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Relationships between method-section citation rates and citation contexts: evidence from highly cited references in psychology

Kai Li (School of Information Resource Management, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 29 October 2021

Issue publication date: 16 August 2022




The Method section of research articles offers an important space for researchers to describe their research processes and research objects they utilize. To understand the relationship between these research materials and their representations in scientific publications, this paper offers a quantitative examination of the citation contexts of the most frequently cited references in the Method section of the paper sample, many of which belong to the category of research material objects.


In this research, the authors assessed the extent to which these references appear in the Method section, which is regarded as an indicator of the instrumentality of the reference. The authors also examined how this central measurement is connected to its other citation contexts, such as key linguistic attributes and verbs that are used in citation sentences.


The authors found that a series of key linguistic attributes can be used to predict the instrumentality of a reference. The use of self-mention phrases and the readability score of the citances are especially strong predictors, along with boosters and hedges, the two measurements that were not included in the final model.

Research limitations/implications

This research focuses on a single research domain, psychology, which limits the understanding of how research material objects are cited in different research domains or interdisciplinary research contexts. Moreover, this research is based on 200 frequently cited references, which are unable to represent all references cited in psychological publications.

Practical implications

With the identified relationship between instrumental citation contexts and other characteristics of citation sentences, this research opens the possibility of more accurately identifying research material objects from scientific references, the most accessible scholarly data.


This is the first large-scale, quantitative analysis of the linguistic features of citations to research material objects. This study offers important baseline results for future studies focusing on scientific instruments, an increasingly important type of object involved in scientific research.

Peer review

The peer review history for this article is available at: 10.1108/OIR-03-2021-0171



Part of this work was done while the author was a visiting researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University. The author thanks CWTS for providing access to its data infrastructure. The author would also like to thank Drs. Erjia Yan, Cassidy Sugimoto, Chaomei Chen, Jake Williams, Jane Greenberg and Ali Kenner for their help in the composition of this article.


Li, K. (2022), "Relationships between method-section citation rates and citation contexts: evidence from highly cited references in psychology", Online Information Review, Vol. 46 No. 5, pp. 829-845.



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