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The problem with the 5-10 year “rule” for citations

Recently I have encountered more and more students who tell me that their advisors are indicating that all of their citations be within the past 10 years – preferably the past 5.  This is one of many damaging myths about scholarship and writing that I encounter (the other most common is to never use personal pronouns – wrong – see “Finding Your Voice“).  I am not sure where the notion comes from that citations must be limited to only the most recent, but in nursing in particular, this is especially damaging to the development of our discipline.  Of course as scholars we all want to know that an author has thoroughly investigated the very latest writings related to their topic, and the fact is that by the time a work is published in a journal or book, any literature cited is already fading into the distant past.  So of course currency is vital, but today becomes yesterday very fast!

The problem is that only indicating the most recent background renders any work void of the context, the roots, the historical perspectives that bestow wisdom and understanding. The work becomes sterile and relatively meaningless, regardless of how valuable it might be for the present. In a particular journal article, with limited space, obviously an author has to make difficult choices about what to include, and it might not be possible to explain the rich background that informs their work.  Nevertheless, if that background has been developed, the work will reflect that understanding, and the content, even the list of references, will include hints about the context and the history that informs today’s ideas.  What better “place” for emerging scholars to explore the rich  connections between works from years gone by than in their student experiences!

Ignoring, or encouraging students to overlook the important works of the past is one factor that has led us to a point in time when past nursing scholarship has been more and more neglected.  Theories and philosophies in the discipline place current work within the disciplinary context.  If students are required to only consider works published in the past 5 to 10 years, they will miss the rich foundations that place their work within the the discipline.  Theoretical ideas, at the same time, are not static, nor are they meant to be.  There is an evolution over time, and current work that is situated within a theoretical and philosophic tradition contributes to that development.  The work becomes significant for the discipline as a whole, not simply significant to the topic of the specific inquiry.  To achieve participating in this “lineage” the early works must be acknowledged, and the lineage laid out, even if in very abbreviated form.

Overlooking the disciplinary context within which a work is developed leaves the author vulnerable to shifting into another disciplinary perspective, and struggling to find meaning with the context of nursing’s most important contributions to the discipline.  Take for example the recent popularity of using “self-efficacy” theory in nursing.  Taken alone, this theory is not unlike nursing’s own “self-care” theories, but bereft of acknowledging the evolution, criticisms and challenges to “self-care” in nursing, works based on this theory perpetuate the relatively limited perspectives inherent in “self-efficacy” (or “self-care.” (I might note that these theories are “older” than 5-10 years!)

To me, the missing “nursology” pieces here are the vital importance of relationship between those cared for and those providing the care, and the social context, the “social determinants.” Without a more complete nursology perspective, these fade into the background, even into oblivion.  I am reminded of the notable work by Joanne Hess in her dialectic critique of the notion of “compliance.”  (Hess, J. D. (1996). The Ethics of Compliance: A Dialectic. ANS. Advances in nursing science, 19, 18–27.).  Any work in nursing that deals with self-efficacy or self-care must, in my view, address these fundamental nursology perspectives.  Hess’s work addresses the nature of the relationship between the one who is expected to “comply” (often a self-efficacy or self-care “task”) and the one prescribing the desired compliance. Scholars bear a responsibility to dig deep into this kind of foundational literature – even looking in nooks and crannies that might, at first glance seem tangential.

I welcome your comments and responses to this!  I know I am taking a rather strident position on this – so maybe voices from other sides of the issue, or more moderate voices can contribute to our understanding!  Please share yours!


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