Thursday, 5 February 2009

Why We Cite

Bibliometrics and its sub disciplines citation analysis and citation behaviour (or why we cite) used to be a fairly obscure branch of academic activity. However, with the use of citation data to evaluate research in national research assessment exercises this topic has relevance to all active researchers.

Despite many decades of research no systematic explanation of citation behaviour has emerged, beyond the fact that motivations for citing are a complex mixture of local context, cultural and psychological factors. There does seem to be a consensus that aggregated citation statistics do identify significant contributions to any discipline (Bornmann and Daniel 2008).

The recent REF consultation exercise indicated concerns about techniques researchers could use to influence citation patterns - reported in the THES (Corbyn 2008). For example, citation clubs, groups of researchers working together to inflate citation counts by citing each others work or excessive self citation - which will be eliminated from the REF. These concerns may be too negative. For a more positive view on why we cite, Research Trends - a bi-monthly newsletter from Scopus - runs a regular feature on why elite researchers are cited or cite others.

The focus on citations may also have distorting effects on publication and citation behaviour. Researchers increasingly focusing on highly cited journal titles, senior researchers publishing less but in 'better' journals, a reluctance to co-author with junior researchers papers that are less likely to have a citation impact and publishing review articles which are thought to be more highly cited.


Bornmann, L. & Daniel, L-D., 2008. What do citation counts measure? A review of studies on citing behavior. Journal of Documentation. 64 (1), 45-80. Available from: [Accessed: 05 February 2009].

Corbyn, Z., 2008. Researchers may play dirty to beat REF. Times Higher Education. 7 February 2008. Available from: [Accessed 05 February 2009].

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