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I am assuming that there is a correlation between a paper's publication month and the number of citations it attracts, based on the following premises (that may or may not be wrong, that's also open for discussion):

  1. When people do literature research they tend to focus more on papers that have already attracted many citations, rather than uncited papers.
  2. As a corollary of 1., people will be more willing to read and cite an uncited paper if it has been recently published (compared to an uncited older paper), assuming that it may have attracted few (or no) citations because there has not been enough time to do so since publication.
  3. When looking at how recently a paper has been published -and therefore establishing its "age"-, people only look at the year, rather than the month, of publication.

As a consequence of 1., 2. and 3., a paper that has been published towards the end of the year becomes "old" (and less likely to attract citations, c.f. 2.) faster than a paper that has been published towards the beginning of the year. For instance, consider a paper published in December 2014, which becomes "one year old" (according to 3.) already in January 2015, after one month of existence. A paper published in January 2014 will stay "newborn" until January 2015, therefore it enjoys 11 extra months of "freshness" compared to the other paper, and will therefore be more affective at attracting citations.

My questions are: is my argumentation above flawed (and how)? And, if not, is there any data supporting a correlation between publication month and number of citations attracted by a paper?

Note that an effective data analysis would likely need to exclude very highly cited papers that might introduce a bias.

  • 4
    I hope number 1 isn't how people are doing literature searches. – StrongBad Apr 7 '15 at 9:43
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    There are many factors not related to the academic quality of a paper which influences the rate of citations. However I am, from the top of my head, not aware of research into the publication month. My best bet would be to check either Scientometrics or the Journal of Informetrics. You can, of course, download alot of information from WoK and run your own analysis – Maarten van Wesel Apr 7 '15 at 10:15
  • @StrongBad: Indeed, I think (hope?) the process works the other way round - when papers have already attracted many citations, people may already know about and think of them before starting their literature research. – O. R. Mapper Apr 7 '15 at 12:19
  • @StrongBad If one is looking for specific new findings, obviously new papers which closely match the search criteria are the ones to go for. However one can only read so many papers. If a search returns 1000 papers that match the search criteria at the same approximate level (either because there are too many papers on the subject or the criteria are too lax), one needs to settle for only some, ideally the highest quality ones. Citation count will make some of the papers stand out from the rest, and would be an obvious (but not necessarily the best) criterion to choose which papers to read. – Miguel Apr 7 '15 at 12:54
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It doesn't appear to be a major factor. On the subject of citation behavior, I recommend reading this very rich article:

Lutz Bornmann and Hans-Dieter Daniel What do citation counts measure? A review of studies on citing behavior Journal of Documentation Vol. 64 No. 1, 2008 pp. 45-80

Generally, it confirms your point 1. Previous citation count is a good predictor of future citation.

It seems to contradict your point 2. There are more citation to recent article mainly because there are much more recent articles, not because they are preferably cited over older articles.

I can only address your question and point 3 by default: the month of publication is not listed among the potential factors influencing citation in this study nor in several other quantitative studies (1) (2) (3), although it was not formally excluded.

Note that an effective data analysis would likely need to exclude very highly cited papers that might introduce a bias.

Yes, most likely the effect of the publication month, if there is one, will be masked by a variety of other stronger factors.

  • Apologies, I realize that my point 2. was confusing as I had written it originally and didn't mean what I intended. – Miguel Apr 7 '15 at 13:52

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