The substantive and practical significance of citation impact differences between institutions: Guidelines for the analysis of percentiles using effect sizes and confidence intervals

Richard Williams, Lutz Bornmann

In our chapter we address the statistical analysis of percentiles: How should the citation impact of institutions be compared? In educational and psychological testing, percentiles are already used widely as a standard to evaluate an individual's test scores - intelligence tests for example - by comparing them with the percentiles of a calibrated sample. Percentiles, or percentile rank classes, are also a very suitable method for bibliometrics to normalize citations of publications in terms of the subject category and the publication year and, unlike the mean-based indicators (the relative citation rates), percentiles are scarcely affected by skewed distributions of citations. The percentile of a certain publication provides information about the citation impact this publication has achieved in comparison to other similar publications in the same subject category and publication year. Analyses of percentiles, however, have not always been presented in the most effective and meaningful way. New APA guidelines (American Psychological Association, 2010) suggest a lesser emphasis on significance tests and a greater emphasis on the substantive and practical significance of findings. Drawing on work by Cumming (2012) we show how examinations of effect sizes (e.g. Cohen's d statistic) and confidence intervals can lead to a clear understanding of citation impact differences.

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