Improve your h-index with these 10 practical strategies

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how can you improve your h-index

I recently came across an interesting discussion on ResearchGate1 about how to get cited more. Since it’s an important measure for academics – often in the form of the so-called h-index – I looked at a few sites to learn about practical strategies.

Being cited is one way of showing the impact of your research. It’s also not easy, as there is an enormous amount of papers being published each year. Moreover, there are language issues. For instance, if I write in German, I make it easier for students to read my paper and be cited by my German speaking colleagues (not all of them might be comfortable in English). On the other hand, publishing in English means people from many countries can read – and cite – my work.

Getting cited is a slow process. Publications in peer-reviewed papers can take a long time, which means it takes a while to get citations.

The h-index

One popular measure for citations is the h-index. The h-index combines how many papers you publish and how often these papers got cited into a single metric2. The h-index is available for instance on Google Scholar. There are also apps, like ‘Publish or Perish’.

Currently, Google Scholar shows my h-index as 6, with 139 citations.

What is a good h-index? That seems to vary widely by field3. For instance, Holosko & Barner4 showed that assistant professors in social work had an average h-index of 5, associate professors of 8 and full professors of 16. In psychology, these numbers were 6, 12 and 23. Albion5showed that in education, associate professors had an average h-index of 6.2 and professors of 10.6. Researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)6 found that lecturers in geography had an average h-index of 3.73, senior lecturers of 5.75 and professors of 6.50. So, mine isn’t that bad : ) .

Ways for improving the h-index

Still, there’s still room for improvement. On the web, there’s a lot of advice on how to improve your h-index.

Make your future publications citation-friendly

A lot of the strategies seem to focus on things that you can do before submitting the paper for publication.

  1. Choose the right venue: The LSE paper6 also found that it matters in what type of venue you publish. For geography, academic articles got way more cites than conference papers. Others suggest that accessibility plays a role. Online, free-of-charge papers get more citations than a book that needs to be ordered from the library9, 13, 14. Peer-reviewed papers (especially in high-impact journals) are not just better regarded, but also might help boost your h-index13. Publishing in venues of different disciplines reaches a larger audience13. However, if there’s a venue most people in your field read, try to get in there14
  2. Check the attribution: Use ORCID or a similar service to make sure all the papers get attributed to you7, 13,14. Some say you should have a consistent version of the name for all publications13,14. However, that doesn’t work if you choose to take your partners name upon marriage, for instance – something I’m looking forward to.
  3. Consider adding citation-friendly types of publications to your list: Publishing the results of your projects is important, of course. However, review papers and how-to (methodology) papers get cited more widely than research articles9,1, 13,14. So in-between those results-focused papers, consider doing a review paper. It’s especially beneficial to be the first to do a review in a particular area14.
  4. Make your paper useful: The more useful to others, the more likely they are to cite it9. This can also mean framing your research in relation to what’s “hot” at the moment in your field13.
  5. Make your paper SEO friendly: This can include making sure keywords (that people actually search for) are in the title, body and abstract; having proper meta-data and including the article in places Google crawls and accepts as authoritative13,14  such as ResearchGate, Academia and your institution’s repository.
  6. Cite yourself1,14 and others13:
    • Citing yourself is obvious – a new paper can be one of the ways to get the word out about your previous research and get self-cites. But please, don’t overdo it by including those that are not relevant – despite what this Indonesian example of extreme self-citation on academia claims15 .
    • Ebrahim, Gholizadeh and Lugmayr 13 summarize research that shows “[…] a ridiculously strong relationship between the number of citations a paper receives and the number of its references […]”. So make sure to include a strong literature review.
  7. Choose the right title:
    • According to a study by Hudson8, titles should be short. However, Jamali & Nikzad found no correlation, and Habibzadeh & Yadollahie showed more favorable results for longer titles12. Ebrahim, Gholizadeh & Lugmayr conclude that optimal title length depends on the field13. In a study by ResearchTrends, “titles between 31 to 40 characters were cited the most”12.
    • Hudson also found that you shouldn’t use questions8. A study by Tse & Zhou suggests you should not use hyphens8. Jamali & Nikzad found colons and question marks not to work well12,13,14. Paiva et al. say no colon, hyphen or question mark13. In contrast, Griffith says that colons are good14. The ResearchTrends study found that “the ten most cited papers […] did not contain any punctuation at all”12.
    • In another study, a team from Italy found that you shouldn’t put “country names in the title, abstract or keywords”8. Paiva et al’s also advise against country names in the title13.
    • There’s no need for trying to be funny or play on words. A study by Sagi & Yechiam found that “articles with highly amusing titles […] received fewer citations”12.
  8. Think about the authors: In many situations, you don’t have a choice who the authors are. For instance, if you’re working on a certain project together, then that’s most likely who the authors will be. However, Hudson found that having too many authors isn’t good for citations8, while Wuchty et al. found “that team-authored articles typically produce more frequently cited research than individuals”13 .Research shows that having co-authors from different countries is good for attracting citations13,14. Some especially suggest that super-well known (and cited) co-authors can boost the citations for your paper1, 14 – so if you can get a Nobel laureate to be co-author on your paper, go for it13

Get more citations for already published work

But what if you have, like I, worked for a couple of years and already have a list of publications? Less strategies seem to deal with how to increase citations for past work. Two ways I found are:

  1. Get known: Since well-known co-authors can boost your h-index, one could argue that becoming more well-known yourself would also boost your h-index. This can include e.g. conference presentations (and schmoozing with colleagues), social media, blogging and ‘branding yourself’13, 7.
  2. Get your work out there: This can mean spreading the word about your work e.g. on blogs and your website; social media such as ResearchGate, Academia and Linkedin, or even mass media1,13,14. You can even send out information about your work to some key people13,14.. Learn about marketing and apply that to your work13. Others would likely disagree about the social media aspect. For instance, Cal Newport often argues against using social media10, and instead advocates for doing ‘deep work’ which leads to better quality work11. What research does see as important is making the papers available: several studies have found a positive impact of self-archiving13. So keep your lists up-to date and easy to find online13. This can even mean including your work into relevant Wikipedia articles – or writing a Wikipedia article on your topic yourself13,14.


Reviewing my existing strategy

Looking through my publication list, one of the things I noticed are the titles. I do have a book chapter on GIS education that has Germany in the title.  There are two papers with question marks: one I published with some of my students on how much of geography education research actually ends up in classroom practice and my article on Public Judaism. Several titles have other punctuation: “.”, “–” and “:”. In general, many of the titles are quite long.

According to Google Scholar, my best-performing paper is a review paper on GIS education that I’ve authored with international, well-known colleagues.

In terms of ‘getting the word out there’, I have written on Wikipedia before, but haven’t used that systematically. I also notice that while I keep the publication list on my website always up to date, there’s often a lag till I’ve updated my profiles on ResearchGate, Academia, GoogleScholar etc.

Planning to improve my h-index

I have several publications to write in the upcoming semester – among other things about the #TCDTE project  and teacher conceptions. Based on the 10 strategies, I might have to consider writing a review style paper too.

I’m curious to see how much applying the 10 strategies will improve my h-index in the coming months.


  1. Gil Mahe 30. January 2020

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