Citation tracking can facilitate the review and evaluation of pertinent literature related to your topic of study for the following reasons:
- It can be an effective way of using a highly cited "landmark" or influential article to find more recent, related articles that cite the original work. It also can be an effective way of identifying important scholars in a particular field who have subsequently cited the work.
- It can be a useful means for evaluating a study's "impact" within a particular discipline based upon the number of times a research study has been cited by others. A highly cited study may indicate that the research findings are unique, groundbreaking, or controversial in some way.
- It can be an effective way to locate studies that critique or challenge groundbreaking research, which is important if you are seeking research to support your attempt to challenge long-held assumptions or to offer evidence that existing studies do not adequately address the research problem.
- It can be an effective means of determining the interdisciplinary value of a particular study because you can identify the amount of subsequent citations to an article from publications in other disciplines or areas of study. Studies that have been cited in a variety of disciplines is also a strong indication of the research study's overall impact throughout the social sciences [and perhaps beyond].
When tracking citations, keep in mind the following points:
- Authors do not always use the same name throughout their careers [e.g., Jane Anne Smith or Jane A. Smith] so be sure you work from a complete and accurate list of an author's publications. A thorough literature review of an author should reveal any variations in their name.
- In the case of the Web of Science citation database, it uses APA style for citing authors [last name and first initial only], so a J Smith could be John, Jeff, Jane, Julie, Jason, etc. Be sure to truncate the initial [adding an asterisk *] to see a more complete list of authors, then locate a record on a topic you know the author writes about and click on that author to exclude articles written by other J Smith's. Fortunately, the database indexes more than the first author of a paper so if a second or third author has an uncommon name, you could search the unusual name instead of using an author's common name.
- Citation services are primarily based on selected journal literature. If the author is cited in books, foreign language periodicals, or non-scholarly publications, the usefulness of your citation analysis is limited. In addition, citation databases such as Web of Science rarely cover articles published in scholarly open-access journals [journals published freely on the web], although this is slowly changing. In this case, be sure to check the "cited by" references in Google Scholar as it often includes citations found in other publications besides scholarly journals [e.g., book chapters, foreign publications].
- Pay attention to how recent the citations are when reviewing a particular study. An article published in 2000 may have 130 total citations but if the most recent citation is from 2008, then this is an indication that the study's impact has faded or there is a lack of progress in the field [unlikely]. The absence of recent citations does not necessarily mean a study no longer has value, but it's a strong indication that more recent research has overtaken prior studies or that external factors have influenced scholars to focus on other areas of inquiry. Review the most recent citations and see if any are highly cited; this may reveal where the research has deviated into a new direction.
Bakkalbasi, Nisa. “Three Options for Citation Tracking: Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science.” Biomedical Digital Libraries 3 (2006): http://www.bio-diglib.com/content/pdf/1742-5581-3-7.pdf; Lawrence, D. J. “Journal Citation Tracking and Journal Indexing.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 15 (September 1992): 415-417; Kloda, Lorie A. "Use Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science for Comprehensive Citation Tracking." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 2 (2007): 87-90; Mavodza, Judith. Citation Tracking in Academic Libraries: An Overview. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing, May 2016; Weisbard, Phyllis Holman. “Citation Tracking: Citings and Sightings.” Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources 32 (Winter 2011): 21-25.