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Citation Research and Impact Metrics

What You Need to Know

At one time, only the Web of Science database collected citation count data. Originally, Science Citation Index, as it was known when first published in print in the early- to mid-1970s, focused on the article-centric science literature but now has expanded to almost every subject area. In addition, citation count data is found in many indexing or abstracting services. What was once a unique feature is now common place but therein lies some issues of concern.

Important Points:

  • Citation counts are not a measure of quality as articles may be cited for both negative as well as positive reasons. Why something is being cited must always be considered in the assessment.
  • Citation behavior for subject areas varies depending on many disparate factors such as the preferred document type (books vs journal articles vs conference papers vs patents), authors and audience (practitioners vs researchers), and environment (industry vs academic). Consequently, raw citation counts cannot be used to compare authors in different subject areas, even for those subjects that may seem closely related.
  • Authors who have had long careers are most likely to have more publications with more citations than those at the beginning of their careers. Comparing senior faculty to junior faculty using raw counts penalizes junior faculty regardless of whether the counts are for the amount of publications or the amount of citations.
  • Although many indexing or abstracting services provide citation counts, each source only count what's in its own database. The subject focused databases are looking at most, if not all, of the journals within its subject areas while the interdisciplinary databases are trying to cover a greater variety. Both of them cover the same well-know journals, so you can't do a simple addition of scores across the services as there is extensive duplication in the counts. At the same time, each source may be finding citations the other source(s) haven't, so you can't just search one database and be done if you want to be comprehensive.
  • Searching by author name is challenging. Even if the author is consistent with exactly how their name is listed on each document, a database's policy may change the author's name (ex., using initials instead of spelling out the full first and middle names.) Use the database's HELP file for author searching to learn the specific policies of the database. Make sure that you have sufficiently covered all possible variants of the authors name in each database you use. For common names, adding in the author's organization/institution to the search helps, however, there may be situations when two or more people with the same name are employed by the same organization; in some cases, manually going through a results list to eliminate unwanted documents may be necessary.
  • Do not compare counts from different sources. For example, do not take a citation count from the Scopus database for "Author A" and compare it to the citation count from PubMed for "Author B."

Best Uses:

  • Comparing citation counts for individuals within the same, focused (i.e., narrow) subject area and at approximately the same career point.
  • Determining if an individual is producing at an equivalent or better rate than in previous years.


Data contained in Experts.ASU is derived from Elsevier's Scopus database.  As the name implies, only data for ASU faculty is available; for authors not in Experts.ASU, use the Scopus database to obtain a citation count.  Because the data comes from the same source, you may intermix citation counts from Experts.ASU with citations counts from Scopus (provided the authors are in the same field and at the same career level.)

  1. Go to Experts.ASU
  2. In the center of the screen change the search field from "Everything" to "Profiles" and in the search box put the ASU faculty member's name. 

  3. On the results page, you should see only the entry for that person.  Click on the person's name in the entry's box. 

  4. On the person's profile screen, the citation count is listed on the right side. 

The Experts.ASU database has citation counts (derived from Scopus data) available for ASU faculty. Use the Scopus database for authors not in Experts.ASU or if you want to use different parameters than those selected in Experts.ASU.

The Scopus database covers some conference proceedings and books/book chapters in addition to journal articles and all these document types, unless you specify differently, will be in the results list. Originally Scopus only covered documents from 1996 to the present, however they are now updating pre-1996 cited references going back to 1970; consequently authors with works published from 1970-1995 may see more of their publications covered over time.

  • Using an author search, find all the publications in the database for an individual:

    Recommended search strategy:
    "lastname firstinitial" as author
    AND "arizona state university" as affiliation name (or whatever organization the author is affiliated with)

  • If appropriate, use the left-hand column to limit the results to your specific parameters; once the list refreshes then select "All" and then click on "View Citation Overview"

  • On the citation overview screen, the total citation count will be listed in the table's top row, in the far right-hand column. You also have the option to remove self-citations from the count.

The citation count from the Web of Science database is calculated only from journal articles and does not count citations from conference papers, books or book chapters.

  • Using an author search, find all the publications in the database for an individual. 

    Recommended search strategy:
    "lastname firstinitial*"   as author
    AND "arizona state university" as organization-enhanced

  • At the upper corner of the results list, click on Create Citation Report

  • On the citation report, the citation count and other data is located on the right-hand side of the screen

Google Scholar and other indexing and abstracting services such as SciFinder (chemistry) and PsycInfo (psychology) have citation counts for each article but they do not generate a citation report as Scopus and Web of Science does. Consequently, you'll have to add the citation counts for each article manually in order to obtain a total citation count for an individual. 

Keep in mind:

  • Do a thorough author search by entering variant ways the name could be listed.
  • Do not add counts from different sources as there is much duplication in the counts.

Another option is Publish or Perish (PoP), free downloadable software that analyzes citation counts found through Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search. The software generates many different types of citation metrics useful for authors. 

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