Making references work.

Citations should connect you to the research you need. They should link directly to the relevant papers and data. They should tell you everything you need to know about how and where two pieces of research are connected. They should be easy to use and they should never get in the way of the reading experience. In short, citations should not clumsily point to a mere chunk of plain undifferentiated text sitting in a static list at the end of the paper. But with almost no exceptions, citations in scientific papers do just that.
We can do better. We can connect our scientific literature into a unified body of knowledge. Rich citations make references work the way they should.

What Are Rich Citations?


Rich citations are an improved data format for bibliographic references. They carry a diverse set of information about the citing document (A), the cited entity (B), and the relationship between them, including:

— The standard bibliographic information about B

  • full list of authors
  • title
  • date and year of publication
  • journal title and publisher, as applicable
  • Identifying code
  • The sections and locations in A where a citation to B appears

— The license under which B appears
— The CrossMark status of B (updated, retracted, etc)
— How many times B is cited within A, and the context in which it is cited
— Whether A and B share any authors (self-citation)
— Data types of A and B (journal article, book, code, data, etc)
— Identifying code for A (DOI, ISBN, URL, etc.)

Rich Citations API

Labs has developed a bot which automatically collects rich citation information from any PLOS article. This bot is accessible through a web API, allowing developers and researchers to use rich citations from PLOS articles to build their own tools and databases. The source code for the bot and API is available on GitHub under an open-source software license. Click here to see more technical details about the web API.

PLOS Article Overlay


We’ve built a prototype overlay for PLOS journal articles using the rich citations API. The overlay makes the list of references a powerful research tool in itself, demonstrating the advantages of rich citations:

  • References can be sorted along several axes, including date and number of mentions;
  • Explicit labels for self-citations, retracted papers, and updated papers;
  • Easier navigation between the citations within the paper and the reference list at the end;
  • More information about citations is available without having to jump down to the list of references;
  • The reference list contains contextual information about the locations within the paper where references are cited.