Google Scholar Citation Profiles: the good, the bad, and the better

Since 2012 Google Scholar offers academics the opportunity to create their own profile, something I would really recommend you to do. Setting up a Google Scholar Citation Profile is easy and very quick. A GS Profile is your academic business card, it is the quickest and easiest way for other academics to see all your publications at one glance. If you have a common name it is also the only sure fire way to disambiguate your publication record from that of your namesakes. 

The good: a great solution for "stray" citations

Creating a GS profile is also a great solution for one of the biggest annoyances in citation analysis: the presence of "stray" citations. Stray citations are not the same as multiple identical web versions of the same paper; Google Scholar normally aggregates those under one master record. What I mean with "stray citations" are records that have not been aggregated under their master record. These 2nd (and sometimes 3rd and further) versions of the record typically only have a small number of citations each and are generally the result of misspelling of an author’s name, the title of the publication or the journal. They can also be caused by Google Scholar parsing errors. For more details on this, please see: Google Scholar: Stray citations.

Stray citations tend to be particularly common for "non-traditional" publications, such as software, books, book chapters, and conference papers as there is generally no standardised way to reference them. It is therefore much harder for Google Scholar to figure out whether they do refer to the same publication. For instance, although Google Scholar does a much better job than the Web of Science for references to my Publish or Perish software programme, there are still many stray citations (see screenshot below), which - in my GS Profile - I have all merged into the master record. Any records in your GS Profile that contain merged citations are shown with a * behind the citations. You can merge strays by logging into your profile, checking the box in front of the records you want to merge, and clicking merge.

No this doesn't mean Google Scholar is rubbish! (1)

It is important to note that stray citation records are not unique to Google Scholar. They are for instance prevalent in the Web of Science as well if you use the "Cited Reference" search function [which includes references to books and non-ISI listed journals] rather than the general search function. I need to submit data change reports to Clarivate nearly every single week to ask them to merge my stray citations in their relevant master records. See also: Web of Science: How to be robbed of 10 years of citations in one week! and Bank error in your favour? How to gain 3,000 citations in a week.

One of the most-cited academics in the field of Management – Geert Hofstede – has published a book called "Culture’s Consequences". This book was first published in 1980, with a 2nd revised edition in 2001. These two versions respectively have more than 12,000 and more than 9,000 citations under the title "Cultures Consequence". However, there are also hundreds of additional stray citation records in ISI’s Cited Reference search, all referring to the same two books. Many stray entries in ISI are simple misspellings of the title (see below for some of the more amusing bloopers). In most of these cases, the references were actually correct in the referring works and the spelling errors appear to have been made by ISI data entry staff.

 

The bad: badly polluted profiles (but you can easily avoid this)

As it is you (not Google Scholar) who is creating this profile, it is you who needs to maintain it and keep it up-to-date. This is not Google Scholar's responsibility. However, many academics only take a few minutes to create their profile, don’t look at any of the options and thus don't realise the default option is adding new articles automatically. That's not entirely surprising as Google Scholar doesn't make it very obvious how to change this. But it actually is very easy to do. Just login to your profile and click on the little cross you see in the title bar.

Click on "Configure article updates". Then on the next page, click the second option. Don't "fall" for the Google Scholar "recommended" option. As is common with these type of services, recommended options cater for lazy and forgetful people. You might think it will save you time as you do not have to confirm updates every time, but be realistic: how many articles do you publish a year? Most of us do not publish so much that logging in, after an email promp with a link, to approve legitimate additions becomes a burden. It takes all of 30 seconds. It is also a great opportunity to manually correct or supplement anything that GS got wrong by editing the record in question.

Essential for those with common names

If you have a common name, putting your updates on manual isn't optional, it is essential! Look at this "student of business management" at Salford University who left their profile updates on automatic.

But even if your name is unique - like mine - you might want to keep th quality control in your own hands. Below are three publications that GS thinks should be in my profile. The first two are just weird. The third one seems to be conflating two articles in the same issue of Scientometrics. Do you think any of them would add much to my credibility as an academic researcher? Thought not!

 

No this doesn't mean Google Scholar is rubbish! (2)

Please do realise though that this does not mean that Google Scholar data are rubbish and that they should be avoided at all cost (see also Sacrifice a little accuracy for a lot more comprehensive coverage). None of the three “publications” has any citations and in the normal course of events everyone would ignore them anyway. But why pollute your profile with them?

Again, don't think badly poluted profiles are unique to Google Scholar. My blogpost Health warning: Might contain multiple personalities documents the frankly hilarious lack of author disambiguation in the Web of Knowledge Essential Science Indicators. Just look at the top-10 most cited authors according to the Web of Knowledge: they are all called Zhang, Wang, Li or Liu and on average they publish 12 articles a day, 365 days a year. Ever heard of the Chinese expression: "Three Zhang (or/and) Four Li"? It means "anyone" or "everyone".

The better: GS Profiles and Publish or Perish

Since version 5 my free citation analysis software Publish or Perish allows you to do Google Scholar Profile searches. Thus any work you put into cleaning up your Google Scholar Profile is well worth the effort as you will be able to display your complete profile in a neat list in Publish or Perish and sort it any way you like. This is more difficult in the web interface, which only allows sorting by title and year and by default only provides you with 10 results per page. You will also get a wealth of citation metrics based on an accurate and complete profile. 

Since version 6 using Publish or Perish also allows you to search for key words and institutions, making it very easy to get an overview of the most cited academics in a particular field or institution. This can be particularly helpful when looking for collaborators, reviewers, keynote speakers etc. Please note though that fields in Google Scholar are self-selected and not standardised. For instance, for one of my own areas of expertise, I have seen four different variants used: "International HRM", "IHRM", "International Human Resource Management" and "International HR". 

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