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DataBank: Journal Level Metrics: Web of Science


Recommended For

Sciences and some areas of Humanities and Social Sciences              


Web of Science Tutorials see delivery options and specific topics.

Guide good coverage of limitations and strengths and how-to.


Introduction - 1

Northwestern's subscription to this ISI Thomson Reuters product is comprised of:

  • Science Citation Index Expanded (1899-present)
  • Social Sciences Citation Index (1898-present)
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index (1975-present)
  • Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Science (1990-present)
  • Book Citation Index– Science, Social Sciences & Humanities (2005-present)

Note: Especially for humanities and social sciences, it is best to search All Databases (simultaneously) rather than limit to a General Category or Subject Area. The Book Citation Index is of limited size and, hence, value.


Introduction - 2

Evaluation methods and Specialized Tools include:

  • Cited Reference Search—Find articles that cite an important author or work. Build a comprehensive bibliography to use to evaluate the current collection, by checking holdings against the list.
  • Analyze Results—identify the most frequent institutional affiliations of authors publishing in a particular journal. An assessment of institutional presence in a particular journal might be said to provide an indication of the reputation of the publication.  On the search page, put in a journal title in the "Publication Name" box.  On the Results page, look on the right-hand side for the link called Analyze Results.
  • Create Citation Report –After running a search and landing on the Results page, look on the right-hand side for the link called Create Citation Report.  This provides aggregate citation statistics and graphs showing publication and citation figures over a period of time to a set of publications or individual titles.  It also includes the H-Index and eliminates self-citations.
  • H-Index—The Hirsch Index is an alternative to the Impact Factor.  It is designed to assess an author's relative importance in a particular field of study by measuring both the number of publications as well as the number of citations per publications.  It should be used only within the context of a field or subfield, and not across disciplines or subject areas.  Check Wikipedia for a very good review of the H-Index, including how it is calculated, its strengths and its weaknesses.
  • Identify major journals in a discipline.
  • Locate current research based on earlier research, reports, etc.
  • Find how many times and where a publication is being cited.
  • Identify who is referencing a particular article.
  • Explore how a particular research topic is being used to support other research.
  • Analyze the impact of a publication on other research in the field.
  • Track the history of a research idea.
  • Access citations to meeting or conference abstracts.


Many of the criticisms below can be applied to other tools as well.  In short, JCR and Web of Science are fine tools for certain subjects and their results should be combined with other analyses.

  • almost all of the journals and other works are in English
  • almost all are published in Western Europe and the U.S.
  • the utility of the Book Citation Index is limited due to the small number of publications included
  • some areas of study are not represented (especially within the humanities and social sciences)
  • some areas of study are under-represented
  • working papers are not consistently included
  • there are citations from both journals that publish original research as well as from review journals, each of which have very different citation patterns and behavior
  • negative citations give false weight to the measurement of impact
  • citations to articles in books are generally absent
  • only those journals that are heavily cited tend to be included, which means it has limited utility for those fields in which core scholarship is less concentrated in a relatively small set of journals


Examples from the SIGMETRICS listserv:

(1)  Infection dynamics on scale-free networks, R. M. May and A. L. Lloyd, Physical Review E 64, 066112 (2001)

 A regular WOS search for this paper says that it was cited 72 times between 2001 and 2007, but zero times after that.  This looked odd to me, so I did a "cited reference search" for the same paper, which reveals what the problem is.  In cited reference search, the citations for this paper are divided between two variants (as is often the case with cited reference search), with one variant corresponding to the main WOS entry (the one with 72 citations), and the other not.  Both variants are correct in this case (no typos).  The only difference I can see is that the main WOS entry uses an abbreviated journal name "PHYS REV E", while the variant entry uses the full journal name "Physical Review E".  Other than that they appear to be basically the same.

 But here's the issue: the "variant" entry has 209 citations -- by far the majority of citations to this paper, and all citations after 2007.  In other words a straightforward search for this paper in WOS misses almost all (74 percent) of citations.  This is just one example paper, but I have found a number of other similar examples." (Mark Newman)

(2) "The problem is so severe and so well-known that I actually coined a name for such variants in citation data and have used it in several publications: "allonyms." For example, in Web of Science data the information scientist Karen Sparck Jones appears as both "Jones KS" and Sparckjones K." Henry Small is cited as both "Small H" and as "Small HG," sometimes in the same paper. It seemed to me that the term was needed because such variants are not really synonyms in the usual linguistic sense. Allonyms occur in names of journals and books, as well as authors, throughout citation indexes." (Howard White)