You might want to calibrate your expectations.
What predicts how many citations you should expect?
- Journal impact factor
- Time since publication
- Number of publications
- Database used for counting citations
In rough terms, the journal impact factor can give you an idea of how many citations you can expect to receive per year for a given article. Note that this is based on the relevant database. Google Scholar citation counts tend to be two or three times larger from my experience. Note also that the distribution of article citation counts are highly skewed. So many will get fewer citations, but hopefully as you aggregate over a body of work, central limit theorem will kick in. So it's a reasonable guide to a benchmark how many citations you should expect over the body of your work.
Note also, the time it takes people to build on your work. So if you publish something late in 2014, it will often take at least a year for people to notice and start incorporating into journal submissions and for those articles to be published.
The basic consequence of this is that if all your work has come out in the last 3 years, and therefore much of your work has come out in the last year, then you may have to wait a few years to see the citations accrue.
How to calculate expected citations
So let's do some basic math.
- Mean impact factor: Based on your stated quartile impact factors, I'm going to guess that your average impact factor per article is around 0.8 (e.g., top quartile is around 2 or 3+; second quartile is around 1.5; third quartile is around 0.5, based on discipline it could be different).
- Mean time since publication: I'll guess 1.5 years, i.e., half-way between 0 and 3 years.
- Discounting self-citations: Impact factor does not discount self-citations, but you have. So let's say 20% of citations are self-citations, especially early on in an article's life.
- Number of articles: you say 17
So a very rough estimate of expected number of citations is:
expected citations = mean IF * mean time since publication *
self-citation discount * number of articles
= 0.8 * 1.5 * 0.8 * 17
= 16.32 (i.e., 16 citations)
A few caveats:
- If you are using Google Scholar as your metric, then you should multiply expectations by a factor 2 or 3 (so that gives you an expected citation count somewhere around 32 and 39).
- You could get a more refined estimate if you calculated expectations for each article separately and then summed the expectations.
- There is quite a bit of uncertainty about the timing issue. For example, with impact factor, the first few months often don't count and sometimes differences between accepted versus online access versus published with page numbers might make a difference.
So actually, that does not look that different from what you have.
Also, note that in theory, you could stop doing research today, and the formula would predict that 15 years, you could expect about 160 citations. As with all things, this depends on various assumptions. But if you are comparing your citation count to senior researchers who have been publishing for 20 years, then you need to really understand the fundamental role of time passing in generating citations.
More generally, citation counts per article and even on aggregate can be quite noisy and the underlying distribution can be heavily skewed. So the difference between being above or below expectations may be whether you have one or two articles that have really taken off in terms of citations.
Take home messages
- If you are a PhD student or early career researcher where most of your work has been published in the last two or three years, citations will generally look small. Citations just take time to accrue. And the number of citations an article accrues per year is quite noisy.
- In the first year after a publication comes out, the impact factor is often a better predictor of how many citations it is likely to accrue per year.
- Based on the assumptions above, publishing in an impact factor 3 journal will on average generate 3 times as many citations as an impact factor 1 article, and 6 times as many citations as impact factor 0.5 article. While this is all an on-average thing, the point is that it is quite possible that your two Q1 publications are equivalent or more important than your 10 Q3 publications, from a citation generation perspective. So if you view things from an impact/citation perspective, then this can inform your understanding of the quality versus quantity trade-off when publishing your work.
Generating more citations
That said, if your goal is to generate citations from others, there are all sorts of things that you could be doing.
- Try to do great work and publish in high impact outlets. When evaluating a quantity versus quality trade-off, give a lot of weight to quality/impact.
- Advertise your work at conferences and online.
- Attend conferences and network so that people get to know who you are and what you are doing.
Other options that may or may not go into grey territory:
- Self-cite where appropriate. Some citations will come from others seeing how your work is being cited. By self-citing, you are providing a template, and further secondary exposure to your work.
- Collaborate and co-author papers with leading figures in your field. When they publish without you, they may cite your co-authored work.
- Think about what topics receive more citations and do work on that. Important review articles, meta-analyses, methodological papers with a clear recommendation, etc.