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 might 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

To search Web of Science, follow these steps:

  • Go to Web of Science.
  • Enter your UNE username and password if prompted.
  • 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 Cited Author 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 Cited Work box. In this case the abbreviation is nature. If you don't know the correct abbreviation, click on the View 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.
  • 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

In general, Scopus is much easier to use than Web of Science.

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.

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

  • Got to Scopus.
  • On the Document search page, Enter the title

    Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica

    in the Article title, Abstract, Keywords.
  • Click the Search button.
  • You will find a list of matching documents.
  • In this case, clicking on the title in the second results takes you to details of the article. On the right you will find a link which reads View all metrics.
  • Click on this link to see the citation history of this article in Scopus.

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 in the Google Scholar database, a Cited by link will appear below the 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.


This module dealt with the following:

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

The literature review