Researchers
August 5, 2020

Exploring the Ethics of Self-Citation in Academic Writing

Citation indicators are the most commonly used method in determining a scholar’s research reputation. These indicators take quantitative and qualitative findings and combine them through a formula that creates the overall determination of how a scholar’s work has impacted society or the field of academics and knowledge. But self-citation, although it’s not illegal, is a contested part of the formula that makes up this impact. It may not be legally invalid, but to many people, it’s ethically questionable.
Source: Unsplash

A researcher’s reputation depends strongly on the impact that their work makes on their targeted audience. Since the advent of the Digital Era, this qualitative factor has been turned into a quantitative rating using formulas that consist predominantly of citation indicators.

Citation indicators turn quantitative and qualitative findings into an overall determination of a scholar’s impact from their work by using an algorithmic formula. This formula evolves as technology shifts and changes the academic landscape, but it’s made of a few consistent aspects. One of the parts of the typical scholarly reputation formula is self-citation, and although it’s an accepted part of the equation, it’s highly contested and the ethics behind it are often questioned.

Types of Citation Indicators

Citation indicators and other altmetrics are not a universal gauge of scholarly impact due to the controversial nature behind them. Many academic experts argue that there are other methods that should be used as a less biased and more accurate system of measurements.

The formula that the results are derived from depends on the impact indicator preferred by the organization coming up with the answer and other variables make the results ambiguous as well. The publishing company that created the citation indicators may not have consistently collected the procedures the same way another company did, the readership of the publications are all different and the total numbers make a difference in the data collected, and the quality of the data compiled by those publications varies as well. All of these factors make the scholarly numbers determined by citation indicators difficult to make consistent.

As a scholar, though, the inconsistencies aren’t arguable. You must know what your rating is judged on so you can prepare your work accordingly. Citation indicators are partly out of your control, and partly something you can be proactive about, such as:

●      The field-normalized number of citations in each published submission that considers things like the average value of the field of content, the year, and the submission type of publication

●      How many times your paper was considered to be highly cited in proportion with the actual readership of where it was published

●      The h-index and other formulas that calculate the citation count for a specific time period by using quantitative data collected by the publisher’s site

●      Any citation rates in which your paper was discussed or used, including times you cited it yourself

All of these are measures that have many variables involved and the ethics behind using them are contested.

The Ethical Question of Self-Citation

Self-citation is when a researcher uses something they wrote as a form of evidence in their new work. It’s not unheard of, and is generally deemed acceptable. But when it becomes overused as a form of citation buildup, the practice becomes ethically questioned.

When your work is referenced on a large scale number because of your own usage, it can impact your bibliometrics. Citation reviewers combine multiple other factors with your citation count to keep it from being overly weighted, such as the h-index and other elements. But if a scholar really wants to ensure their work is considered impactful, they can build their citation counts by encouraging discussion of the work in social media forums initiated by themselves or use their previous work as evidence in newer research articles.

This practice then becomes a matter of ethics, where scholars have to balance using their own work with self-inflation of numbers. This can be done by tracking your own citation indicators and watching the metrics for distorted areas that might indicate you are guilty of citation buildup and overusing your work in place of others that could be used instead. This practice of watching your impact indicators is a good way to encourage self-reflection as a scholar, anyway.

Self-Reflect By Following Your Citation Indicators With Impactio

Citation indicators aren’t going anywhere any time soon. They will evolve and the formulas will be adjusted, but the idea behind using them to determine your scholarly impact is going to be around for a long time. As a scholar, part of your job is to watch these citation indicators to see how you can improve your future work and make sure you’re not guilty of things like citation buildup.

One way to easily follow these indicators is to use the report feature in Impactio. This all-in-one platform was designed for expert scholars to compile and publish their work. After that, though, they can follow its impact through citations once it’s submitted and published. Impactio’s program keeps track of all your relevant citation indicators in easy-to-understand reports. You can tweak them to see up-to-date, selected details about the impact your work is making and your trends. Don’t get stuck defending your ethics - follow your indicators and use Impactio for professional results!

Tags Citation Self-Citation Academic Writing
Jason Collins
Writer
Jason is a writer for many niche brands with experience “bringing stories to life” for both startups and corporate partners.

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