It is increasingly important for scientists careers and their institutons reputations that their papers are highly cited. So what factors increase citation rates?
We recently analysed citation rates of about 6,000 papers published in the journal Biological Conservation from 1968 to 2012. Google Scholar H-index ranks this as the top conservation-focused journal in ‘biodiversity and conservation biology’. This was a larger sample size and longer time-span than most previous studies on citation rates, and the first in this subject area. Our statistical analysis was also more rigorous than most previous studies, notably by accounting for the effect of paper age and inter-relationships between factors. The analysis only included published papers, and two-thirds of papers are rejected by the journal. Had some of these rejected papers better framed and presented their work then they may have been sent out to peer review, and been improved before publication.
Review papers had about twice as many citations as non-review articles. Papers that addressed issues of importance to a wide audience, such as not being limited to a locality or species, were also nearly twice as frequently cited.
Although older papers have more time to be cited, in this journal more recent papers tended to have higher citation rates. This may reflect the journal’s editors needing to select papers of wider interest because of the increasing numbers of papers submitted over the years. However, it may also reflect authors favouring citation of recent papers on the assumption that they accurately cite earlier ones.
Titles phrased as questions, shorter titles, and papers with more authors, had slightly higher numbers of citations. However, overall, we found that these factors explained only 12% of the variability in citation rate. This suggests that having a good title is necessary, but that other factors are more important to construct a well-cited paper. The most important factor is how many readers will want to cite the paper because it is relevant to their own work.
Although citation rates are not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the paper or its long-term importance, they are an easily quantified measure of its usefulness to other authors, and thus influence. Also, such papers of wide interest may be the outcome of many prior papers that led to those more generalisable findings.
To become highly cited, a primary requirement is that papers need to advance the science significantly and
be useful to readers. Having a good title, novel finding, and framing a paper clearly are also important, but on their own may not lead to high citations.
Costello, MJ, Beard KH, Primack RB, Devictor V, Bates AE. 2018. Are killer bees good for coffee? The contribution of a paper’s title and other factors to its future citations. Biological Conservation https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.07.010