Skip to main content

Citation Analysis

About citation analysis

Citation analysis: A wide-ranging area of bibliometrics that studies the citations to and from documents. Such studies may focus on the documents themselves or on such matters as: their authors; the journals (if the documents are journal articles) in which articles appear; the organizations or countries in which the documents are produced; the purpose of the citations. (Diodato (1994))

Citation analysis applies various techniques such as citation counts that can help establish scholarship influence and patterns. Unlike common database searching by Author or Subject, citation searching tracks where works (articles, books, conference proceedings, etc) have been cited by other authors.

Citation count/ citation rate/ citation frequency: often refers to the number of citations an author, document, or journal has received during a certain period of time. If expressed as a ratio, especially for a group of documents published by a particular journal, citation rate becomes equivalent to impact factor. (Diodato (1994))

Impact factor: A measure of the importance or influence of a group of documents. Speaking imprecisely, impact factor is the number of citations received by an average document in the group. Speaking more precisely, the impact factor is the following ratio:

Number of citations received by the documents/ Number of documents in the group. (Diodato (1994))

Journal Impact Factor: The number of cited articles in a particular journal may be used to demonstrate the relative importance of that journal within a discipline or specialty area. This "journal impact factor" is tracked by ISI Journal Citation Reports; other measures (e.g. the h-index) can also be used to evaluate the impact that a journal has in its field.

Eugene Garfield, the origin of the idea of an impact factor in 1955, has authored an article that explains its history. Garfield E. The History and Meaning of the Journal Impact Factor. JAMA. 2006;295(1):90-93. doi:10.1001/jama.295.1.90.

Some Caveats

Citation analysis is a powerful tool, but it must be used with caution. Counting the number of times a publication has been cited is attractive because it is concrete data. However, citation analysis tools have extensive limitations.

Because of validity problems with citation analysis, results should be used in conjunction with other indicators of quality when presented in support of a case for promotion and tenure. Citation counts are influenced by several factors and a substantial amount of research has been published on citation analysis. See additional resources for some of  those publications.

Keep the following caveats in mind when evaluating research quality using citation indicators:

  • No citation database is all inclusive. Citation databases do not track citations for every journal. Journals from some fields may be poorly represented and citation results will reflect this disparity between fields.
  • Some disciplines have less extensive citation activity than others. Most research work in scientific fields attracts far more citations than does research in many humanities fields.
  • Recent research may not be cited. The time lag or immediacy factor varies significantly in different fields. Some scientific fields experience rapid citation at the research front, while others take years for research to be noticed.
  • Citation rates can be influenced by such factors as few authors citing one another or by an author's high rates of self-citation. Poor quality papers may have a high citation count because they are cited while being criticized or refuted
  • Entries in citation databases may not be standard or follow a consistent name-authority scheme. Errors made by citing authors or by indexers may make it difficult to retrieve complete citation counts.
  • Common authors' name forms are very difficult to separate from other similar names (especially in citation indexes that rely on initials instead of full names). Advances in indexing quality, however, have improved the identification of authors' identities. Searching by title of a work as opposed to author name is a sure way of avoiding this problem.

Doing a citation/cited reference search

Before you begin a citation search, it will be useful to have the following information:

  1. A list of all your authored and coauthored works, including doctoral and master's theses, journal articles, books, book chapters, conference proceedings, patents,etc.

  2. A list of any variants of your name under which you have published (including use of full name, middle name or initial; Jr., I, II, III, degrees, compound or hyphenated names,etc.)  as well as any known misspellings of your name.

  3. A list of your coauthor(s) full name(s),any variants, and any known misspellings.

  4. Disciplines or cross-disciplinary specialty areas in which you publish

Citation Search Training

Globe surrounded by flying books

Librarians offer individual or group training on the citation analysis process. Contact  your department liaison librarian for more information or to schedule for a session.