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Library DIY

Significant work in my field

Some published works have a significant impact on their own or other disciplines, while others have less influence. While there is no one way to tell what impact an article or book has had, here are some things to look at:

For a book:

  • Look for reviews in scholarly publications. Search for the title of the book in library databases considered important to the relevant discipline (for example, Science Direct for the sciences or the MLA International Bibliography for literature). The existence of reviews is a good sign, but also read what the reviews say about the work. 
  • Find out how often the book has been cited through Google Scholar. When looking at the number of citations, consider the age of the book and compare it to other works on the subject. (A newer book will probably have fewer citations than an older, well-known one.)

  • Who is the publisher? Scholarly publishers like University presses are selective about the works they publish. However, just because a work is of high quality does not mean it necessarily has had an impact on its field.

For an article:

  • How many times the article has been cited? Use Google Scholar or look for the cited by links in the library databases. If an article has been cited a significant number of times, then it is important in the field. How many times is significant? Look at the copyright of the article and compare it to other works on the subject. A newer article obviously will not have as many citations because it takes time for scholars to evaluate a source for their subsequent published works.  Comparing it to works on a similar topic and of a similar copyright will give you a clearer view.
  • Look at the journal. Is the article published in one of the important journals in the field? Usually, the best ranked journals in the field will publish the highest quality works from the best scholars in the field. However, the fact that the article is of high quality, does not mean it has impact, so the quality of the journal should not be the only criteria. For more information on evaluating journals, take a look at Determining Whether a Journal is Significant in my Field.