Citation tracking

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to

  • explain the principle of citation tracking.
  • track citations using different tools.

Why track citations?

Citation tracking is used to discover how many times a particular article has been cited by other articles. As a general rule, high quality articles attract a greater number of citations.

Citation counts are not perfect. They are influenced by a number of factors. Review articles (which survey a broad field of knowledge) are sometimes more often cited than their quality would warrant. Poor quality papers can be cited while being criticised or refuted. Conversely, high quality articles can languish, uncited and unread.

The importance of citation tracking

The standard tool used in citation tracking is a citation index. Citation indexes allow you to search the academic literature in ways that show the progress of academic debate in your field. With a citation index, you can easily identify the most influential articles, and the leading academics in your field. You can track backwards (using lists of cited articles) and forwards (using lists of articles which cite a particular article). This means that you can determine the position of academic debate at any time in the past.

Citation tracking is an excellent means of identifying the response of the academic community to individual articles. You can easily find refutations, criticisms, corrections and retractions of published articles. In addition, citation tracking provides you with a means of analysing the direction and pace of research trends. This method can identify emerging areas of research.

How to track citations

Web of Science

The Web of Science is one of the standard tools for tracking citations. It includes a number of citation indexes for the purpose. They are the:

  • Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED).
  • Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI).
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI).
  • CPCI — Science (CPCI-S).
  • CPCI — Social Science & Humanities (CPCI-SSH).

The two CPCI indexes are particularly useful as they cover citations of Conference Proceedings, which are difficult to track in any other way.

Getting started with Web of Science

To search Web of Science, you need to go to Web of Knowledge platform. Follow these steps:

  • Go to Web of Knowledge.
  • Enter your UNE username and password if prompted.
  • Click on the Web of Science tab.
  • Click on the Cited Reference Search link.

Now you only need to enter the details of your search.

For practice, let's find the authors who have cited the following journal article:

J R Petit, J Jouzel and D Raynaud, et al. (1999) "Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica" Nature, 399 (6735): 429-436.

To find articles which have cited this article, follow these steps:

  • Enter the name of the first author (in this case J R Petit) in the first search box. Web of Science expects the author's name to follow the format: Petit J* (using * means that you will find all authors with last name Petit and the first initial J, including those who have second initials).
  • Enter the standard abbreviation for the journal In the second search box. In this case the abbreviation is nature. If you don't know the correct abbreviation, click on the journal abbreviations link.
  • Enter the year in which the article was published (1999) in the Cited Year(s) box.
  • Click on the Search button.

Web of Science presents you with a list of matching articles. Note that there are sometimes a number of different citations. These are usually the results of minor citation errors by article authors.

Click in the check boxes next to the matching citations and then click on the Finish Search button.

Web of Science will present you with a complete list of articles which cite the original article.

Limitations of Web of Science

Although Web of Science is often the best place to begin tracking citations, this source has significant limitations. These include:

  • coverage is heavily biased in favour of English-language journals. If a foreign-language journal does not provide a summary of its article contents in English, Web of Science simply omits the journal from its database.
  • coverage outside science, technology and medicine is extremely thin.
  • misspellings of author names and incorrect citations are common. This makes it difficult to be certain that there are no missing citations.
  • coverage outside of the US (other than for the UK and the Netherlands) is extremely limited.

Many researchers have turned to Scopus and Google Scholar as an alternative to Web of Science.


Scopus has been deliberately designed as an alternative to Web of Science. It provides citations and abstracts for current research in the fields of health, life, physical and social sciences.

Using Scopus, you can discover:

  • how many citations a particular article or author has received.
  • citation information for a particular journals.
  • the main journals, disciplines and authors that publish in your area of interest.

The Cited Reference Search Tutorial shows you how to track a citation using Scopus.

In general, Scopus is much easier to use than Web of Science. For example, you can generally discover an author's citation history simply by clicking on the Details icon next to the author's name in an article abstract. This will bring up the Author Details page. Clicking on the Citation Tracker button will display citations in Scopus to the author's works.

Citation information for each article is calculated in real time, and you can quickly discover the number of times an article or author has been cited each year. Excluding an author's self-citations is as simple as clicking in the appropriate check box.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar offers citation totals for journal articles and other items in its database. If an article in Google Scholar has been cited by another source, a Cited by link will appear below the article entry in Scholar's search results. Clicking the Cited by link will display a list of articles that have cited the original article. As many of these articles are also likely to display a Cited by link, this process can be repeated many times.

Other citation sources

A number of specialised indexes can assist you to discover who is citing whom. These include:

  • ERIC: If an article has been cited by another article in the ERIC, ERIC will display this information in the original article record. Click on the Cited by link.
  • HighWire:HighWire informs you if an article in its database has been cited by one or more other HighWire articles.
  • HeinOnline: This source now has cited by features to indicate articles that have been cited in other articles. For further information, see the online guide.
  • IngentaConnect: article abstracts will often include an Articles that cite this article? link.
  • Institute of Physics (IoP): The abstracts for articles in IoP journals will often contain links to All Citing Articles.
  • JSTOR. JSTOR notes when an article has been cited by other articles in the JSTOR database. Look for a tab reading Items Citing this Item on the Article Information page. JSTOR also allows you to check for citations in the GoogleScholar database.
  • ProQuest. A number of databases previously available through CSA (including ERIC) are now in Proquest. They provide lists of references used by an article and how often a particular reference has been cited by other articles in the same database. In addition to ERIC, these databases include Biological Sciences, EconLit, Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA), Physical Education Index, PILOTS Database, PsycINFO, Social Services Abstracts and Sociological Abstracts.
  • ScienceDirect. Article abstracts in ScienceDirect frequently include provide totals of citing articles derived from Scopus.
  • SpringerLink. Citing articles are displayed in the article abstract under Cited by.
  • SSRN. Citations for many of the papers in Social Science Research Network (SSRN) site can be found by clicking on the Citations tab on the abstract page.
  • Wiley Online Library: Click on Cited by in the article abstract to discover a list of citing articles.

No citation index will give you a complete citation count. By searching a number of indexes you can gain a better idea of the actual number of authors citing a particular article.


This module dealt with the following:

  • the principle of citation tracking.
  • how to track citations using a range of databases.

The literature review