I study petroleum engineering; however, I want everybody from different fields to express their opinion based on their personal experience.

Let's assume you have the following options: publishing in a journal that is not open access and has a high impact factor, publishing in a conference, and finally publishing in a journal that is open access and has a low impact factor. The only option that has ever been appealing to me is to publish in a reputable journal, simply because I don't think the other two are challenging enough and also the whole process of modifying your paper based on peer reviews will help improve the quality of your paper. However, I have recently stumbled upon some papers that had me rethink about the whole thing.

It seems to me as if for some reason open access publishing increases the potential number of citations. The straightforward explanation is that many more people will have the chance to see your paper and there is a huge chance that some of them cite your paper at least in their literature review. (I understand that if they don't have access to high quality journals, they might not be currently in the right setting to necessarily publish a good work, but in this context a citation is a citation even if it's by a poor quality paper)

Also, I do have a feeling that depending on the field you're working in, the number of conference publications can hugely exceed the number of journal publications. For example, petroleum engineering is extremely industrialized and a huge number of fellows in the industry are only willing to publish in conferences. This is simply because publication in a conference is easier, it is fun to travel for free (!) and in general networking is very important to many of them. Also, I keep thinking that there a chance that some of these people, for some reason that I don't know of, have exclusive access to conference papers, but no access to journal papers or maybe they simply don't have the willingness to spend time on reading journal papers because they don't need to! What if my paper gets exposed to this huge number of people if I publish it in a conference, but only to a small number of researchers in the academia if I publish it in a journal.

  • As noted below, in almost all circumstances "open access publishing" is not really a separate category of publishing - it's just a particular type of journal publishing, or of conference publishing, or of monograph publishing, etc. I think you're making things a bit more confusing than it needs to be by treating it as a distinct category. – Andrew Jul 17 '15 at 18:04
  • I edited the question and tried to resolve the ambiguity that was caused by the improper categorization of my options. – Ali Jamali Jul 17 '15 at 19:32
  • Some thoughts on what can lead to more or less citations on this answer of mine. – Cape Code Jul 18 '15 at 8:53

A prior question would be why you care about the number of citations. There are valid career-related reasons, and I assume that you know that citation-gathering businesses do not always include "self-publication" and conference proceedings. That applies both to the article being cited, and the citing article. So there is a difference between actual citations in the abstract sense, and enumerated citations. That could support the refereed respected journal approach, depending on your motivation. Also, there are numerous open-access respectable peer-reviewed journals, so since you are looking for non-overlapping categories, I assume you specifically mean unrefereed repositories of various kinds, in referring to "open access".

I would be surprised if there is any evidence that open-access results in an increase in citations, because in the subset of people in the world publishing academic papers, I doubt that the factor of having to pay to read an article has a significant effect on whether a researcher can actually read the paper. Via my university, I get to read articles in any arbitrary journal, and request a free copy if they don't subscribe. An opposite expected trend is that an article in a large, open repository may more easily be missed, if say they get a hundred submissions a week, and if authors are unaware of your work, they won't cite it.

In my field (linguistics), conference proceedings were traditionally just a minor notch below peer-reviewed journals in stature, due to there being few journals and a major publication lag, but now conference proceedings are in third place (behind book chapters). But in some sub-areas (computational), conference proceedings are a major publication venue. Correspondingly, CL conference proceedings go through a serious wringer.

So your basic distinction centered around peer-review is correct, it's just that peer-review standards vary considerably for journals and conference proceedings. It may be that more people will have access to your paper if it is in an open repository, but they will also have access to thousands of other papers, and to generate a citation by the subset of the public that writes scientific papers, you would need to do something extra to draw attention to your paper.

I suggest you first scrutinize the notion of "citation", to determine what citation engine(s) you care about, and whether they scoop up citations of un-reviewed works that appear in other un-reviewed works.

  • 1
    There are currently about 70 papers looking at whether OA publishing gives a citation advantage; about two thirds of those think it does, to some degree (sparceurope.org/oaca). But that's 'conventional' OA publishing - the question here is using a very odd definition of it (OA as distinct from journals) that muddles the question immensely. – Andrew Jul 17 '15 at 17:04
  • @Andrew thanks very much for the clarification. I edited the question to where it separates open access publishing from publishing in a journal that is not open access. That was what I meant but I think I didn't categorize it properly. Do you still think it's ambiguous? – Ali Jamali Jul 17 '15 at 19:29
  • @user6726 thanks for the explanation. I realized the question was not clear so I modified it. I want to make it clear that I was not referring to "unrefereed repositories" as was implied by my question. My current understanding is that open access journals usually have lower impact factors. Correct? For example, in oil and gas industry, I am confident that none of open access journals have enough reputation. However, the mere fact that through open access publishing a paper will be exposed to a larger number of people was appealing to me. Are you saying it is not correct? – Ali Jamali Jul 17 '15 at 19:44
  • The impact factor of a journal really doesn't have much of an impact on how often your particular paper will be cited. Many papers are published in high IF journals and seldom or never cited, while other papers that were published in low IF journals are very widely cited. Most studies seem to show that having open access to a paper (either the official published paper or some kind of preprint) can help with citation counts. However, it's very hard to untangle the quality of the individual papers in analyzing this. – Brian Borchers Jul 17 '15 at 20:01
  • @Ali Jamali, I don't pay much attention to IF because Thomson has been sketchy in covering my field; but I think it is currently true that IF tends to be lower in OA refereed journals compared to paid refereed journals. I was hoping you could clarify whether you are simply interested in (1) being cited by someone somewhere, or (2) being cited in a manner that results in a higher citation index score (as could be relevant for tenure or promotion). I have orders of magnitude fewer citations under criterion 1 than criterion 2 (Web of Science), because of what Thomson counts. – user6726 Jul 17 '15 at 20:51

(This is almost entirely anecdotal and I'm not in a field where conferences are an option.)

In my experience and seeing the experience of others in lab, publishing in a low IF journal that's OA has garnered many more citations and article views than the non-OA journal with a higher IF.

But, these were new-ish, upward trending OA journals. Maybe we've gotten lucky.

Sadly, I'm not sure these are citations for the right reason: When I google part of the title of each article + my name, the papers in OA clearly appear higher up in the results. There's possibly a correlation between where it appears on Google and the number of citations... maybe I should plot that.

Another example: Two very similar papers published in two OA access journals with similar IFs. One website is simple. The other is convoluted - hard to reach the full text. Guess which one has twice as many citations..?

Not sure if I like that, but maybe that's where we're headed: Publish papers with a Google-friendly titles in OA journals with nicely formatted websites.

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