Determining Whether a Book or Article is Significant

Works that are important, often have a significant impact on their field, and often, other fields as well. Some works are published and appear not to have any impact. Other works are cited numerous times, or discussed and debated in journals for decades. There is no one way to tell whether an article is important. While it is relative to some extent, here are points of views to consider:

Articles


  • How many times the article has been cited. Search for the title in Web of Science or Google Scholar. (Look for Times Cited in Web of Science, or Cited By in Google Scholar.) Look at the publication year of the article and compare it to other works on the subject. A newer article obviously will not have as many citations because it takes time for scholars to evaluate a source and cite it in their subsequent published works. Also, disciplines are not the same in how much they cite other works, so what might seem like few citations in one field could be a lot in another. Comparing it to works on a similar topic and of a similar age will give you a general picture. 
  • Look for new measures of impact. More people have started to argue that citations are a limited way of measuring an article’s impact and have started advocating for alternative metrics, or altmetrics, that look at an article’s broader impact online, such as whether it has been cited in Wikipedia, whether people are talking about it on social media, whether professors have included it on their syllabi, and whether it has been cited in a governmental policy document. Two of the main companies that now measure altmetrics are Altmetrics and Plum Analytics. They both offer a badge that publishers are increasingly using with information about their articles. You can click on these badges to find out a more detailed view of how an article is being used. Similarly with citations, it is important to consider altmetrics in context of articles of a similar topic and age.
  • How important is the journal? The importance of the journal in which an article is published is often used as a way to judge the importance of the article. In some ways, this can be true, as an article published in a journal considered important in a field might be read by more people and thus has a broader chance to have more impact. However, people have raised concerns about judging the importance of an article by its journal as articles published in important journals do not always have a big impact, so do not rely solely on this method. Also, remember that an article can become important even if it is published in a journal that is not considered important. To learn more, read this guide to Determining Which Journals Are Important in Your Field.

Books


  • Who is the publisher? Scholarly publishers like university presses are selective about the works they publish. However, just because a work is of high quality does not mean it necessarily has had an impact on its field.
  • Reviews in scholarly publications. Search for the title of the book in library databases that are pertinent to research in your field (for example, JSTOR for the social sciences and humanities, Science Direct for the sciences), to see if there are reviews of the work. Read the reviews and check for relevance.
  • How many times the book has been cited. Search for the title in Web of Science or Google Scholar. (Look for Times Cited in Web of Science, or Cited By in Google Scholar.) If a book has been cited a significant number of times, it has had an impact in the field. To determine how many citations are significant, you need to look at the age of the book and compare it to other works on the subject. A new book obviously will not have as many citations because it takes time for scholars to evaluate a source and then publish their subsequent works. Comparing it to works on a similar topic and of a comparable age will give you a clearer view.