Background: Reference errors in biomedicals journals are well documented. Increasing use of electronic databases and bibliographic software may change the nature and frequency of errors.
Aim: To study the current incidence of reference errors in four major general surgical journals.
Methods: Seventy-five references were randomly selected from original articles published in one issue of each of four general surgical journals. For each reference, ease of retrieval on PubMed and the presence of citation errors were noted. Two observers independently reviewed each reference for quotation errors.
Results: Of the 300 selected references, 261 from indexed English language biomedical journals were analysed. Retrieval from PubMed was impossible or difficult in six instances, giving a major citation error rate of 2.3%. Overall (major and minor) citation error rate was 11.1%. Of the 258 references that could be retrieved, 20 (7.8%) had quotation errors, 80% of which were considered major. The overall citation error rate was significantly different across the four journals. There was moderate correlation between quotation error rate and number of references in each original article.
Conclusion: Errors in references still appear in current surgical literature. Solutions to address this problem have been discussed.