Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Maximizing Productivity and Recognition, Part 1: Publication, Citation, and Impact

The postdoc and the first 6 years of the academic life cycle are crucial: The performance and decisions a scientist exhibits and makes during this time set the stage for the rest of his or her career. In this series, we use our own experiences, combined with insights from the literature, to provide junior scientists with strategies for increasing research productivity, recognition, and impact. Here, we focus on publications and citations. In our next article, we offer tips for collaboration and networking, including getting the most out of scientific meetings and identifying potential letter writers. Our final piece in the series will be on developing a research plan and integrating research into teaching.

Candidates for tenure in the sciences typically are evaluated on the quality of their scientific thinking and the importance of the advances, conceptual and practical, that their scientific thinking engenders. But attempting to decipher what senior colleagues--specifically, those who serve on hiring and tenure committees--consider important, and how they evaluate "quality," is challenging for any junior scientist. It is therefore helpful to know that reviewers typically assess candidates using three criteria: reputation, yield or productivity, and influence or impact (Avital and Collopy, 2001).

In part because it is the easiest to measure, publication productivity--the number of publications--is often the first item evaluators look at when reviewing the curricula vitae (CVs) of job applicants and tenure candidates (Steinpreis et al., 1999). Citations are typically used as a measure of influence, but they reflect a complicated set of factors besides quality and time--for example, visibility, size of citing community, and integration into social and professional networks (Ward et al., 1992).

Here are some tips to increase the number and impact of your publications.


Scientists seeking to establish their reputations should publish a mix of short and long papers in the highest quality journals possible. Long, authoritative publications are important, as they demonstrate depth of knowledge. Nonetheless, it's important not to polish a manuscript until it is perfect! This will delay publication and make revisions or rejections harder to stomach. Conversely, it is important not to submit poorly-thought-out or substandard scientific work in the hope that it will be published; reviewers may be senior colleagues who are later asked to evaluate the quality of your work.

Reviews and synthesis papers are among the most highly cited (Amin and Mabe, 2000). However, you might not want to do too many of these. They are time-consuming to assemble, and senior researchers may view them as community service rather than original research. Focus on original research papers first. If you do this well, synthesis opportunities will arise. Take advantage of them when they do.

Work on what you want to publish but also publish what you work on. Your research strategy should have the potential to generate several new and exciting results for each methodology and collaboration that you invest in setting up. For each study you undertake, think from the outset what a publication might look like and then try to see it through while it is fresh in your mind. Short, letter-type papers or technical notes in reputable journals are an excellent format to get your name attached to your ideas in a timely fashion. Also, it is much easier to get responses from co-authors on shorter contributions.

Short papers are often simpler to revise. Reviewers won't ask you to make as many open-ended changes because they know that you are working within a page and figure limit and often on a tighter editorial deadline. If you are uncertain as to whether a piece of research is ready to be published, get your ideas and findings out there--among close colleagues--to provoke a discussion that, one hopes, will give you a better sense of perspective on your work. Then, focus your paper on that idea and leave the complete explanation to a longer version.

What if your paper is rejected, or the reviewers request major revisions? First, understand that all scientists, even the top ones in your field, receive rejections or harsh review comments. Do not feel defeated. Instead, see the review comments as an opportunity to improve the publication. Make it a priority to revise your paper as soon as possible. Look for aspects that the reviewers found to be strong and build on them. If reviewers ask for major revisions that are not possible or that will significantly delay resubmission, contact the editor and make a case for handling the revisions differently.

In one case we're aware of, a reviewer expressed surprise that a scientist withdrew a paper. He said that he liked the rest of the paper so much that he would have withdrawn his concerns if he had known that she would not be able to make the changes he requested. If appealing to the editor doesn't work, knuckle down and make the changes. Or cut out the best parts and submit them to another journal. You can even turn a failed research proposal into a paper. The main point is to have something to show for the time and effort that you put into developing your ideas.


In order to assess the impact of your publications and research, committees often will study your citations during reviews for promotion and tenure. A citation index is essentially an academic credit report. So, just as with a credit report, you need to know how you score in the citation index used most for your field. Now that the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Science has expanded its analysis functions, it has become a convenient tool for measuring impact. You, and others, can assess and document the influence of your work by looking at the characteristics, as well as the number, of the citations: by thematic area (disciplinary and interdisciplinary impact), by name and institution (prestige), by year (longevity), and by country (international impact).

However, ISI does not index all peer-reviewed literature. Many high-quality and highly cited publications do not show up with a simple search. One way to access nonindexed publications is to do a "cited reference" search. This will reveal additional papers that were cited within an ISI-indexed work. We know of a job candidate who learned that one of their papers was cited 100 times during a job search only when someone on the search committee (who had done a cited-referenced search) informed them of this fact. If you find that any of your nonindexed papers are highly cited, you may want to point this out on your CV or cover letter and make sure your department chair has this information when you are being considered for tenure or promotion.

To make your future work as accessible as possible, publish in journals that are indexed by ISI and in journals that allow full-text open access. The easier it is for others to find and use your work, the better. A recent study found that open-access articles were twice as likely to be cited in the first half-year after publication and almost three times as likely to be cited within about 16 months (Eysenbach, 2006). Be wary of books and conference proceedings that are not indexed by ISI, even if they are peer-reviewed, because they result in confused citations that are difficult to collect. For the same reason, always use the same format for your name so that all your articles appear with a simple search.

A useful analysis tool that can help you build professional social capital is to look at who cites your work. Read the papers of the people who cite your work, then seek them out at meetings or send them pre- or reprints of your publications. If they cite you once, it is likely that they will cite you again.


As you develop a research-and-publication strategy, think about how to align your research agenda with the rest of your life. Consider how you can conserve and generate energy and time. What conditions make you the most productive? Try to arrange your work environment so that those conditions are built into your life. Talk with your partner and your department chair about finding ways to protect your most productive time for research.

Becoming a successful researcher requires a large investment of time and energy. By making only minor adjustments in how and where you publish and present your research, you can become more productive, better known for your research, and better connected with the members of your professional community.


Partial support for this work was provided. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement SBE-0245014 and the ADVANCE program at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


M. Amin, and M. Mabe, Impact Factors: Use & Abuse, Perspectives in Publishing, No. 1 (2000).

M. Avital, and F. Collopy, "Assessing Research Performance: Implications for Selection and Motivation," Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Environments, Systems and Organizations, Vol. 1, Summer (2001).

G. Eysenbach, Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLoS Biol 4(5): e157 (2006) doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157

R. E. Steinpreis, K. A. Anders, D. Ritzke, The impact of gender on the review of the curricula vitae of job applicants. Sex Roles 41, 7/8, p. 509 (1999).

K. Ward, J. Gast, L. Grant, Visibility and Dissemination of Women's and Men's Sociological Scholarship. Social Problems, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 291-298 (1992).

Photo (top): credit, Chris Gladis


Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers