Evaluation based on scientific publishing: Citation analysis and databases containing citation information

About citation analysis

Citation analysis has an ever increasing significance in evaluating scientific achievement. Scientific journals, individual researchers, research groups, research institutes, universities and whole countries are evaluated on the basis of  scientific publications and citations they receive.

A citation analysis is a quantitative method whereby important and essential literature of a field can be identified on the basis of how often a publication is cited in other publications. However, using citations as a quality indicator carries problems. Primarily, citations measure popularity rather than quality, and individual citations are always a researcher's subjective choice, which can be affected by many factors other than the quality of the article. Citations of an article reveal the positive or negative attention it has received rather than indicate its quality. Citation counts favour mainstream research and established paradigms, while research that challenges prevailing thought is not necessarily noticed straight away. Indeed, many important scientific breakthroughs have not been noticed until decades after their publication. Meanwhile some research results giving rise to criticism, or even proven to be wrong, may receive a great number of citations.

All evaluation methods based on citation analysis are dependent on the contents and quality of the databases that contain the information on citations. When considering such evaluation indicators, attention should always be paid to which database's information the calculations are from, because the value of even same indicators changes when the database changes. The number of references to a particular article differs according to the database, nor are the references in the different databases always exactly the same. Especially with macro level evaluations, such as when evaluating research groups, departments and countries, it is important to carefully investigate the calculating methods of the indicators used and the reference data upon which the calculations are based. Moreover, it is worth considering the interpretative limitations of the indicators and the related problems. Thus, evaluations often require the use of several indicators, and citation information from different databases. Evaluations based on citation information should be complemented with further expert assessments.

Citation reference databases each employ different data collection strategies, and this has effects both on what publications the databases contain and on the number of citations received by the publications. The contents of different databases concentrate on different things: journals, books, conference proceedings and other literature. Databases normally contain citation information only on the journals they carry. The number of citations is also dependent on how long a time span for citations is covered by the database, and how often the citation information is up-dated in the database. Citation information of all databases also contains some errors; citations might be missing or they might have been registered twice. The contents of all databases also changes continuously; database service providers include new journals in their collection and remove ones they have previously held, while they may up-date citation information also from older publications.

Databases containing citation information

The most important multidisciplinary databases containing citation information are Web of Sciece (WoS) by Thomson Reuters and Scopus by Elsevier.  Citations can also be retrieved from Google Scholar (GS) keeping in mind the limitations of the database. GS contains a lot of non-scientific citations. The number of citations can vary a lot between Web of Science, Scopus and especially GS.

In addition, there are some field specific databases which contain reference information such as Chemical Abstracts (SciFinder), CiteSeerX and MathScinet.

Table below: Comparison of WoS, Scopus and GS


Web of Science (more information)

Scopus (more information)

Google Scholar (more information)


subscription based

subscription based

freely accessible

Number of journals

over 12.000 peer-reviewed journals

over 21.000 peer-reviewed journals

information is not publically available

Other contents

conference proceedings

conference proceedings, professional magazines, patents and book series

books, pre-prints, theses and dissertations, and webpages

Main disiplines

Natural Sciences, Technology, Social Sciences, Fine Arts and Humanities

Physics, Technology, Health Sciences, Bio sciences, Fine Arts and Humanities,
Social Sciences

information is not publically availabale

Time span

from 1900 (Science), 1956 (Social Sciences) and 1975 (Arts and Humanities), accessble

some of the journals from 1966, others from 1996

information is not publically availabale




information not publically available, but more or less monthly

Collection policy



information not publically available, contracts with most significant publishing houses

Citation analysis

Citation Report -tool

View citation overview -tool

search report with a 'Cited by' link, giving  all pulications which cite the publication in question

Time span of citation information

from 1900  (Science), from 1956 (Social Sciences) and from 1975 (Arts and Humanities); citation statistics available at Oulu University Library for the whole period, but the referencing articles only available from 1975

from 1996

information is not publically availabale

  Web of Science Scopus Google Scholar
Indicators Journal Citation Reports:
- Article Influence (AI)
- Eigenfactor
- H-index
- Immediacy Index
- Impact Factor (IF)
- H-index
- Raw impact per publication (RIPP)
- SCImago Journal Rank (SJR)
- Source normalized impact per paper (SNIP)
- Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) 
- H-index
Tools - Journal Citation Reports
- Eigenfactor
- ScienceWatch 
- Scival
- SCImago Journal and Country Rank
- CWTS Journal Indicators
- Publish or Perish 
University rankings

- Shanghai Ranking eli Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
- National Taiwan University Ranking (NTU)
- University Ranking by Academic Performance (URAP)
- U.S. News & World Report's Best Global Universities Rankings
- CWTS Leiden Ranking
- U-Multirank

- Review of the state of scientific research in Finland by The Academy of Finland

- Times Higher Education World University Rankings
- QS World University Rankings
- Webometrics
- Webometrics
Researcher profile ResearcherID Scopus Author Identifier
- also Scopus Affiliation Identifier
Google Scholar Profile  

From the perspective of citation analysis, what matters most, is the number of records enhanced by cited references and the total number of cited references included in the database used. In addition to contributing citation data, citation enhanced databases may serve as a platform providing the analytical tools for bibliometric analysis. Both of these contributions are beset with several methodological and technical difficulties, including limited coverage of the scholarly literature, inconsistent and inaccurate data, and limited facilities for browsing, searching and analyzing data. Most of these difficulties arise because bibliographic databases are primarily designed for information retrieval and bibliometric analysis represents only a secondary use of the systems.

Both Web of Science and Scopus have master records with cited references, and they show the bibliographic and reference details of the citing records.

Web of Science is available in many different versions regarding years of coverage and citation indexes included in the subscription of the user's institution. University of Oulu currently subscribes to citation indexes and years of coverage as follows: Science Citation Index Expanded (1975 - present), Social Sciences Citation Index (1975 - present), Arts & Humanities Citation Index (1975 - present). Web of Science always includes all the cited references for every record created, irrespective of the publication year.

Scopus includes cited reference information only for records of papers published from 1996 onward. There can gap  in the coverage of journals in Scopus.

Google Scholar's coverage is unknown and might be uneven across different fields of science. Additonally, older publications are poorly covered. To continue non-scholarly literature and citations are included.

The difference between Web of Science and Scopus in terms of the total number of cited reference enhanced records and their distributions across the entire time spectrum from 1900 to 2008 is shown in the graphs below.

Number of records enhanced by cited references in Web of Science. Gray area = total number of records per year, black area = records enhanced by cited references per year.
Source: Jacso 2008: The pros and cons of computing the h-index using Web of Science DOI 10.1108/14684520810914043. 16.12.2010.

Number of records enhanced by cited references in Scopus. Gray area = total number of records per year, black area = records enhanced by cited references per year.
Source: Jacso 2008: The pros and cons of computing the h-index using Web of Science DOI 10.1108/14684520810914043. 16.12.2010.

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