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ED 7318: Adult Learning: Citation Analysis


Citation Analysis can give you valuable insight into the impact of a scholar's work. Citation counts measure the impact of a particular publication or an individual author by counting the number of times either has been cited in other works. Citation counts measure the impact of a particular publication or an individual author by counting the number of times either has been cited in other works. This analysis of a particular author's work is one of the components used to evaluate the quality of that's individual's scholarly output and the impact he or she is having upon a particular discipline. Although such counting sounds relatively straightforward, it is complicated by the fact that there is no single citation analysis source that covers all publications and their cited references.

Web of Science vs. Google Scholar

When looking for citation counts, is it better to use Web of Science or Google Scholar? 

Since each has its advantages and disadvantages, it's really a good idea to search both and compare the results. And you may also want to consult discipline-specific databases that offer citation data. 

Anne-Wil Harzig, Professor of International Management at the University of Melbourne and creator of Publish or Perish software, offers a good analysis of the relative disadvantages of both Web of Science and Google Scholar in her article, Google Scholar: A New Data Source for Citation Analysis.

Seminal & Highly Cited Research

Citation analysis can be measure in a number of ways:   

  • Citation count -- The total number of times an author's work has been cited
  • Average citation rate -- the ratio of total citations to the number of works authored
  • H-Index -- A researcher's h-index, or Hirsch index, is determined by listing their publications in descending order of times cited and counting down the list to the last paper for which the number of times cited exceeds the number of papers counted. Rather than a measure of the average number of citations, which can be skewed by either a single highly-cited article or by new articles which have not yet been cited, the h-index  believed to provide a measurement that avoids over-emphasizing these extreme cases. Citation analysis as a qualitative measurement should be used cautiously, for the following reasons:  Citation rates and practices vary widely between disciplines. 

Citation analysis of scholars in one field should not be compared to those in another. Where a scholar publishes can have a great impact on the analysis if the tools used to count citations do not index the publications where a scholarly work is cited. This is particularly true for those that publish in international journals, smaller regional or local publications, or in non-journal sources such as books. Citation rates can be influenced by other practices such as self-citation. Sources for citation information include: (Sage Navigator, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar)

One indication that a particular source may be considered Seminal Research (i.e., of great importance or lasting influence; seminal works are sometimes also referred to as foundational works, landmark works, classic works, or pivotal works) is that the article has been cited in many other publications. Note though, that although all seminal articles will be highly cited, not all highly cited articles are necessarily seminal. In order for a work to be considered seminal, it should have led to: 

  • a much higher level of understanding in the field, or
  • a paradigm shift, or
  • an entirely new research area

In the field of management, for example, Michael E. Porter's 1996 article entitled "What is Strategy?" is considered a seminal work since it provided a clear and widely accepted definition of "strategy" and discounted many alternate views of what strategy is. The article has been cited thousands of times and has influenced business leaders around the world. (UMUC-HighlyCited)

Alkek Library also has a "Landmark Papers in..." series. Some disciplines also have awards for an author's contribution to the field, like Turing and SIGCOMM.

Examples of seminal works in education include work that came from major theorists like Vygotsky and Piaget.

Also, don't underestimate a search of a topic or discipline + seminal, seminal research, seminal works, landmark works, classic works, or pivotal works -- seminal works "special education"

Sage Navigator search results are based on publications that include the Sage Major Works. "Navigator is the essential social sciences literature review tool and provides a place for users to locate only the best of the scholarship in the field from over 1,000 publishers and covers approximately 300 topics (strongest coverage in Business & Management, Education, Politics, and Sociology). Links to the full text of non-SAGE content are provided where available, which should be accessible to users who have already authenticated through the library interface."

It's best to start with the Advanced search to ensure you are only searching Navigator content: Publication Info > uncheck "All Products" > check "Sage Navigator". You want to make sure your search results all have this icon to the right so that you know you're only searching Navigator content.

A unique feature of Sage Navigator is the Chronology Tool. After you run your search and open an entry in the search results, click the Key Readings next to the pink Overview tab.

Web of Science (composed of: Arts & Humanities Citation Index 1975-Social Sciences Citation Index 1900-, and Science Citation Index 1899-) is the original citation research source. Web of Science extracts the citation information from the articles in more than 10,000 journals from almost every discipline. 

Be aware that a citation search in the Web of Science will only count citations from sources indexed by Web of Science and will not reference citations from books, dissertations or theses, patents, and technical reports not included in the database. This being the case, disciplines that publish heavily in the journal literature (such as the Sciences) are better represented here than those that do not (Business, for example). The Sciences are also represented much more in Web of Science than Arts & Humanities and the Social Sciences.


When you know an author who is especially relevant to a field of study, you may begin by searching their name on the Author line of the Cited Reference Search screen. To do a Cited Author, search the Last Name and Initials, with no comma separating them. If you are unsure if the author always published using their middle initials, you may want to search for their name both with and without middle initials. David C. Caverly would be searched as:


Hyphenated names or names containing an apostrophe or a space should be searched both with and without the punctuation: 

Jovita Ross-Gordon would be searched as ROSS-GORDON J 

Under the box where you enter the author's name, there is also an "Select from Index" option. Search results will show Dr. Caverly's publication and will include how many times each article was cited and by whom.

A Basic Search in Web of Science allows for a Topic keyword search and search results will default to sort citations by Times Cited. Also, by creating a Web of Science Sign In account, you can set up Searches and Alerts.

Scopus only offers an Advanced Search menu that runs a keyword search, but it allows for Field searching using the Field Codes defined by the database.Search results will default to "Date (newest)" in the top right corner, but it can be changed to "Cited by (highest)". Also, by creating a Scopus Login account, searches be be set to Save and Alerts can also be set up.

Google Scholar covers articles, theses, books, abstracts, court opinions and other scholarly literature from all broad areas of research, and may include pre-prints and web-published reports as well as published literature. Since Google Scholar indexes information from multiple sources (provided by publishers, included in databases such as PubMed, found on the public web, etc.), there is no comprehensive list of which publications it covers.  However, for many fields, the greater number of publication formats included means that Google Scholar may find citations that are not indexed in the Web of Science.

To search for citing publications, start with a search for your researchers name. To get the best results that include various ways they may be cited, search all variations of the name within quotation marks, preceded by author: in the Basic Search For example, to search for citations to Dr. David C. Caverly's work, search for author:"d caverly" OR author:"david caverly" OR author:"dc caverly" In the Advanced Search you can use the "Return articles authored by" field.

Results will be listed (generally) with the most-cited publications first.  To see the list of citing documents, click on 'Cited by [number]' below an entry to display all citing documents. Google Scholar will attempt to group all versions of a single work into one entry and combine the citations, but please note that it is not always able to do so, and you may see additional entries (with citations) to a work. See the examples in red boxes in the figure below. Clicking the "Cited by xxx" link will lead to a list of articles that cited the article you clicked on and "Cited by xxx" will also display for each of those articles.

Note: Sometimes, citation counts for an article in Google Scholar may be much higher than in databases like WoS and Scopus.