Citation analysis is a bibliometric method of analysis that measures the impact of an item (typically a journal article or a book) by counting how frequently the item is cited in other articles, books and resources. It can also demonstrate patterns of use by categorizing the platforms or journals in which the citation appears. Citation analysis is most commonly used for scholarly objects such as journal articles and the same processes can also be applied to non-scholarly digital objects, such as images or primary source documents. However, the success rate is often limited due to a lack of standardized citation formats and practices for referencing non-scholarly digital objects. Likewise, the idea of truly measuring “impact” has been debated due to widely documented concerns over citation pollution and abundant self-citations within scholarly publishing. Despite these debates, it remains the most widely accepted and traditional form of measurement in assessing scholarly impact.
Citation analysis relies on how a citation is formatted and where a citation occurs (such as a works cited or reference section). For scholarly digital objects, this allows scholarship aggregators — such as Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar — to regularly parse the works cited or references lists of scholarly works and update the number of times an article is cited, along with their authors and the journals in which they appear.
Citation managers such as Mendeley can also be used to demonstrate the impact of digital objects in the future. These tools track the number of times that users collect articles or other digital objects in their personal account libraries. While these digital objects are not yet included in the references of a published scholarly work, they indicate utility to a research process and the potential inclusion in a future publication.
For non-scholarly digital objects included in scholarly works, citation analysis is often a manual process where practitioners search scholarship aggregators (Google Scholar) or citation managers (Mendeley) for mention of specific digital objects. Likewise, searching general web indexes such as Google or Bing can help to find non-scholarly use of a digital object in web pages, blogs, or social media.
Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.
Many of the citation tools available for citation analysis require personal accounts, including Google, Mendeley (Elsevier), and Altmetric (Elsevier), which are known to mine a significant portion of private information from their users. It is recommended users review the privacy policies for each tool (or their parent company) to understand the information that will be collected, and how it might be used, before making a decision.
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