Junk citations

Good or junk citationsCitation counts are a quick, if simplistic, indicator of academic impact.

But how many citations are good quality, and how many are low quality, or ‘junk’ citations? I decided to find out.

Using Google Scholar, I reviewed the citations for two of my academic peer-reviewed journal articles. The articles had a combined count of 110 citations.

I couldn’t obtain copies of seven citing publications, even with help from a university research librarian.That left 103 verifiable citations, for which I identified eight distinct types.

  1. Misquotation. One paper purportedly quoted a passage of text from my article: however, the words quoted did not come from my article, nor from any article I have written.
  1. Misrepresentation. Twelve publications misrepresented the contents of my article. For example, a number of authors cited my article to support a proposition, when in fact my article did not support their case.
  1. Bibliography only. Eight publications referenced my article in their bibliography only. So it’s not clear how the author used the article, if at all.
  1. Ghost citation. In two publications, my article appeared nowhere – neither mentioned in the text nor included in the bibliography – despite Google Scholar recording a citation.
  1. Duplicate. Fourteen citations were duplicated. Some duplicates resulted from the same publication being loaded to the web with slightly different properties, such as a different title. Some were theses that had also been published as peer-reviewed articles or books. Other duplicates were due to authors replicating almost identical content across different publications.
  1. Self-citation. Two citations were from publications I had authored or co-authored.
  1. Relevant in-text reference. 43 publications properly cited my article within their text. Unlike the ‘misrepresentation’ category above, the citation was relevant and representative of the content of my article.
  1. Correct quotation. 20 publications correctly quoted a passage from my article.


Identifying the junk

How to group these eight types of citations based on quality? I decided to adopt three groupings: junk, quasi-junk, and good quality.

  • Misquotation, misrepresentation, and bibliography only (1 to 3 above) I count as ‘junk’.
  • Ghost, duplicate, and self-citation (4 to 6 above) I count as ‘quasi-junk’.
  • Only the last two citation types, relevant in-text reference and correct quotation, I count as good quality.

Based on these groupings, of the total citations recorded for my articles in Google Scholar, 38 percent were either junk or quasi-junk, and 62 percent – just under two-thirds – were good quality.

I wonder how common that proportion is?

Table showing count of citations types


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