Papers with more references are cited more often

August 15th, 2010

The number of citations a paper receives is generally thought to be a good and relatively objective measure of its significance and impact.

Researchers naturally are interested in knowing how to attract more citations to their papers. Publishing the results of good work helps of course, but everyone knows there are many other factors. Nature news reports on research by Gregory Webster that analyzed the 53,894 articles and review articles published in Science between 1901 and 2000.

The advice the study supports is “cite and you shall be cited”.

A long reference list at the end of a research paper may be the key to ensuring that it is well cited, according to an analysis of 100 years’ worth of papers published in the journal Science.
     The research suggests that scientists who reference the work of their peers are more likely to find their own work referenced in turn, and the effect is on the rise, with a single extra reference in an article now producing, on average, a whole additional citation for the referencing paper.
     ‘There is a ridiculously strong relationship between the number of citations a paper receives and its number of references,” Gregory Webster, the psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who conducted the research, told Nature. “If you want to get more cited, the answer could be to cite more people.’

A plot of the number of references listed in each article against the number of citations it eventually received reveal that almost half of the variation in citation rates among the Science papers can be attributed to the number of references that they include. And — contrary to what people might predict — the relationship is not driven by review articles, which could be expected, on average, to be heavier on references and to garner more citations than standard papers.