The role of trust and authority in the citation behaviour of researchers

Clare Thornley, Anthony Watkinson, David Nicholas, Rachel Volentine, Hamid Mahmuei, Eti Herman, Suzie Allard, Kenneth Levine, Carol Tenopir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Introduction. This paper reports on an interview-based citation behaviour study, part of a wider study of trust in information resources, investigating why researchers chose to cite particular references in one of their publications. Their motivations are explored, with an emphasis on whether they regarded the reference as an authoritative and trustworthy source, and, if so, to what extent and why.
Method. Semi-structured critical incident interviews were carried out with eighty-seven researchers from the UK and the USA.
Analysis. The answers were analysed using qualitative techniques and then grouped under descriptive headings of the types of reasons for citation provided. These were then used to create a table of these types of reason and the frequency of their use.
Results. The motivations for citing were found to be complex and multi-faceted but, in nearly all cases, researchers do regard the authority and trustworthiness of the cited source as an important factor in choosing to cite it. This suggests that citation is at least partly an acknowledgement of the intellectual influence of the content of the cited source. It was also found, however, that researchers have strong social networks of trust and collaboration. They make considerable use of these in receiving and gathering information for research and thus context is also important in their eventual citation decisions.
Conclusions. Citing behaviour does include an acknowledgement of useful intellectual content, but this process cannot be separated from the researcher's position in networks of trusted social and research influence. The digital transition has provided tools to help maintain and develop these social networks and it has also made it easier for researchers to investigate the credentials of the sources of documents. This suggests that the current distinction in the literature between normative and constructionist theories of citation behaviour may not capture the nuanced and complex relationship between these two factors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number677
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalInformation Research
Volume20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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