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H809 – Examining impact (A3.2)

February 24, 2011

Citation search – what is that?

That was my initial reaction, because although I know what a citation is did I never came around a citation search and never needed to conduct one, except know for my H809 Practice-based research in educational technology module.

Citation Index

According to the OU Library a special index, the so-called citation index, is needed. A citation index is an index of citations between publications, allowing the user to easily establish which later document cite which earlier documents (Wikipedia, 2011). The index is created from the lists of references that appear at the end of journal articles.

The OU library refers to three original citation indexes (Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences and Science) which are available as three separate databases in the ISI Web of Science collection. But other Library journal collections (such as Academic Search Complete, ScienceDirect and Scopus) also include citation indexes of their own.

Wikipedia states that there are two major publishers of general-purpose academic citation indexes, available to libraries by subscription and refer as well to ISI Web of knowledge and Scopus.

Why do a citation search?

The OU library provides tha following list.

  • It can turn up relevant articles from unexpected disciplines.
  • You are not dependent on the author’s or indexer’s choice of vocabulary.
  • It allows you to follow-up discussion and argument, to see what happened next, after the article was published.
  • It is a great aid for assembling a bibliography or recommended reading list.

How do I do it?

Good question, although the OU provided a script how I suppose to conduct a citation search with ISI Web of Knowledge I struggled to find the ‘Cited Reference search’ button. What a great researcher I am :-8. After clicking around for a while I finally found in the Web of Science, the wanted button. However, that was just the beginning of a serious of failures. Searching for our first two readings I did not manage to search for both authors. Yet I was not alone, my colleagues also struggled with that issue. Search for one author alone brought up some results.

Here my search results for Hiltz and Meinke, 1989. (Click on the image to enlarge it)

Honestly, I have to problems to interpret the result. Four articles does not seem so much, yet two articles cited from the article 8 years later. I am quite confused how the first article made it into the list, because it says: Times cited: 0 😕 However, the second article cites Hiltz and Meinke 20 times. A brief look at the abstract of the found articles reveal that the have some key words in common, but besides that are other common features often lacking leaving my puzzled how the articles really relate to each other and why they used Hiltz/Meinke’s article. So far I do not really see the importance of a citation search.

Search for Wegerif and Mercer, 1997 reveals only one article and I am relative clueless what those articles have in common. It seems they both focus on collaborative learning, but as far as I read in the abstract the article who cited Wegerif and

Let’s try Google Scholar and see what search results show up there.

The only impact that I experience now is more confusion. Recognisable is that Google Scholar shows a lot more results than ISI Web of Knowledge, but not necessarily the same article(s). The one article that I found in the ISI database for Wegerif and Mercer was none of the 34 articles found in Google search. I am also unsure how to interpret that search results show below. First you see the article and the link below indicates 34 citations whereas the next search results, also the article from Wegerif and Mercer, but with the word citation in square brackets in front, shows ‘only’ 29 citations 😕

I would be interested if the number of citations is the only factor that tells me something about the impact of an article? Sure it is a lot more impressive to see that an article has e.g. more than 200 citations, but is there more, that is just a quantitative measure, but are there qualitative measures? Sure I could read the articles to find out more about the relevance but I cannot really read all 200 articles thoughtful

I could not find any of the articles in the ACM Digital Library similar to my one colleague. It took me a while to find my way around in this database, but having finally found some articles to e.g. Hiltz or Wegerif, I am sometimes unable to refine the publication year. For example for  Wegerif the database only displays article later than 1999 and I am unable to change that. But with the article written in 1997 is the source useless. Although I managed to trick the system to search from 1988 to 2000 for Hiltz and Meinke I could not find the article either.

However, the sort by option looks impressive as you can search for relevance, citation count, downloads, etc – if it would just work mixed

All in all, the four hours spend on this activity, did not really convince me to much about the use of citation search. But, that was my first encounter and  probably we will learn better strategies and how to interpret the results.


Hiltz, S.R. and Meinke, R. (1989) ‘Teaching sociology in a virtual classroom’, Teaching Sociology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 431–46.

Open University (2011) Do a citation search Available online: (accessed 24.02.2011) Only available for OU students – sorry 😦

Wegerif, R. and Mercer, N. (1997) ‘Using computer-based text analysis to integrate qualitative and quantitative methods in research on collaborative learning’, Language and Education, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 271–86.

Wikipedia (2011) Citation index Available online: (accessed 24.02.2011)

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