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Google Scholar Citations and Google Web/URL Citations:
A Multi-Discipline Exploratory Analysis
1 Department of Library and Information Science, Visiting PhD Student, School of Computing and
Information Technology, University of Wolverhampton, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street
Wolverhampton WV1 1ST, UK. E-mail: email@example.com
In this paper we introduce a new data gathering method “Web/URL Citation” and use it and Google
Scholar as a basis to compare traditional and Web-based citation patterns across multiple disciplines. For
this, we built a sample of 1,650 articles from 108 Open Access (OA) journals published in 2001 in four
science and four social science disciplines. We recorded the number of citations to the sample articles using
several methods based upon the ISI Web of Science, Google Scholar and the Google search engine
(Web/URL citations). For each discipline, we found significant correlations between ISI citations and both
Google Scholar and Google Web/URL citations; with similar results when using total or average citations,
and when comparing within and across (most) journals. We also investigated disciplinary differences.
Google Scholar citations were more numerous than ISI citations in our four social science disciplines as
well as in computer science, suggesting that Google Scholar is a more comprehensive tool for citation
tracking in the social sciences and perhaps also in fast-moving fields where conference papers are highly
valued and published online. The results for Web/URL citations suggested that counting a maximum of one
hit per site produces a better measure for assessing the impact of OA journals or articles, because replicated
web citations are very common within individual sites. The results can be considered as additional evidence
that there is some commonality between traditional and Web-extracted citations.
The progressive transition of scientific literature publishing from print to the Web
environment has been a key factor in motivating information professionals to explore
scholarly communication patterns on the Web, e.g., [1, 2]. In particular, many have
considered whether methods of bibliometrics, such as citation analysis, can be applied to
the Web environment, for example, [3, 4, 5, 6]. Whilst many early studies analysed links
to journal Web sites or online articles [7, 8, 9, 10]; later research tended to extract text-
based citations dataset from the Web, but with similar goals [11, 12, 13].
From the early 1990s, many articles have reported the potential of open access (OA)
publishing as an emerging scholarly communication phenomenon [e.g., 14, 15, 16, 17].
The next natural step was been to seek evidence for the impact of OA publishing using
existing bibliometric techniques [as described in 4] and researchers showed that online
availability of articles was associated with higher citation counts in several subject areas
[18, 19, 20, 21, 22]. The increasing number of OA journals indexed in the Institute for
Scientific Information (ISI) citation databases∗, not only indicates their acceptance as a
valid outlet for publishing scientific papers, but also encouraged researchers to use ISI
citations as a measure of assessment  or to compare OA and non-OA journals impact
across many disciplines .
The ISI’s Web of Science has been for a long time the pre-eminent international,
multidisciplinary database for citation tracking. Nevertheless, the significant degree of
open access publishing in fields such as computer science and physics has allowed some
researches to use Web-based repositories to assess the citation impact of articles; the
results have typically been compared with ISI-based results for the selected subject area
[25, 26] or, on a smaller scale, for an individual journal title . One significant finding
was that in computer science, the citations of conference papers seem to be
underrepresented by the ISI , although it is not clear whether this is desirable, given
that the ISI applies quality control mechanisms to select journals for inclusion in their
databases, something that does not apply to the web as a whole. In addition to using
established web-based repositories, researchers have also developed novel hyperlink-
based methods based upon an analogies with citations - both links and citations are inter-
document connections, with high numbers of inlinks  and citations  both being
regarded as positive indicators of value - and using commercial search engines for
extracting link data . Commercial search engines have also been used as de-facto
indexes of the web in order to extract Web citations, which are counted from references
in the traditional academic format in web pages [12,13], and URL citations, which are
counts of the number of times the URL of a resource is mentioned in other web pages
. These studies have tended to compare their results with ISI citations, as a scholarly
source with better-known value and validity. In particular, correlation tests have been
used as an indirect approach to assess the extent of the agreement between traditional and
Web-based citation patterns.
Correlation tests typically take the form of comparing two sets of numbers, such
as Web and ISI citations to a collection of journal articles. The test reveals the extent to
which larger values from one source associate with larger values from the other source. A
high degree of correlation could indicate that one causes or influences the other (e.g., if
ISI citations sometimes appear because scholars found references online), or that the two
have a common underlying influence (e.g., if both tend to reflect the value of the cited
work). This indirect approach is useful as a kind of shortcut to understanding what web
measurements may represent by comparing them with better known statistics. Direct
approaches, such as a content analysis and interviewing web authors are also needed for
the effective interpretation of Web-based variables, however . In particular, we focus
on whether Web citation extraction techniques and tools could be considered as
substitutes for the ISI counterpart. Disciplinary differences within and between traditional
∗ At the time of this study more than 200 titles of OA journals were indexed by ISI Web of
and Web-based citation counts are important in this context, and hence we place these at
the centre of the analysis.
2. Related studies
There is now a considerable body of quantitative research into scholarly use of the web,
much of which was reviewed in a recent Annual Review of Information Science and
Technology (ARIST) Webometrics chapter . In particular, link analysis is particularly
developed field. Much less research has used Web/URL citations, however, for exploring
scholarly communication patterns.
Many link analysis studies have been motivated by citation analysis, for example
exploring analogies between citations and Web links , using the term “sitation” to
refer to a cited Web site  and defining the "Web Impact Factor" as a Web counterpart
of the ISI's Impact Factor for journals . Whilst some information scientists have
emphasized the structural similarity between linking and citing , others have
highlighted the differences between journal citations and Web links [e.g., 33, 34, 35].
Smith  was one of the first researchers to use link analysis techniques to examine the
relationship between inlinks and ISI Impact Factors for 22 Australasian refereed e-
journals, finding no significant association. Similarly, Harter and Ford  compared links
to 39 scholarly e-journals with ISI citations and found no significant correlation between
link counts and ISI impact factors. Although most Webometrics studies have applied
quantitative methods (mainly correlation tests), Kim  and Herring  applied
qualitative methods to explore motivations for creating links to journal articles, finding
both overlaps with traditional citer motivations and some new electronic medium-specific
reasons. The first study to find a significant correlation between the number of links to a
journal web site and the associated journal Impact Factor was that of Vaughan and Hysen
 for ISI-indexed Library and Information Science (LIS) Journals Web sites. Perhaps
this study was successful because it was discipline-specific, even though it was
dominated by non-OA journals. It was able to take advantage of the fact that most
mainstream journals seemed to have deployed an associated web site, which was
probably not true at the tie of the early OA studies. Follow-up research confirmed the
correlation and showed that journals with more online content tended to attract more
links, as did older journal Web sites in both Law and Library and Information Science
In the above studies, “Web links” were the online variable, which was compared
with ISI citation counts or journal impact factors. Subsequently, Vaughan and Shaw 
proposed and applied a new method for extracting citations patterns from the Web, using
“Web citations” as measures of impact assessment of journals. They compared ISI
citations to LIS journal articles with citations in the Web, using search engine searches to
count the number of times each selected journal article was mentioned in web pages.
They found significant correlations, suggesting that online and offline citation impacts
could be in some way similar phenomena, and hinting that the Web (via search engines)
could be a possible replacement for the ISI. In a follow-up study, they found relationships
between ISI and Web citations to journal articles in four different areas of science. They
also classified Web citations using a predefined scheme to examine the portion of Web
citations that reflect the intellectual impact of the articles . Most selected journals
were traditional ISI journals with independent Web sites but were not open access. They
suggested that Web and ISI citation counts were measuring the same things in assessing
the impact of journals or their papers.
URL citation analysis, counting the number of times the URL of an OA article is
mentioned on the web, is different to both link analysis and citation analysis; although an
URL citation is also a link when the URL is also a hyperlink. One advantage of URL
citation analysis over web citation analysis is that URLs are unique, whereas paper titles
are not. A disadvantage is that both links and citations may exclude a visible URL
citation and so URL citations capture only a proportion of times an article is referred to
online. In fact URL citations, links and web citations all overlap to some extent, but not
completely (although the MSN Search can simultaneously capture hyperlinks and URL
citations . A comparison of peer-reviewed open access LIS journal articles found a
significant correlation between ISI and URL citation counts and also between average
numbers of ISI and URL citations . A classification of URL citations in this study
estimated that 43% reflected citation-like intellectual impact and a further 18%
represented informal scholarly uses.
There are relatively few comprehensive studies across several subject areas
comparing conventional citations (e.g. ISI citations) with citations from Web-based
citation indexes at the article or journal level. Goodrum , for instance, compared
citation patterns in online computer science papers indexed in CiteSeer with citations
from the ISI. They found that conference papers in computer science were relatively
more frequently cited online and much less by ISI articles. Zhao & Logan 
conducted a similar study in the XML research area and found that CiteSeer, provided
more citations than the ISI for this relatively new and fast moving field. Bauer &
Backlash  compared the citation counts provided by the ISI Web of Science,
Elsevier’s Scopus abstract and indexing database, and Google Scholar for articles from
the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST)
published in 1985 and 2000. For articles published in 2000, Google Scholar provided
statistically significant higher citation counts than either the Web of Science or Scopus,
whilst there was no significant difference between the Web of Science and Scopus.
The citation facility of Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) is a potential
new tool for bibliometrics. Launched in November 2004, Google Scholar claims to
include “peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic
publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly
organizations. Google Scholar helps you identify the most relevant research across the
world of scholarly research” . Perhaps some of these documents would never been
indexed by search engines such as Google, so they would be "invisible" to web searchers,
and some would be similarly invisible to Web of Science users.
A number of authors have noted some problems with the early Google Scholar,
especially uneven coverage of scholarly publishers' archives and false drops [40, 41].
Nevertheless it has also been heralded as valuable because of its coverage of academic
information from many publishers, such as the ACM, Annual Reviews, arXiv, Blackwell,
IEEE, Ingenta, the Institute of Physics, NASA Astrophysics Data System, PubMed,
Nature Publishing Group, RePEc (Research Papers in Economics), Springer, and Wiley
Interscience . Many Web sites from universities and nonprofit organizations are also
included; most notably OCLC Open WorldCat, with millions of bibliographic records
. The question is can researchers and students, especially those who have not access
to conventional fee-based citation indexes, such as Web of Science and Scopus, use the
Google Scholar for locating scholarly information? Despite all the reviews, no
previously study used extensive data collection method and analysis in different science
and social science disciplines to answer the following question. For instance, few
evidences about ISI and Google Scholar citation impact is available based upon the a
single year of a journal articles searches in both databases related to the specific
discipline  and such results can be barely generalized to at least an individual
3. Research questions
We address three questions to compare ISI and different types of Web-extracted
citation patterns at the individual article and journal level. Note that correlation tests
preformed in this study are used as an indirect approach for interpreting Web-extracted
citation counts and further study is needed for direct interpretations of Web citations. We
will also examine the apparent disciplinary difference within and among subject areas in
terms of the relationship between traditional and Web-based citation patterns as well as
the number and average of citations.
• Is there a correlation between ISI citation counts and either Google Scholar or
Google Web/URL citation counts for the articles in OA science and social science
• As above but using average citation counts per article across individual OA
• Are there strong disciplinary differences between conventional and Web-extracted
citation patterns within and between individual science and social science
4. Method of Study
4.1. Discipline, Journal and Article Selection
For the purpose of this study, OA journals are freely accessible English language journals
available on the Web (in electronic only or both in electronic and print formats) with
articles that have undergone some kind of peer or editorial review process, and
irrespective of whether the electronic publishing is the primary or secondary medium for
the journal . We needed OA journals that had been published at least since 2001 in
order to allow a significant time window in which to attract citations. An initial study
based upon the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org) and an ISI essay on
the impact of open access journals  showed that there were few science and social
science disciplines having enough refereed or editor-reviewed open access journals
published in 2001. This low rate of OA journal publication in many areas is a limitation
of our study and is mentioned again in the discussion. We used both of the above sources
and other related directories to locate OA journals for this study. Ulrich’s Periodical
Directory (2004) was consulted for official journal Web site URLs and the availability of
OA journals in electronic only or both in electronic and print formats. The study only
used the official Web sites of OA journals (the journal publisher’s Web site) for
recording article URLs. Therefore, URLs of articles in mirror sites were not examined.
Journals which didn’t have an independent Web site were also included in this study,
because the data collection method (Google searches) were preformed for locating
Web/URL citations to journal articles in the text of other Web pages, not links to whole
journal Web sites. If a journal Web site was in an individual HTML ‘frame’ and all its
articles had the same URL then we excluded it from this study. We also excluded
journals ceasing publication before, or with publication beginning after, 2001. Our final
sample included 108 open access journals, 55 of which were indexed in the ISI Web of
Science at the time of this study (Table 1).
The factors that were considered when selecting the science and social science
disciplines included the number of refereed or editor-reviewed OA journals in each
discipline, the accessibility of journal web sites for data gathering. We selected biology,
chemistry, physics and computer science to represent a range of (hard) sciences and
economics, education, sociology and psychology to represent a range of social sciences.
The selection of four science and four social science disciplines allowed comparisons
between broadly similar disciplines as well as between distinctly different ones.
For each selected journal, we applied a stratified sampling method for a systematic
selection of journal articles (omitting reports, editorials, and book reviews). The exact
title of each research article was recorded, along with its HTML or PDF URL. For a
statistically representative selection, in each discipline we took a random sample
proportional to the total number of articles in each journal. Consequently, in each
discipline journals with more published articles had more articles in our final sample.
Ultimately, 1650 research articles were selected from 108 journals in eight disciplines.
Using Ulrich’s Periodical Directory and information in journal Web sites, we found that
52% (56 of 108) of the selected journals were available in both print and electronic
formats and 48% (52) were exclusively available online (Table 1). Appendix A shows the
journals selected for this study.
Table 1. Sample statistics for the sample collection of journal articles.
indexed in the
ISI Web of
Number (%) of
in both print and
Number (%) of
4.2. ISI, Google Scholar and Google Web/URL Citation Counts
Each of the 108 journals was searched for in the ISI Web of Science in order to examine
if they had been indexed. For the 55 ISI-indexed journals (at the time of this study), the
number of citations to each article in the sample was recorded. Since many open access
journals weren’t indexed (53 titles) or were indexed after 2001, their names were
searched for in the “Cited Reference Search” field of the ISI Web of Science as an
alternative way to find out the number of citations their 2001 articles had received from
other ISI-indexed journal articles. In order to prevent possible errors due to similar
abbreviations for different journals, the first author name and volume of each retrieved
article was checked against the original OA article in the sample. This method is similar
to that applied by Vaughan & Shaw  for ISI indexed journals and latter by Kousha &
Thelwall  for journals not indexed by ISI. For the purpose of this study, both
searches were limited to citations to year 2001 articles and journal names were truncated
For Google Scholar citation counts, we searched the titles (taken from journal web
site tables of contents) of all 1,650 sampled articles as phrase searches in the main
Google Scholar search page. We found that some titles with mathematical or chemical
formulas did not retrieve any matches if their complete titles were used. Thus, it was
necessary to omit a portion of some article titles (especially in physics, chemistry and
biology) during the search process in order to generate effective searches. We manually
checked the search results against the original citation information to avoid false matches
and to remove any duplicate citing documents. We then recorded the number of Google
Scholar citations by clicking the “cited by” option below each retrieved record after
omitting the obvious false drop.
Google was chosen for extracting Web/URL citation counts because results of
previous studies showed that it has provided the most comprehensive  and the most
stable search results over time [13, 45]. Google has good coverage of HTML and non-
HTML documents and supported the syntax necessary for extracting both Web and URL
citations at the time of this study, as described below. Nevertheless, the results of Google
do not represent the whole web , only the portion of the web that it has crawled and
reports for user searches [47, 48].
For what we call Google Web/URL citations, methods from two previous studies
were used. The article title phrase search method of Vaughan and Shaw  for
retrieving Web citations and the URL search method used by Kousha and Thelwall 
for locating URL citations were combined. The method applied, as shown below for the
PDF version of an article from the Journal of Chemical Sciences, matches (1) hyperlinks
to the article if the title or URL address of the article appears in the link anchor, and (2)
the title or URL of the article in the text of other Web pages, even if not hyperlinked. We
used –site: in order to exclude Web/URL citations from the same journal Web site. For
very general short article titles we added author(s) or the journal name to our syntax to
avoid retrieving unwanted results.
“Enantioselective solvent-free Robinson annulation reactions” OR
For articles available in HTML and PDF format, both URLs were combined in
the searches through the Google OR operator. No previous study has used this kind of
data collection method, and it is clearly more comprehensive than either of the two
methods that it combines. We believe that our method probably includes the vast majority
of all types of Google-indexed Web citations or links, but further research would be
needed to verify this.
We selected the option “repeat the search with the omitted results included”, if it was
displayed, to retrieve total number of results in Google. Note that all the ISI, Google
Scholar and Google Web/URL searches in this study were conducted for each discipline
during the relatively short period September-October 2005 in order to minimize the
potential impact of time on increasing the number of citation counts, and of variations in
Google’s web coverage.
4.3. Google unique and total Web/URL citations
We found that selecting the option “Repeat the search with the omitted results included”
at the bottom of Google searches sometimes retrieved many results with similar contents
from individual sites. In fact, Google total results often contain a separate hit for the main
entry, the abstract, the PDF file and (if available) the HTML file of each article. Although
URLs of such hits are slightly different, they direct the users to the same article in the
site. We believe that these results should be considered redundant. Since this is a
relatively new issue, we decided to record both kinds of Web/URL citation counts and to
investigate which one has a higher correlation with ISI citation patterns at the individual
article and journal levels. The large differences between mean and median Google unique
and total Web/URL citations can be seen in Table 2. In summary, for the purpose of this
study we defined Google unique Web/URL citation counts as the number of Web/URL
citations per one site. Since Google often gives two hits per site, this number was
manually calculated based upon including only one result per site. The number of unique
Web/URL citations was conveniently calculated by omitting the indented Google results.
We also recorded Google total Web/URL citation counts as the total number of
Web/URL citations retrieved by Google, after omitting any identified false matches.
The correlation tests in Table 2 were calculated for each discipline using individual
sampled papers as the unit of data collection and data analysis. This part of the study
presents a broad view of disciplinary differences between counts of traditional and Web-
extracted citations. Following Vaughan and Shaw , Pearson correlation tests were
preformed if the frequency distributions were not very skewed; otherwise Spearman
correlation tests were applied.
Table 2 Correlations between ISI, Google Scholar and Google Web/URL citation counts to OA articles and
descriptive statistics for each eight studied disciplines.
** Significant at the p = 0.01 level.
5.1. ISI citations correlate with Google Scholar and Web/URL citation counts
As shown in Table 2 there is a significant correlation between the ISI and Google
Scholar citation counts in all studied disciplines (p < 0.01). Although the correlations for
science disciplines are higher than for social science disciplines, especially for biology
and computer science, the exceptions are sociology (high) and chemistry (low). A
possible explanation for the differences in correlation coefficients is better coverage of
science journals by the ISI and Google Scholar than social science journals; this will be
discussed in the next section. Nevertheless, this is reasonable evidence that scholarly OA
journal articles with more citations in the ISI database also have more citations reported
by Google Scholar for science and the social sciences, although there may be disciplines
that we have not studied for which this is not true. Moreover, since both ISI and Google
Scholar citation counts measure the same formal patterns of scholarly communication
(conventional citations), this is also reasonable evidence that they are essentially
assessing something very similar, which might for convenience be called the intellectual
impact of the work, although the exact meaning of citation counts is far more complex
than this .
We can see the same relationship, albeit weaker, between ISI and Google unique
citation counts as well as Google total citation counts for seven disciplines (excluding
psychology) at the p = 0.01 level. In both cases there are higher correlations for computer
science and sociology and lower for biology and chemistry. The higher Google Scholar
correlations for science disciplines are not reflected in the Web/URL citation
correlations; three social science disciplines (sociology, economics and education) have
higher Web correlations (Google unique and total Web/URL citations) than three of the
hard science disciplines (biology, chemistry and physics). Finally there are higher
correlations between ISI citations and Google unique Web/URL citations than Google
total Web/URL citations in both science and social science disciplines (excluding
psychology), supporting our argument above that unique (one per site) Web/URL citation
counts in Google search results are a better scholarly measure than total Web/URL
5.2. Social science articles receive more formal citations on the Web than ISI
Table 2 shows that the mean and total number of ISI citations to sampled articles in three
science disciplines (biology, chemistry and physics) is higher than Google Scholar
citations. Moreover, the median of ISI citations to sampled articles in biology and
chemistry is higher than Google Scholar citations and physics has an equal median for
both kinds of citation counts. In contrast, in four social science disciplines (sociology
economics, psychology and education) the mean, median and total number of ISI
citations is much lower than Google Scholar citations suggesting that Google Scholar
may have particularly good coverage of sources for citations in the social sciences, but
may be slightly weak for the sciences. In computer science the mean, median and total
number of Google Scholar citations is much higher than ISI citations (about double).
One explanation is that in computer science there is an existing established web
citation database (CiteSeer/ResearchIndex) and in computer science conferences are very
important and their proceedings are frequently made available online, where Google
Scholar may find them. In physics, conferences are not the major dissemination
mechanism but open access publishing is of preprints is common, via ArXiv.org. Table 2
also shows that the mean, median and total number of Google Web/URL citations
(unique and total) is much higher than both ISI citations. This corroborates the work of
Vaughan and Shaw  for 114 biology, genetics, medicine, and multidisciplinary
5.3. Correlations between ISI and Web citation counts for each journal
In the previous section we calculated correlation coefficients for each discipline using
individual sampled papers as the unit of data collection and data analysis. In this section
we break down the data further and report correlation tests for ISI and three different
Web-extracted citations counts (Google Scholar, unique and total Web/URL citations) for
each journal in each eight disciplines, again using the papers in our sample as the unit of
data analysis and data collection. Note that journals with less than 10 articles in our
sample were excluded for the reliability of correlation tests between variables (26
journals). Table 3 shows the percentage of significant correlations between the ISI and
three types of Web-extracted citations for each discipline. For instance, Table 3 shows
that there is a significant correlation between ISI and Google Scholar citation counts for
80% (16 out of 20 titles) of the biology journals. Table 3 also shows that the average
percentage of significant correlations between ISI and three Web-extracted citations in all
studied disciplines is higher for Google Scholar citations (66.5%), than unique Web/URL
citations (30.4%), and total Web/URL citations (19.4%).
Table 3. Percentage of significant correlations between ISI and Web–extracted citation counts for the
journals in science and social science disciplines.
ISI and Google
ISI and Google unique
between ISI and
ISI and Google
ISI and Google unique
between ISI and
Average percentage of
Table 4 gives a more general view of differences between the percentage of significant
correlations for two major science and social science disciplines.
Table 4. Percentage of the significant correlation between the ISI and web–related citations data for the
journals in science discipline
Percentage of Sig.
ISI and Google
Percentage of Sig.
correlations between ISI
and Google unique
Percentage of Sig.
correlation between ISI
and Google total
5.4. Average ISI citations correlate with average Google Scholar and Web/URL
Correlation tests were also performed using individual journals as the unit of data
analysis in each selected discipline; between the average number of ISI citations and the
average number of Google Scholar citations and the average number of Web/URL
citations for each of the 108 journals (Table 5). For each variable we calculated the total
number of citations (ISI, Google Scholar and Web/URL citations) a journal received
divided by the number of papers in the sample set. As shown in Table 5, there is a highly
significant correlation between the average number of ISI citations and the average
number of Google Scholar citations in all the disciplines at the p = 0.01 level. It is
interesting that there is a relatively higher correlation for OA journals in science than in
the social science disciplines. We merged journals of two subject areas, sociology and
psychology, because there weren’t enough journals (data points) in each of them for a
correlation test. Thus, it seems that OA journals having higher average ISI citations also
have higher average Google Scholar citations. Hence Google Scholar is a promising tool
for measuring the intellectual impact of OA journals as an alternative to conventional
We also found significant correlations between the average number of ISI citations
and the average number of Google unique Web/URL citations (as we defined above) at
the journal level for each discipline (Table 5), but significantly lower than the
correlations between average ISI and Google Scholar citations reported above. We found
significant correlations between average ISI and average Google total Web/URL citations
at the journal level for four disciplines.
Table 5 Correlations between average ISI and average Google Scholar and Google Web Citation Counts to
No. of OA
average ISI and
average Google total
average ISI and
average Google unique
average ISI and
* Significant at the p < 0.05 level.
** Significant at the p < 0.01 level.
5.5. Journal Impact Factors correlate with average ISI, Google Scholar and
Web/URL citation counts
We calculated correlations between ISI Journal Impact Factors (JIF) and average Google
Scholar/Web citation counts for 47 journals. As mentioned above, of 108 selected
journals in this study, 55 titles were indexed in the ISI Web of Science. We found that
only 47 titles had impact factors in the 2004 edition of ISI Journal Citation Report (JCR)
at the time of this study. The year 2004 Impact Factors are calculated based upon cites in
2004 to articles published in 2003 and 2002. We found significant correlations between
JIFs and average Google Scholar citations (r = 0.624**), average Google unique
Web/URL citations (r = 0.475**) and average Google total Web/URL citations (r
=0.387**) respectively. The results show that journals with higher ISI Impact Factors
also had higher average Web-extracted citations.
6. Discussion and conclusions
We found a significant association between the ISI citations and both Google Scholar and
Google Web/URL citations to open access scholarly journals in science and social
science disciplines, indicating that conventional and Web-based citations patterns are
likely to be measuring similar things and have the potential to be used for impact
assessment, if further research successfully corroborates these findings and investigates
reasons for the differences and reliability issues. We also found a relatively stronger
relationship between the number of and average ISI and Google Scholar citations than
Google Web/URL citations in nearly all cases at the article and journal level. One explicit
and clear explanation for such relationship is that both ISI and Google Scholar are
measuring formal scholarly patterns, equivalent to formal citations and that Web/URL
citations include types of informal citation in addition to the formal ones. It is not clear,
however, which is the better type of measure for research impact. For example, if many
Web/URL citations represented genuine uses of research (e.g. in education or industry)
then this could be seen as desirable, whereas if most Web/URL citations were in
replicated library lists, then this could be seen as problematic.
Separating out the unique and total Web/URL citation counts in our Google
search results showed that there are relatively higher correlations between the number of,
and average, ISI and Google unique Web/URL citations, suggesting that counting a
maximum of one match per site produces improved results. The fact that through Google
total results we retrieve many multiple links which direct the users to the same place in
the site can be considered as the main reason for the relatively stronger relationship
between ISI and Google unique Web/URL citation counts in all our correlation tests at
the journal and article level.
Our new Web/URL citation method is, in theory, more comprehensive than either web
citation or URL citation. Nevertheless, it has some practical drawbacks. As we have used
it, it requires some manual labor to ensure that only one citation per web site is allowed,
although this could be automated in Google . Moreover, the method required
modification for some journals because of too-long URLs, which creates a potential
unfairness. Finally, it is not yet clear that the most comprehensive solution is the best,
especially if many of the additional citations may come from undesired sources.
Why is there a relatively stronger correlation between ISI and Google Scholar
citation counts in science disciplines than social science at the journal and article level? It
may be relevant that about 77% (49 of 64) of selected journals in science disciplines and
only 13% (6 of 44) of social science journals were indexed by the ISI at the time of this
study. The descriptive statistics for ISI and Google Scholar citation counts (Table 2)
shows that in three pure science disciplines (biology, chemistry and physics, but
excluding computer science) the distribution of citations is relatively less skewed than in
social science. Consequently, it may be that higher coverage of citation information in
both ISI and Google Scholar is the important factor for higher commonality between
citation patterns in science disciplines. This speculation is supported by the fact that, in
contrast to three pure science disciplines, in four social science subject areas the number,
the mean and median Google Scholar citation counts is remarkably higher than ISI
citations (Table 2). This suggests that Google Scholar is a more comprehensive tool for
citation tracking in social science in this study. However, the quality of sources of
citations (citing documents) retrieved by Google Scholar is important factor to take into
account (as for Web/URL citations), and future research must address this complex issue.
In addition, there are disciplinary differences in research which lead to varied emphasis
on things like electronic publication, books, journals and conferences [2, 50] and
variations in usage patterns for similar electronic resources, including e-journals . It
may be that the web contains objects of value in the social sciences, such as course
reading lists, that would not be used or valued in the sciences if research is less directly
tied to teaching. A corollary from this, and the fact that our disciplines were effectively a
convenience sample, self-selected by volume of OA journal use, is that it would be
unwise to assume that OA will become the norm throughout academia. Whilst the
methods here and particularly Web/URL citation advantage web-published sources, it
would be unfair to use them to compare non-OA journals, even though (non-OA) web
publishing seems to be standard now for the major academic publishers.
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