Citations: Why relevance and currency matter.

  • January 25, 2022

Many of our clients bring their own citations to the table when hiring us for proposal prep. This is all well and good, but we have noticed a startling trend in the citations clients are bringing to us. Many of the references are woefully outdated. It seems to us that clients are unaware of what their citations could be saying about them in the eyes of the reviewers. Below are some tips for crafting a competitive citations list that adds instead of detracts from your perceived credibility.

In any research-related funding, funders will need to see previously published proof of intellectual merit, preferably in the form of multiple peer-reviewed publications. But not all citations are created equally. While most companies understand that validity is important (using a peer-reviewed scholarly reference as opposed to, say, Wikipedia) but too often, we see companies provide themselves a disservice by using old, outdated references to back up their research.

Older publications

While it may be tempting to use tried and true research publications to support your idea of potential feasibility or demonstrate intellectual merit, it is important to remember that these publications were created using outdated technology for testing and potentially outdated methods. Technology has improved at an almost unfathomable rate in the past 20 years alone, making many once notable studies from the 1990s and early 2000’s outdated and obsolete.

Changing times

It is important to use current citations because of the changing nature of science, society, and global trends. Largescale global trends in the economy, education, science, research, and medicine tend to change every 5-10 years. A great example of this can be seen in the changes witnessed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the things we knew to be true in 2018 in terms of educational pedagogy, employment rates, workplace trends, and the local and global economy were reversed, negated, or otherwise very different by early 2019 and still changing. Using current citations ensures that the metrics you are using to demonstrate proof of concept are rooted in relevant and recent studies.

Citations and ageism

While unethical and unfortunate, ageism happens. Using older, outdated citations in a proposal could cause some reviewers to assume that the researcher(s) are behind the times or stuck in the past. Many small business owners and researchers have found there is often a perception (an ageist, sexist, unfair, and untrue perception), especially in the tech community and especially regarding women, that anyone over the age of 35 lacks a skillset and mindset to accurately pursue the innovations of the future. Using older and outdated citations can put you at risk of being a victim of this prejudiced perception.

So what is the best “shelf-life” for citations?

Whenever possible, choose citations that were published within five years or less of the current date. This greatly reduces the risk of the information being outdated, of reviewers accusing applicants of being “behind the times” in their knowledge of scientific advancements, and in general, creates a more compelling case of background research that demonstrates intellectual merit and potential feasibility of your proposed project.

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With a little bit of support, the rigors of drafting the proposal itself should never stand in the way of a company that is otherwise qualified for the opportunity to consider applying.

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