Get more visibility and impact from your research with data citation

Citing data has been part of the LTER information management culture for several decades, albeit passively.  The documentation for most LTER data sets contains information about how to cite or acknowledge the data in publication but journals vary widely on their acceptance and approach to citing data.  Large search engines and unique identifiers have now made it possible to realize some real benefits from citing data sets and more journals are coming around to encouraging the idea.  

The motivation to cite data sets arises from a recognition that:

  •  data generated in the course of research are valuable in and of themselves,
  • a citation can be used to give credit where credit is due,
  • a citation can provide information about the data set and how to access it, and, now,
  • a citation can be used to track the impact of a data set.

Earlier this year the LTER Network Office established a collaboration with the Data Citation Index1  (DCI) to index and track the use of LTER data sets in publications.  DCI began indexing LTER data sets in June 2013. Indexing is enabled by the use of Digital Object Identifiers (DOI).  When a data set is published through the LTER Network Information System PASTA repository, a DOI is registered with EZID2 and assigned to the data set.  The DOI is used by DCI to track acknowledgement and citation of the data set in subsequent publications.

Data citation represents a real opportunity for graduate students to create another scientifically viable product and increase the visibility and impact of their research.  Graduate student data are often never published because other more pressing opportunities come along by the time thesis research papers are submitted to journals.  Now with data citation indexing there is strong motivation to publish data and cite the data set DOI.

Following these simple steps can greatly increase the impact of your LTER research.  Network Information System personnel and your site information manager can help you get started.

1. Document and archive your original data.  Careful and accurate documentation of your data ensures protection and preservation of your valuable research effort in perpetuity.  Each LTER site has procedures for incorporating documentation and data into the site data store.  Site data managers can provide information and assistance in capturing your documentation and transforming it into machine readable metadata.  

2. Publish your data to the LTER Network Information System repository.  Data sets are combined with machine readable metadata into data packages that can be uploaded to the NIS by your information manager.  When your data are successfully published to the LTER Network Information System a DOI  will be registered with EZID and assigned to your data package.  You can locate the DOI along with a suggested citation format for your data online at

3. Include your new DOI in the references cited or acknowledgements of your papers.  Then anytime your data set DOI shows up in another publication a link will be made in the Web of Knowledge data base creating a citation index like that available for papers.

Finally, make the publication of data to the LTER Network Information System concomitant  with publication of results.  Typically among LTER researchers the data are prepared and published after the publication of results unless required by the journal.  With the data citation index there is motivation to move this process up in the data management lifecycle.   Published data can then be used by you and other LTER scientists to create cross-site synthetic data products that advance ecological knowledge and understanding.  Once fully embraced, data set citation will provide ecologists with a measure of research impact previously unrealizable. You can lead by example in citing your own published data.

1. Data Citation Index is part of the Web of Knowledge by Thomson-Reuters

2. EZID is a DOI subscription service offered to qualifying academic efforts by the California Digital Library.

Copyright 2013 James W Brunt