• Should citations be counted separately from each originating section?

      Thelwall, Mike (Elsevier, 2019-04-03)
      Articles are cited for different purposes and differentiating between reasons when counting citations may therefore give finer-grained citation count information. Although identifying and aggregating the individual reasons for each citation may be impractical, recording the number of citations that originate from different article sections might illuminate the general reasons behind a citation count (e.g., 110 citations = 10 Introduction citations + 100 Methods citations). To help investigate whether this could be a practical and universal solution, this article compares 19 million citations with DOIs from six different standard sections in 799,055 PubMed Central open access articles across 21 out of 22 fields. There are apparently non-systematic differences between fields in the most citing sections and the extent to which citations from one section overlap with citations from another, with some degree of overlap in most cases. Thus, at a science-wide level, section headings are partly unreliable indicators of citation context, even if they are more standard within individual fields. They may still be used within fields to help identify individual highly cited articles that have had one type of impact, especially methodological (Methods) or context setting (Introduction), but expert judgement is needed to validate the results.