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Citation metrics and open access: what do we know?

Knowing the impact of your research is important, particularly for career advancement, funding applications, and demonstrating the reach and significance of your work. Because impact can be measured in many ways, we take a holistic approach at Elsevier, analyzing metrics at the journal, researcher and article levels so researchers can be recognized for multiple forms of contribution and impact. Mendeley Stats is one example of how Elsevier is helping researchers understand the impact of articles they publish, using data from Scopus, ScienceDirect, Mendeley and NewsFlo.

Citations are a well-established measure of research impact; a citation can mean recognition or validation of your research by others. But does how you publish give you a citation advantage? And is your article more likely to be cited and in greater numbers if it’s published or made available as open access?

Open Access has many advantages, not least the potential to increase the reach and visibility of your research. We know open access is important to our authors, which is why we offer a range of publication options which reflect our support for both gold and green open access. But what else can open access do for your research and indeed for your career? When it comes to citations at least, we do not yet know.

Based on our close review of the available evidence, there is no clear citation advantage for open access articles, or at least not one that can be identified as solely being related to an article’s access status. Whilst early studies suggested a causal relationship between article OA status and higher citation counts, subsequent studies identify weaknesses in the methodology used in earlier studies where a citation advantage had been found. For example, McCabe and Snyder (2013) show that claims of an OA citation advantage are a byproduct of failure to control for other factors, specifically article quality. Another recent study by Hua et al (2016) looking at citations of open access articles in dentistry found no evidence to suggest that open access articles receive significantly more citations than non-open access articles. Instead, articles describing basic science research, case-control studies, randomized controlled trials, and systematic reviews were significantly more likely to be cited three times or more, whilst articles describing case reports/series were significantly less likely to be cited three times or more. In dentistry at least, the type of article you publish seems to make a difference but not OA status. Other studies have shown similar results. For example, Tahamtan et al (2016) found article type (review, letter to editor, short communication, etc.), study topic and team size to be among the strongest variables to correlate with higher impact citations, and Davis (2011) found no overall citation advantage for open access articles. The Davis study is the only one to date that addresses this topic using the most robust study design available – a randomized controlled trial – which is considered the gold standard methodology in medical research to reduce selection bias.

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