, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 125-134

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Tracing the wider impacts of biomedical research: a literature search to develop a novel citation categorisation technique

  • Teresa H. JonesAffiliated withHealth Economics Research Group, Brunel University Email author 
  • , Claire DonovanAffiliated withHealth Economics Research Group, Brunel University
  • , Steve HanneyAffiliated withHealth Economics Research Group, Brunel University


There is an increasing need both to understand the translation of biomedical research into improved healthcare and to assess the range of wider impacts from health research such as improved health policies, health practices and healthcare. Conducting such assessments is complex and new methods are being sought. Our new approach involves several steps. First, we developed a qualitative citation analysis technique to apply to biomedical research in order to assess the contribution that individual papers made to further research. Second, using this method, we then proposed to trace the citations to the original research through a series of generations of citing papers. Third, we aimed eventually to assess the wider impacts of the various generations. This article describes our comprehensive literature search to inform the new technique. We searched various databases, specific bibliometrics journals and the bibliographies of key papers. After excluding irrelevant papers we reviewed those remaining for either general or specific details that could inform development of our new technique. Various characteristics of citations were identified that had been found to predict their importance to the citing paper including the citation’s location; number of citation occasions and whether the author(s) of the cited paper were named within the citing paper. We combined these objective characteristics with subjective approaches also identified from the literature search to develop a citation categorisation technique that would allow us to achieve the first of the steps above, i.e., being able routinely to assess the contribution that individual papers make to further research.


Research assessment Citation categorisation Methodology Wider impacts of research Citation generations