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How to Write and Publish a Scientific Article: Assess your impact


Despite some limitations, the number of citations is one of the accepted measures of the impact of an article. A high number of citations is associated with a greater impact.

It is often useful for a researcher to highlight the number of citations received by their articles in order to demonstrate the impact that they have had in their field.

Citation practices vary greatly from one field to another: an article in biology will on average be much more cited than an article in mathematics. One cannot therefore compare the impact of two articles in two different fields on the basis of the absolute number of citations received.

Access the citations databases

Several databases make it possible to find the citations received by an article:

  • Web of Science: The oldest and most important multidisciplinary bibliographic database for the analysis of research publications and citations (access several tutorials here).
  • Scopus: Launched in the early 2000s, Scopus is a direct competitor to Web of Science. The Polytechnique Montréal Library does not subscribe to this resource.
  • IEEE Xplore: Does not allow citation analysis, but lists citations to specific articles. Particularly useful for IEEE articles and conferences that are not always included in Web of Science.
  • Google Scholar: Free resource, in which the number of citations is often overestimated (duplicates, non-academic sources, etc.).

Note: The coverage of each database is different, so the number of citations varies from one database to another.

In addition to allowing you to find your h-index, the tutorial "How to find an H-index in Web of Science" explains how to access citation data for a set of articles in Web of Science.

The H-index

The h-index is a measure developed by J. E. Hirsch in 2005. It is a unique indicator that takes into account a researcher's productivity (number of articles published) and impact (number of citations received). The h-index is the "n" number of publications that have been cited at least "n" times.

Like all indicators, the h-index has certain limitations:

  • It varies greatly between subject areas, so it should not be used to compare researchers from different fields;
  • It varies greatly depending on the researcher's age and career length;
  • It does not take into account the author order and the number of authors an article has;
  • The the h-index ignores excess citations (an author who has published a single paper with 300 citations will still have an h-index of 1).

The Library has developed a tutorial outlining the steps to find an h-index in Web of Science.

Google Scholar can also be used to find an h-index. However, an expert panel commissioned by the Council of Canadian Academies has stated that "Google Scholar should not be used as a data source for rigorous bibliometric assessment" (Source: Informing Research Choices: Indicators and Judgment, 2012, pp. 60).

To manually find an h-index, list the articles in descending order of citations received and find the point when the rank of the article is higher than the number of citations. The h-index will be the previous rank. In the example below, the h-index is 7.

Graphique H-index   Tableau H-index

Figure 1: h-Index calculated from a decreasing number of citations, 2008. In the public domain.

Other indicators

Fractional counting can be used to count an author's publications. This algorithm counts each article as 1 ÷ (number of authors). Fractional counting can also be used for citations.

It may also be relevant to assess the number or the percentage of articles that an author has written collaboratively. This collaboration may be inter-institutional, international or cross-sectoral. The Analyze Results tool in Web of Science is one means to assess collaboration.

The Relative Citation Ratio (RCR) compares the citations received by an article to the average number of citations an article usually receives in that field. This indicator can be used for citations received by a particular article, although it is often used to compare the average of all citations received by an author, institution or even a country with the world average. The RCR is more appropriate for comparing researchers in different fields.

Several researchers have developed indicators to complement the h-index. The best known are the g-index and the e-index, which provide information on citations that exceed the h-index. It has also been suggested to calculate the h-index over 5 years, which would make it easier to compare researchers who are not at the same point in their careers.

Also, the altmetrics are increasingly used to measure impact.

More information

Find an h-index in Web of Science

This tutorial produced by the Library shows how to obtain an author's citation data and h-index by using Web of Science.

Limitations of the h-index

More information

If the Library has an electronic version of the document, click on the title for direct access to its full text.

Managing Your References

Bibliographic software allows you to import and manage personal databases of bibliographic references.

> EndNote
> BibTeX