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Bibliometrics of systematic reviews: analysis of citation rates and journal impact factors

Pamela Royle1*, Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala12, Katharine Barnard3 and Norman Waugh1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Health Sciences, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, CV4 7AL, Coventry, UK

2 University of Oxford, KEMRI-University of Oxford Wellcome Trust Collaborative Programme, Malaria Public Health and Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Nairobi, Kenya

3 Human Development and Health Academic Unit, Southampton General Hospital, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

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Systematic Reviews 2013, 2:74  doi:10.1186/2046-4053-2-74

Published: 12 September 2013



Systematic reviews are important for informing clinical practice and health policy. The aim of this study was to examine the bibliometrics of systematic reviews and to determine the amount of variance in citations predicted by the journal impact factor (JIF) alone and combined with several other characteristics.


We conducted a bibliometric analysis of 1,261 systematic reviews published in 2008 and the citations to them in the Scopus database from 2008 to June 2012. Potential predictors of the citation impact of the reviews were examined using descriptive, univariate and multiple regression analysis.


The mean number of citations per review over four years was 26.5 (SD ±29.9) or 6.6 citations per review per year. The mean JIF of the journals in which the reviews were published was 4.3 (SD ±4.2). We found that 17% of the reviews accounted for 50% of the total citations and 1.6% of the reviews were not cited. The number of authors was correlated with the number of citations (r = 0.215, P < 0.001). Higher numbers of citations were associated with the following characteristics: first author from the United States (36.5 citations), an ICD-10 chapter heading of Neoplasms (31.8 citations), type of intervention classified as Investigation, Diagnostics or Screening (34.7 citations) and having an international collaboration (32.1 citations). The JIF alone explained more than half of the variation in citations (R2 = 0.59) in univariate analysis. Adjusting for both JIF and type of intervention increased the R2 value to 0.81. Fourteen percent of reviews published in the top quartile of JIFs (≥ 5.16) received citations in the bottom quartile (eight or fewer), whereas 9% of reviews published in the lowest JIF quartile (≤ 2.06) received citations in the top quartile (34 or more). Six percent of reviews in journals with no JIF were also in the first quartile of citations.


The JIF predicted over half of the variation in citations to the systematic reviews. However, the distribution of citations was markedly skewed. Some reviews in journals with low JIFs were well-cited and others in higher JIF journals received relatively few citations; hence the JIF did not accurately represent the number of citations to individual systematic reviews.

Bibliometrics; Citations; Impact factor; Systematic reviews