christensen, C.; Harzing, A.W. (2004) Expatriate failure: Time to abandon the concept?, Career Development International, 9(7): 616-626. Available online... - Publisher’s version
Coming full circle?
My latest "publication" is a white paper: The mystery of the phantom reference: a detective story
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- Why metrics can (and should?) be used in the Social Sciences
- Of bears, bumble-bees and spiders & who’s in charge?
- How to avoid a desk-reject in seven steps [1/8]
Copyright © 2022 Anne-Wil Harzing. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Sun 24 Apr 2022 14:58
Anne-Wil Harzing is Professor of International Management at Middlesex University, London and visiting professor of International Management at Tilburg University. She is a Fellow of the Academy of International Business, a select group of distinguished AIB members who are recognized for their outstanding contributions to the scholarly development of the field of international business. In addition to her academic duties, she also maintains the Journal Quality List and is the driving force behind the popular Publish or Perish software program.