Skip to main content


Log in

A tale of two databases: the use of Web of Science and Scopus in academic papers

  • Published:
Scientometrics Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Web of Science and Scopus are two world-leading and competing citation databases. By using the Science Citation Index Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index, this paper conducts a comparative, dynamic, and empirical study focusing on the use of Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus in academic papers published during 2004 and 2018. This brief communication reveals that although both Web of Science and Scopus are increasingly used in academic papers, Scopus as a new-comer is really challenging the dominating role of WoS. Researchers from more and more countries/regions and knowledge domains are involved in the use of these two databases. Even though the main producers of related papers are developed economies, some developing economies such as China, Brazil and Iran also act important roles but with different patterns in the use of these two databases. Both two databases are widely used in meta-analysis related studies especially for researchers in China. Health/medical science related domains and the traditional Information Science and Library Science field stand out in the use of citation databases.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others




  3. The search strategy used in this study is a bit different to that used by Li et al. (2018), both these two search strategies may introduce a very small percentage of records which have only mentioned some regional citation indexes such as Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index.

  4. Although Web of Science’s topic search (search in title, abstract, author keywords and keywords plus fields) is widely used in practice, the search in the keywords plus field may introduce some noise. Besides, records which only mention the data sources in the data and methods section will also be omitted in this study.

  5. According to Wikipedia, Scopus also has some other meanings. This study excluded these ambiguous records manually.

  6. Two records published in 2004 are related to Scopus, however, one of them is news item and another one is editorial material which are excluded from this study.

  7. Echoing the finding of Liu et al. (2017, 2018), a small percentage of country/region information omission is also identified. This study merges England, Scotland, Wales and North Ireland into the UK.

  8. For information about meta-analysis, please refer to Gurevitch et al. (2018). A similar search method was also used by Guilera et al. (2013).

  9. The decease of relative shares (columns: % within WoS/Scopus studies) in Information Science and Library Science is due to faster growth rates in some other categories where literature mentions WoS/Scopus.


Download references


This research is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (#71801189 and #71904168) and Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China (#LQ18G030010 and #LQ18G010005). The authors would like to thank the referee for his/her insightful suggestions which have significantly improved the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Weishu Liu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhu, J., Liu, W. A tale of two databases: the use of Web of Science and Scopus in academic papers. Scientometrics 123, 321–335 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: