The other day, I put out a call to my Twitter people:
Academic Twitter! How do you deal with self-citation in an article with anonymous peer review? We are major contributors in this tiny field, but we blanked so much in the framing that it basically disappeared. The article was rejected for not being clearly original/significant.
Thanks to Dr Molly Dollinger (@molliedollin) and Dr Joanna Tai (@DrJoannaT), two highly published academics, who both had the same advice: rather than removing or blanking any references to your own work, you submit a version where you write about yourselves as if you were someone else. (There was some differences of opinion about whether you should let the editor know what you had done, so consider what would work for your exact project.)
This was such a useful piece of advice for two reasons.
Firstly, it allowed us to actually make the point that work had been done in the field using this methodology but not yet addressing this significant gap with specific evidence rather than a line of blanks.
Secondly, it was much easier to talk about our contribution to the field and the limitations of our previous work when talking about ourselves in the third person. I often find that writing in the first person for early drafts helps make writing your position and voice much easier (Can I use ‘I’, section 6.2, How to Fix your Academic Writing Trouble). But when we were using first person plural language to talk about our other research, we got all tangled up in feeling awkward about being boastful or too self-referential. When we swapped to thinking about our contribution as if we were other people, we were suddenly able to write objectively and it was super easy to explain what had already been done, where the gap was, and where the new article was a contribution to knowledge.
So, I think even when I don’t need to anonymise my work, I will still use this strategy of writing about my research as if it was done by someone else. Anything that makes writing easier, clearer and less awkward is a win in my book!
Thank you so much to everyone who joined in on that conversation! Do you have strategies for approaching this challenge? Did you try this strategy and how did it work for you? Let me know over on @ResearchInsider.