, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 1601–1615 | Cite as

What a difference a colon makes: how superficial factors influence subsequent citation

  • Maarten van WeselEmail author
  • Sally Wyatt
  • Jeroen ten Haaf


Getting cited is important for scholars and for the institutions in which they work. Whether because of the influence on scientific progress or because of the reputation of scholars and their institutions, understanding why some articles are cited more often than others can help scholars write more highly cited articles. This article builds upon earlier literature which identifies seemingly superficial factors that influence the citation rate of articles. Three Journal Citation Report subject categories are analyzed to identify these effects. From a set of 2,016 articles in Sociology, 6,957 articles in General & Internal Medicine, and 23,676 articles in Applied Physics, metadata from the Web of Knowledge was downloaded in addition to PDFs of the full articles. In this article number of words in title, number of pages, number of references, sentences in the abstract, sentences in the paper, number of authors and readability were identified as factors for analysis.


Citations Readability References Sociology Applied Physics General & Internal Medicine 



JEL Classification




The authors would like to thank Loet Leydesdorff for his helpful comments. Furthermore we believe that additional comments from the two anonymous reviewers have increased the quality of this article, for which we are grateful.


  1. Ball, R., Mittermaier, B., & Tunger, D. (2009). Creation of journal-based publication profiles of scientific institutions—A methodology for the interdisciplinary comparison of scientific research based on the J-factor. Scientometrics, 81(2), 381–392. doi: 10.1007/s11192-009-2120-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2003). The craft of research (2nd ed., Chicago guides to writing, editing, and publishing). Chicago: University of Chicago press.Google Scholar
  3. Botton, A. D. (2001). The consolations of philosophy. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  4. Collins, H. M. (1990). Artificial experts: Social knowledge and intelligent machines (inside technology). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Crossley, S., Greenfield, J., & McNamara, D. (2008). Assessing text readability using cognitively based indices. Tesol Quarterly, 42(3), 475–493. doi: 10.1002/j.1545-7249.2008.tb00142.x.Google Scholar
  6. Flesch, R. (1948). A new readability yardstick. Journal of Applied Psychology, 32(3), 221–233. doi: 10.1037/h0057532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Franceschet, M., & Costantini, A. (2010). The effect of scholar collaboration on impact and quality of academic papers. Journal of Informetrics, 4(4), 540–553. doi:
  8. Frenken, K., Hölzl, W., & Vor, F. D. (2005). The citation impact of research collaborations: the case of European biotechnology and applied microbiology (1988–2002). Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 22, 9–30. doi: 10.1111/j.1435-5957.2010.00309.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Friedman, D. B., Hoffman-Goetz, L., & Arocha, J. F. (2004). Readability of cancer information on the internet. Journal of Cancer Education, 19(2), 117–122. doi: 10.1207/s15430154jce1902_13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fry, E. (1968). A readability formula that saves time. Journal of Reading, 11(7), 513–516, 575–578. doi: 10.2307/40013635.Google Scholar
  11. Gilbert, G. N. (1977). Referencing as persuasion. Social Studies of Science, 7(1), 113–122. doi: 10.2307/284636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glänzel, W., & Thijs, B. (2004). Does co-authorship inflate the share of self-citations? Scientometrics, 61(3), 395–404. doi: 10.1023/B:SCIE.0000045117.13348.b1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hartley, J., Trueman, M., & Meadows, A. (1988). Readability and prestige in scientific journals. Journal of Information Science, 14(2), 69–75. doi: 10.1177/016555158901500209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Haslam, N., Ban, L., Kaufmann, L., Loughnan, S., Peters, K., Whelan, J., et al. (2008). What makes an article influential? Predicting impact in social and personality psychology. Scientometrics, 76(1), 169–185. doi: 10.1007/s11192-007-1892-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayden, J. D. (2008). Readability of the British Journal of Surgery. British Journal of Surgery, 95, 119–124. doi: 10.1002/bjs.5994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hudson, J. (2007). Be known by the company you keep: Citations—quality or chance? Scientometrics, 71(2), 231–238. doi: 10.1007/s11192-007-1671-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jacques, T. S., & Sebire, N. J. (2010). The impact of article titles on citation hits: An analysis of general and specialist medical journals. JRSM Short Reports, 1(1). doi: 10.1258/shorts.2009.100020.
  18. Jamali, H., & Nikzad, M. (2011). Article title type and its relation with the number of downloads and citations. Scientometrics, 88(2), 653–661. doi: 10.1007/s11192-011-0412-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kincaid, J. P., Fishburne, R. P, Jr., Rogers, R. L., & Chissom, B. S. (1975). Derivation of new readability formulas (automated readability index, fog count and flesch reading ease formula) for navy enlisted personnel. Springfield, VA: National Technical Information Service.Google Scholar
  20. Larivière, V., Archambault, É., & Gingras, Y. (2008). Long-term variations in the aging of scientific literature: From exponential growth to steady-state science (1900–2004). Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 59(2), 288–296. doi: 10.1002/asi.20744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Levitt, J. M., & Thelwall, M. (2009). Citation levels and collaboration within library and information science. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(3), 434–442. doi: 10.1002/asi.21000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lin, S.-Y., Su, C.-C., Lai, Y.-D., Yang, L.-C., & Hsieh, S.-K. (2009). Assessing text readability using hierarchical lexical relations retrieved from WordNet. Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing, 14(1), 45–84.Google Scholar
  25. Martin, B., & Groth, E. (1991). Scientific knowledge in controversy: The social dynamics of the fluoridation debate (SUNY series in science, technology, and society). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  26. Merton, R. (1968). The Matthew effect in science: The reward and communication systems of science are considered. Science, 159(3810), 56–63. doi: 10.1126/science.159.3810.56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Microsoft. (2003). Readability scores. Accessed 23 March 2013.
  28. Neuman, W. L. (1991). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  29. Price, D. J. D. S. (1963). Little science, big science (George B. Pegram lectures, Vol. 1962). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ramos, M. A., Melo, J. G., & Albuquerque, U. P. (2012). Citation behavior in popular scientific papers: What is behind obscure citations? The case of ethnobotany. Scientometrics, 92, 711–719. doi: 10.1007/s11192-012-0662-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Roberts, J. C., Fletcher, R. H., & Fletcher, S. W. (1994). Effects of peer review and editing on the readability of articles published in annals of internal medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 272, 119–121. doi: 10.1001/jama.1994.03520020045012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Smart, J. C., & Bayer, A. E. (1986). Author collaboration and impact: a note on citation rates of single and multiple authored articles. Scientometrics, 10(5–6), 297–305. doi: 10.1007/BF02016776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stremersch, S., Verniers, I., & Verhoef, P. (2007). The quest for citations: Drivers of article impact. Journal of Marketing, 71(3), 171–193. doi: 10.1509/jmkg.71.3.171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vieira, E. S., & Gomes, J. A. N. F. (2010). Citations to scientific articles: Its distribution and dependence on the article features. Journal of Informetrics, 4, 1–13. doi: 10.1016/j.joi.2009.06.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Villere, M. F., & Stearns, G. K. (1976). The readability of organizational behavior textbooks. The Academy of Management Journal, 19(1), 132–137. doi: 10.2307/255455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wager, E., & Middleton, P. (2002). Effects of technical editing in biomedical journals: A systematic review. JAMA, 287(21), 2821–2824. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.21.2821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wang, M., Yu, G., An, S., & Yu, D. (2012). Discovery of factors influencing citation impact based on a soft fuzzy rough set model. Scientometrics, 93, 635–644. doi: 10.1007/s11192-012-0766-x.Google Scholar
  38. Webster, G. D., Jonason, P. K., & Schember, T. O. (2009). Hot topics and popular papers in evolutionary psychology: Analyses of title words and citation counts in evolution and human behavior, 1979–2008. Evolutionary Psychology, 7(3), 348–362.Google Scholar
  39. Weeks, W. B., & Wallace, A. E. (2002). Readability of British and American medical prose at the start of the 21st century. British Medical Journal, 325, 1451–1452. doi: 10.1136/bmj.325. 7378.1451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maarten van Wesel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sally Wyatt
    • 2
  • Jeroen ten Haaf
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life SciencesMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Education and Research Services, University LibraryMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations