Citations, citation indicators, and research quality: An overview of basic concepts and theories
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionAksnes, D. W., Langfeldt, L. & Wouters, P. (2019). Citations, citation indicators, and research quality: An overview of basic concepts and theories. Sage Open, 9(1), 1-17. 10.1177/2158244019829575
Citations are increasingly used as performance indicators in research policy and within the research system. Usually, citations are assumed to reflect the impact of the research or its quality. What is the justification for these assumptions and how do citations relate to research quality? These and similar issues have been addressed through several decades of scientometric research. This article provides an overview of some of the main issues at stake, including theories of citation and the interpretation and validity of citations as performance measures. Research quality is a multidimensional concept, where plausibility/soundness, originality, scientific value, and societal value commonly are perceived as key characteristics. The article investigates how citations may relate to these various research quality dimensions. It is argued that citations reflect aspects related to scientific impact and relevance, although with important limitations. On the contrary, there is no evidence that citations reflect other key dimensions of research quality. Hence, an increased use of citation indicators in research evaluation and funding may imply less attention to these other research quality dimensions, such as solidity/plausibility, originality, and societal value.