Scholars in International Relations Cite Books More Frequently than Journals: More Research is Needed to Better Understand Research Behaviour and Use

Megan von Isenburg


A Review of:
Zhang, Li. "Citation Analysis for Collection Development: A Study of International Relations Journal Literature." Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services 31.3-4 (2007): 195-207.

Objective – To determine primary type, format, language and subject category of research materials used by U.S. scholars of international relations. Also, to investigate whether research method, qualitative or quantitative, can be correlated with the type and age of sources that scholars use.

Design – Citation analysis.

Setting – Research articles published in three journals on international relations with high impact factors: International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and World Politics.

Subjects – A random sample of cited references taken from the 410 full-length research articles published in these journals from 2000 to2005. Cited references of articles written by authors of foreign institutions (i.e., non-American institutions), as well as cited references of editorial and research notes, comments, responses, and review essays were excluded.

Methods – Cited references were exported from ISI’s Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) to MS Excel spreadsheets for analysis. Data was verified against original reference lists. Citations were numbered and identified by source format, place of publication (foreign or domestic), age, and language used, if other than English. The author used a random number generator to select a random sample of 651 from a total of 29,862 citations. Citations were randomly drawn from each journal according to the proportion of the journals’ citations to the total. These citations were analyzed by material type and language.

The author also used the Library of Congress Classification Outline to identify the subject category of each book and journal citation in the sample.

A separate sampling method was used to investigate if there is a relationship between research methodology and citation behaviour. Each of the original 410 articles was categorized according to research method: quantitative, qualitative or a combination of the two. Two articles representing qualitative research and two representing quantitative research were randomly selected from each of the three journals for each of the six years. Subsequently, five citations from each of the resulting pool of 72 articles were randomly selected to create a sample of 360 citations. These citations were analyzed by material type and age of source.

Main Results – Analysis of the citation data showed that books (including monographs, edited books, book chapters and dictionaries) made up 48.2% of the total citations; journals (including scholarly and non-scholarly titles) made up 38.4% of the citations; and government publications made up 4.5% of the citations. Electronic resources, which primarily refer to Web sites and digital collections in this study, represented 1.7% of the citations. Other sources of citations included magazines (1.1%), newspapers (1.1%), working papers (1.1%), theses (0.9%), conference papers not yet published as articles (0.6%), and a miscellaneous category, which included items such as committee minutes, radio broadcasts, unpublished materials and personal communications (2.5%).

The average age of book citations was 14.3 years and the median age was 8 years. Foreign language citations represented 3.7% of the 651 total citations. The top ranked foreign languages were German (7), French (5), Russian (4), Spanish (3), Korean (2) and Swedish (number not given

Subject analysis of the citations revealed that 38% of all citations were from international relations and two related disciplines, political science, political theory, and public administration. Subject areas outside international relations included social sciences (23.4% - including economics, commerce, industries and finance), history (16.3%), sociology (6.2%), and law (5.9%). Citations from philosophy, psychology, military science and general works together made up 7.3% of the total citations. Citations from science, linguistics, literature, geography and medicine made up less than 2% of the total.

Authors of qualitative research articles were more likely to cite books (56.7%) than journals (29.4%) while authors of quantitative research articles were more likely to cite journals (58.3%) than books (28.9%). Authors of qualitative research articles were also more likely to cite government publications and electronic resources than those of quantitative articles. However, authors of quantitative research articles were more likely to cite other materials, such as dissertations, conference papers, working papers and unpublished materials.

The age of cited materials for both qualitative and quantitative research articles is similar. Citations to recent materials up to 5 years old were most frequent, followed by materials 6 to10 years old, materials 11 to15 years old, and those 26 or more years old. The least frequently cited materials were 16 to 20 and 21 to25 years old.

Conclusion – Scholars in international relations primarily cite books, followed by journals and government publications. Citations to electronic resources such as Web sites and digital collections, and to other materials are far less common. Scholars primarily cite English-language materials on international relations and related subjects. Authors of qualitative research articles are more likely to cite books than journals, while authors of quantitative research articles are more likely to cite journals than books. Recent materials are more frequently cited than older materials, though materials that are more than 26 years old are still being cited regularly.


collection development; academic librarianship; citation analysis; international relations

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