How popular is your paper? An empirical study of the citation distribution

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Numerical data for the distribution of citations are examined for: (i) papers published in 1981 in journals which are catalogued by the Institute for Scientific Information (783,339 papers) and (ii) 20 years of publications in Physical Review D, vols. 11-50 (24,296 papers). A Zipf plot of the number of citations to a given paper versus its citation rank appears to be consistent with a power-law dependence for leading rank papers, with exponent close to -1/2. This, in turn, suggests that the number of papers with x citations, N(x), has a large-x power law decay \(N(x) \sim {x^{ - a}}\) , with \(a \approx 3\) .

Received: 12 May 1998 / Accepted: 12 May 1998