The four C's of getting cited

After the four P’s of getting published, this white paper discusses the four C’s of getting cited: competence, collaboration, care, and communication. Please note that this doesn’t mean I am advocating an instrumental approach to getting cited. What I am advocating is ensuring that your academic publications – which have taken you a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” to complete – get the impact they deserve. The term impact can represent a wide range of meanings. This white paper solely deals with academic impact as measured by citations, although – as I have argued earlier – many of the recommendations below might also assist in achieving greater societal impact (see also Return to Meaning. A Social Science with Something to Say).

Why is citation impact important?

So why would you care if your work is cited by other scholars? Well… why would you publish if nobody cites your work? To me not publishing is like being mute, not being cited is a lot like talking without anybody actually listening. Okay, your work might still be read by students, by managers, or by other academics that do not publish themselves. However, in my view academic research should also aim to contribute to academic discourse.

Knowing your work is cited also helps you to prepare for your confirmation or tenure application, your promotion application, your yearly performance appraisal or more generally your case for academic impact. Being familiar with citation analysis also makes it easier to “educate” your Dean – or other senior academics who might influence your future – on this topic.

Most importantly, by paying to citations you can learn who is building on your work. Depending on their level of engagement with your work (granted some citations can be pretty superficial or even completely incorrect), these people might well be future collaborators. It is also exciting to see how others are using your research; you might get interesting new ideas through it. Finally, citations – which will occur far more frequently than publications – are a nice ego boost. It is nice to know someone has (presumably) read your work and found it important enough to refer to it.

How to increase the chance your work is cited?

You can improve the chances that your academic work is cited by paying attention to the four C’s: competence, collaboration, care and communication. First of all, impact starts with competence: delivering high-quality work. Although there are always exceptions, in general shoddy work will attract few citations and high-quality, meaningful work is more likely to be cited.

Second, collaborate! Collaboration not just makes doing research more fun. It also often leads to better quality research, especially if you ensure your collaborators have complementary skills in areas where you are not that strong. (Most of all though pick collaborators you can actually work with, a nice topic for a future blog post.) Having a co-author also means that there is always someone to read your paper critically before it is subjected to harsh journal reviews, thus improving its quality. And not unimportantly, it ensures more motivation to finish your papers. Procrastination is harder to justify to someone else! Apart from the quality boost and thus indirect positive citation effect, there is another reason why co-authored papers are often cited more. Each author has their own network of academics that follow their work. In addition, your collaborators are likely to cite your collective work in their other projects.

Third, care! This more generally makes our profession a nicer place to be. Care for your own academic reputation and never engage in questionable practices. Nobody wants to use and cite the work of someone they don’t respect. And don’t think nobody will notice, academia is a small world and academics gossip just as much as the next person. Most importantly, care for others too. Be polite and considerate and say thank-you when someone helps you. Keep the promises you make at conferences, alert collaborators and academic friends to useful information and congratulate them on their achievements. In short: be a good academic citizen.

But most importantly: communicate!

Fourth and finally: communicate. This is probably the most important aspect of getting cited. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Academics can’t read and cite your work if they can’t find it. So why do some academics make it so difficult to find their work? There are so many ways in which you can make your work available.

  • Create a personal website. I have been running one since 1999 and it is the best thing I have ever done. You can put pre-preprints of all your papers online and provide an up-to-date list of publications as well as provide a write-up of your research programs. Having a good online presence ensures that your papers are found easily if someone searches for a topic relating to your research in Google. As an example, if you would search for words relating to some of my research interests my work would be featured very high up in the Google results: Language in international business; Headquarters subsidiary relationship. In addition, general search terms such as journal quality, citation metrics and international survey research also show up my website in the first 10 hits. Obviously, you need a content rich website to achieve this and you can’t build this up in just a few years, so I recommend you start early in your career.
  • If having your own website sounds like too much work, making sure your work is listed in online repositories is a good alternative. This could be for instance your own university repository, SSRN, arXiv, Academia.edu, or ResearchGate. You don’t need to use all of these services, just pick one or two and make sure you keep them up-to-date. Remember if you do not do so, people might assume you haven’t published anything for years… Having no profile is almost better than an out-of-date publication list that gives an “in press” designation for articles published 5 years ago.
  • At the very least ensure that you have a Google Scholar Citation profile. Unless your name is very common, it only takes a few minutes to set it up and it ensures that everyone can find an up to date list of your publications. This is even more important if you have a common name as most citation data-bases have really poor author disambiguation (see also Health warning: Might contain multiple personalities) A very easy way to clean up a messy GSC profile is to use Publish or Perish to search for your GSC profile. By sorting the results in a variety of ways (which is not possible in GSC itself) you can easily spot mistakes or inconsistencies that you can then fix in your profile.
  • Attend conferences, present your work and talk to people. Don't just hang out with your friends (see also participate under the four p’s of publishing). Volunteer to participate in, or even organize, Professional Development Workshops, act as a discussant or session chair. It gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself to a dedicated and captive audience, give them a few lines about your own research and impress them with your comments and organizational skills. This might be particularly important for young academics that need to gain name recognition.

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  • Does all this conference networking sound too hard for you? Are you a strong introvert (don’t forget most academics are, they are just playing extravert for the duration of the conference)? Or are you unable to travel for family or financial reasons? In that case, being active on social media can be a good alternative, although I do find it usually works better when you have met someone at least once. Consider using Twitter to get relevant information in your field and to tweet about any new research findings or publications. Yes, I thought Twitter was stupid too and it does have its limitations, but I have picked a lot of useful information through it that would have taken a much longer time through other sources. Tweeting about my white papers and blog posts typically increases the readership at least five or ten-fold, sometimes MUCH more. Not bad for a 140 character post! For some key tips on social media for academics, see building your academic brand through social media
  • If you are really keen, start writing blog posts about your research. It can be really enjoyable to write up key findings of your research in a format that is accessible to a larger audience than just your own “micro-tribe”. Especially if you have a body of work on a certain topic, this can be a really good way to distribute it more widely. See for instance my blog post on challenges in International survey research: illustrations and solutions. Don’t think you need to be a senior academic to do this. One of my junior co-authors - Helene Tenzer – wrote a great guest post about her research on managing multi-lingual teams. She is now approaching companies for a new research project and is using that post to give them an accessible summary of her work. Needless to say this works much better than sending them long emails or – horror of horrors – actual journal articles.
  • Finally, there is nothing wrong with the “old-fashioned” way of communicating by email. Reading an unusually interesting paper in your own field? Email the author to tell them what you liked about it and send them one or two of your own related Don’t be shy to send your own papers; most academics appreciate it, as it is hard for everyone to keep up-to-date. But do make sure you don’t spam people: Don't write mass emails (1): distributing your work

And if all of this sounds "unfair" to you and makes you think "but surely if my work is good academics should read and cite it" and "why should publicity and name recognition be needed", I can only agree heartily. But gone are the days that academics had the time and ability to keep up with all of the good work in their field. Most academics have a pressured existence and the volume of publications is rising ever more rapidly. Marketing, publicity and brand recognition are important in almost any area of life these days and I am afraid academia is no exception. Yes, most academics still appreciate and recognise substance over packaging, but why not make it easier for them to appreciate the substance of your work!

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