Reference accuracy in spine surgery

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  • | 2 School of Osteopathic Medicine, Rowan University, Stratford, New Jersey; and
  • | 3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey
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The references list is an important part of a scientific article that serves to confirm the accuracy of the authors’ statements. The goal of this study was to evaluate the reference accuracy in the field of spine surgery.


Four major peer-reviewed spine surgery journals were chosen for this study based on their subspecialty clinical impact factors. Sixty articles per journal were selected from 12 issues each of The Spine Journal, Spine, and Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, and 40 articles were selected from 8 issues of Global Spine Journal, for a total of 220 articles. All the articles were published in 2019 and were selected using computer-generated numbers. From the references list of each article, one reference was again selected by using a computer-generated number and then checked for citation or quotation errors.


The results indicate that 84.1% of articles have a minor citation error, 4.5% of articles have a major citation error, 9.5% of articles have a minor quotation error, and 9.1% of articles have a major quotation error. Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine had the fewest citation errors compared with the other journals evaluated in this study. Using chi-square analysis, no association was determined between the occurrence of errors and potential markers of reference mistakes. Still, statistical significance was found between the occurrence of citation errors and the spine journals tested.


In order to advance medical treatment and patient care in spine surgery, detailed documentation and attention to detail are necessary. The results from this study illustrate that improved reference accuracy is required.

Illustration from Mummaneni et al. (pp 13–21). Artist: Kenneth Probst. Copyright UCSF Department of Neurological Surgery. Published with permission.

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence James Harrop: Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online September 25, 2020; DOI: 10.3171/2020.6.SPINE20640.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

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