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Editorial Snapshot: Do review papers reduce citations of original research?

- A.S., Editor

Review papers, which do not report original research but summarize important and recent results in a field, are generally known to play a useful curatorial role in research. It is also widely felt that review papers are more frequently cited than original papers, and studies have been conducted to quantify this phenomenon. Previously, it was reported that, across 35 scientific disciplines, review papers are cited three times more on average than original papers. More recently, a paper published in American Sociological Review aimed to investigate the connections between review papers and “scholarly attention” across a greater number of research areas, including the social sciences.

In their paper, it was concluded that, for a paper referenced in a review published by Annual Reviews (a publisher of 51 review journals spanning a range of disciplines), nearly 40% of future citations could be lost. As becoming more highly cited is often a point of concern, the negative impact of review articles on a paper’s lifetime citations appears at first glance discouraging.

However, the authors also point out that this subtractive process reflects how scientific knowledge is shaped: commonalities and overarching themes between massive amounts of research are identified and synthesized, bridging links between fields and even defining new subfields. This, in turn, brings together the focus of disparate scientific communities, and acts as a critical pointing guide for future research.

It is also important to note that one major limitation of this study is in the papers surveyed, all of which belonged to journals published by Annual Reviews. Indeed, another study conducted in 2014 found no correlation between being cited in a review article and a decline in future citations , at least in the fields of biomedical and clinical research. The degree to which review articles affect the number of citations a paper receives could vary greatly depending on the field of study, and further studies are still required to clarify this relationship.

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