About Citation Analysis:
Citations & Assessment

Using citation data to evaluate research quality or impact:  What does it mean if a paper is cited many times?

Citation data is useful in researching a topic, but citation data is also used to evaluate the quality or impact of a specific paper, researcher, and even the department or institution where the research was done.   Using citation data in this way has generated a great deal of controversy, which we will explore next.
Evaluating & Critiquing the Literature

In researching a topic and writing a literature review or other paper, it is important to evaluate or critique the literature you find.  Of central importance, of course, is the quality of the research reported.  This type of analysis looks at the nature of the research questions, the appropriate use of methods, validity of data and analytical procedures, as well as the conclusions and interpretations that authors make based on the research.

Citation practices are complex, and papers are cited for many different reasons, some of which are unrelated to the quality of the research.  An important distinction to consider in terms of using citation data is that of research quality (is the research well designed, etc.) versus that of impact (how influential or significant has this paper been in the development of a field). 

The question of why people cite papers and how this may affect citation counts has been the subject of many research studies and reviews.   

On one side of the discussion, researchers refer to many published studies that show a positive relationship between citation counts and other value indicators have been published.  For example, citation counts have been correlated with measures of the impact or influence of a scientist, including things like awards and honors, grants, academic rank, and peer judgments.

On the other side of the issue, there are numerous and varied factors that influence why a paper is cited--and many of these are unrelated to scholarly worth. 

For example, the journal in which a paper is published has an influence—if the journal is prestigious (often measured using impact factors, which will be described later), the paper will be cited more often.  Simple things, like the position of an article in the journal’s table of contents, affects citation rates--the first item listed tends to receive more citations than those later in the list.

NEXT: more about Citation Behavior