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DataBank: Article Level Metrics & Citation Analysis: Introduction

Introduction to Citation Analysis

Journal analyses can be used for faculty and institution-level evaluation and for collection building and maintenance within the library—that is, for promotion and tenure situations, to rank journals, for decision-making in cancellation projects, for the solicitation of research funds, and for many other things purposes.

Most bibliometrics are citation-based.  The premise behind citation analysis is that the more times an author or a journal appears in citations, the more influential and important these are for any given field.  Until recently, the ISI Thomson Reuters products were the only tools for this type of analysis.  That is no longer the case.

Typical Characteristics of Citation-Based Bibliometrics

There are now many choices among citation-based bibliometrics, which is good because no one tool captures the complete citation universe and all have weaknesses.

Typical weaknesses of citation analysis tools include:

  • the results are difficult to interpret or the analysis is difficult to execute;
  • there is heavy representation of one discipline, but very light representation of others;
  • there are many journals in the database for a particular field, but not the most important journals to the field;
  • only citations appearing in journals are counted, while citations within books to articles are not;
  • in general, citations may under-represent usage, as the number of citations versus number of readings can differ vastly;
  • Journal articles as opposed to books are the main medium of academic research in many fields of scholarship, but by no means in all.  Journal article-level citation counts are not the only or necessarily the most important measurement of the influence of academic work.
  • Metrics such as the Impact Factor measure the importance of a journal to the field as a whole, which is not necessarily the same as its importance to a particular university department. Consider local examinations, e.g., comparing NU holdings to journal titles most often cited by NU faculty; to journals with most citations to NU faculty; and/or to journals with the highest numbers of NU faculty as authors and/or editors.

Because each tool will produce different results, it is highly recommended that multiple approaches by used in determining citation counts per author, the importance of individual journals to a given field, and other measurements.

As stated by the International Mathematical Union's committee on quantitative assessment of research: "The sole reliance on citation data provides at best an incomplete and often shallow understanding of research—an understanding that is valid only when reinforced by other judgments."


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JISC Academic Database Assessment Tool (ADAT) compares contents of many (not all) Tools.