What is h-index?

The h-index is a number intended to represent both the productivity and the impact of a particular scientist or scholar, or a group of scientists or scholars (such as a departmental or research group). The h-index is an author level metric that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scholar. The h- index serve as an alternative to traditional journal impact factor metrics in the evaluation of the impact of the work of a particular researcher. Only the most highly cited articles contribute to the h-index.

The h-index is calculated by counting the number of publications for which an author has been cited by other authors at least that same number of times.  For instance, an h-index of 17 means that the scientist has published at least 17 papers that have each been cited at least 17 times.  If the scientist's 18th most cited publication was cited only 10 times, the h-index would remain at 17.  If the scientist's 18th most cited publication was cited 18 or more times, the h-index would rise to 18.

The purpose of the h-index is to eliminate outlier publications that might give a skewed picture of a scientist's impact.  For instance, if a scientist published one paper many years ago that was cited 9,374 times, but has since only published papers that have been cited 2 or 3 times each, a straight citation count for that scientist could make it seem that his or her long-term career work was very significant.  The h-index, however, would be much lower, signifying that the scientist's overall body of work was not necessarily as significant.

Keep in mind that different databases will give different values for the h-index.  

This is because each database must calculate the value based on the citations it contains.  Since databases cover different publications in different ranges of years, the h-index result will therefore vary.   You should also keep in mind that what is considered a "good" h-index may differ depending on the scientific discipline.  A number that is considered low in one field might be considered quite high in another field.

The problems with the H-index

There are some dangers that come with the increasing prevalence of H-scores. It is difficult to compare H-scores across fields. H-scores can often be higher in one field (such economics) than another field (such as literary criticism).

Like any citation metric, H-scores are open to manipulation through practices like self-citation and what one of my old colleagues liked to call “citation soviets” (small circles of people who routinely cite each other’s work).

The H-index also strips out any information about author order. The result is that there is little information about whether you published an article in a top journal on your own or whether you were one member of a huge team.

But perhaps the most worrying thing about the rise of H-scores, or any other measure of research productivity or influence for that matter, is they actually strip out the ideas. They allow us to talk about intellectual endeavour without any reference at all to the actual content.

This can create a very strange academic culture where it is quite possible to discuss academic matters for hours without once mentioning an idea. I have been to meetings where people are perfectly comfortable chatting about the ins and outs of research metrics at great length. But little discussion is had about the actual content of a research project.

As this attitude to research becomes more common, aspirational academics will start to see themselves as H-index entrepreneurs. When this happens, universities will cease to be knowledge creators and instead become metric maximisers.

Find your h-index in Scopus

Log in to Scopus database from here.

Select the author search option and enter the last name and first initial or first full name of the author.

You can also add the name of the Institution (Rabdan Academy) or any other institution to make sure you get the exact person.

Author search will return anyone in the database with the same name. Identify the correct author and check the results.

Click on the author/authors names you are searching for to view their details. (results below just an example not related to above image).

To get the h-index detailed information, click either on (analyze author output) or (view h-graph).

How to improve your h-index?

1) Frequent and irrelevant self citations. Each citation has to be relevant and helpful for the reader. Mass citation of your own work, when it is not necessary for a good understanding of your paper, might be seen as inappropriate. The major citation tracking systems (Scopus, Web of Science etc.) do not count self-citations, but Google Scholar does and this is one of the reasons why people do not treat GS as seriously. Although if you are trying to impress someone with a high h-index on Google Scholar and it comes out that it is build up on self citation you might not get another job in academia.

2) Creating citation circles. Again: Each citation has to be relevant and helpful for the reader. If you massively cite the works of your friends of coworkers, and some of them very often cite you, it may look suspicious. Of course this is normal in narrow fields, where there are not as many authors to cite. But a citation has to be relevant for the argument. It is usually enough to cite the best or most relevant works about a described problem. When you cite the works of your friends instead, and someone finds out that these friends cite you in a similar way, you may be in trouble.

3) Publishing the same or very similar work in several places to increase publishing volume. Each work has to be original and has to create new input. This is a must. This is the whole point of academic publishing.

4) Plagiarism. This is illegal, unethical and disgusting.

5) Frequently choosing low quality journals and conferences to disseminate your work. Some publishers do not prevent you from citing a huge number of irrelevant (also own) works and from writing nonsense. They usually offer very fast publication and make no remarks about your work. And you should definitely avoid them. Publish only in journals that you have read before, and that you value and possibly in new journals with a credible editorial board. In the second case, contact editors directly to ask about their involvement in the journal (some “predatory publishers” place famous names on their website without asking anyone to edit anything).

6) Join collaborations with more mature researchers. According to a paper submitted to Arxiv and entitled “Will This Paper Increase Your h-index? Scientific Impact Prediction” by Yuxiao Dong, Reid A. Johnson, Nitesh V. Chawla, the main factors predicted in h-index growth after publishing a paper is…. Surprise, surprise! the authority of the paper’s first author. The more famous he or she is, the more citations the paper will gain. This is quite sad for the beginners, but there is little to gain in complaining about the facts. Academia is unfortunately quite conservative and it is good to have important friends in this world. So search for collaboration opportunities and do not reject good offers.

7) Publish in well known, established journals. This is second most important factor, according to the mentioned paper. Again, there is nothing new here, but it is good to remind yourself that choosing a place of publication is too important a decision to leave to the end of the research process. You should think more about where to publish and analyze all the advantages and disadvantages of each journal and discuss it with your possible co-authors. (Have a look here also.) Venue prestige is important, but as you will see it is not the only factor to be considered.

8) Publish in open access. Unfortunately the authors of the mentioned paper did not even try to determine, what the influence is of open access on h-index. Although since openness triggers more citation, it should also have a positive impact on h-index and other metrics. And here we come to the harder part of the decision.

In Life Sciences, medicine and some fields of physics and engineering there is a possibility to choose both, well known and open access journals. In other fields of research, authors have to judge, whether to publish in a high profile, or fully open access venue. It is a pity, that Yuxiao Dong, Reid A. Johnson, Nitesh V. Chawla did not try to help resolve this dilemma, and did not compare the impact of openness, with the impact of venue prestige. Although, even when you choose a traditional publishing outlet, you simply should (because of the possible impact and since its ethical) make it open in a green way (self archiving, remember to chose a proper repository) or by choosing a publisher-side open access option (which is usually expensive in the case of publishing in a traditional serial, but if you have good funding it should not be a problem). Both these options are at this moment a standard, and you should avoid publishers which do not allow them. (For more information have a look here.)

Open access is probably even more important for you if your article is interdisciplinary or if there is no journal which is strictly dedicated to your research, since it is then easier for all interested readers to find it (this is the argument of Gabor Zolyomi). Another factor that might increase the importance of openness for your particular paper is targeting an audience that works outside of the most wealthy universities. Even in poorer EU countries, researchers face hardships in gaining access to some expensive journals. Thus, if your article deals with a field in which some institutions from less wealthy countries are active, you should pay more attention to openness to gain more citations.

9) Publish in a journal with an appropriate audience. Think not only about a journal’s prestige and popularity, but also about its audience. Who is your article written for? What is the most important journal for this particular audience? I am a sociologist, and the most important journal in my research work is not the highest ranked in the field of sociology. Usually, I read journals with a narrow thematic scope, and I see that they are also the places of publication for the most important researchers in my field, thus I would rather publish my article there, than in one of the top tier journals for the whole field, because in my opinion its easier to gain citation from an appropriate public. (Have a look at my interview with Antonio Facchetti).

10) Attend conferences and research meetings. This may help you to promote your work and search for new collaboration opportunities.

11) While writing your paper think about your readers and search engines. Choosing a good title and keywords is important, and should be done at an early stage of writing, not at the end. You should also write in an attractive way. For more information have a look here.

12) Run a blog, be present on social media. This may help you to gain citations and to search for new collaboration opportunities, but it will not replace attending conferences and meetings.