Scopus vs Web of science journal; Which one is better

Nowadays, the importance of bibliographic databases (DB) has increased enormously.

They happen to be the primary providers of publication metadata, and bibliometric indicators universally used both for research evaluation practices and for carrying out daily tasks. Since the reliability of these tasks depends primarily on the data source, all database users should be able to select the best one for them. WoS or Web of Science and Scopus are the two main bibliographic databases. Complete assessment of database coverage is virtually impossible without in-depth bibliometric analyzes or literature reviews, but most database users lack bibliometric competence and/or are unwilling to invest additional time for such assessments. Apart from this – 

  • the convenience of the database interface, performance, 
  • provided impact indicators, and 
  • additional tools can also influence users’ choices.

This blog intends to offer all potential users a complete description of the two main bibliographic databases. This overview should help researchers select the most appropriate database for them. Partaking in a 2022 international conference should also help acquaint you with the individual merits of Scopus and WoS journals even better. 

Biological Databases – An Overview

  • The original purpose of scientific publishing was to enable the global sharing of scientific results, ideas, and discussions within the academic society for more effective scientific achievements. 
  • Nevertheless, over the years, the role of scientific publications has evolved enormously. 
  • Today, many of the most important decisions regarding – 
    • industrial and economic growth priorities, 
    • allocation of funding resources, 
    • education policies, 
    • creation of opportunities for collaboration, 
    • tenure,
    • the hiring of personnel academic, etc., 

are based on the evaluation of scientific production and the quality of research, approximated as an influence of a publication have become the most crucial criterion.

  • Since bibliographic databases (DBs) are the primary sources of publication metadata and citation metrics, their importance has also risen sharply. 
  • Scopus and Web of Science are usually the main bibliographic databases conventionally accepted as the most comprehensive data sources for various purposes. 
  • WoS was the first wide-ranging international bibliographic database
  • Therefore, over time, it has become the most influential source of bibliographic data traditionally used for journal selection, research assessment, bibliometric analyses, and other tasks. 
  • WoS was the sole source of bibliographic data for over forty years until 2004, when Scopus was launched by Elsevier. 
  • Over the years, Scopus has earned its reputation as a comprehensive bibliographic data source, and it has proven to be reliable and, in some ways, even better than WoS. 
  • However, because WoS and Scopus are commercial and subscription-based products, the worldwide recognition and use of these databases has resulted in their high price, making it rarely affordable for an institution to subscribe to both. 
  • As a result, institutions are often forced to choose between these data sources.
  • Usually, the choice of DB subscription institution is primarily determined by the parameters that are enforced in national and institutional research assessment policies. 
  • Apart from this, bibliographic databases are also the main data providers for the major global university ranking organizations. 
Fast Scopus Publication – IFERP
  • Despite the validity of these rankings is often questioned, their results still greatly influence the overall prestige of universities and play an important role in setting directions for future development. 
  • Nevertheless, bibliographic databases are not only used by governors or by the administration of universities to evaluate scientific advances, distribute funds or manage educational policies.
  • The majority of daily users of databases are – 
    • librarians, 
    • students, 
    • lecturers, and 
    • researchers, 

who exploit databases for other, more informal purposes because these days, such data sources have evolved from being simple publication metadata repositories to more complex networks incorporating detailed –

  • publication information, 
  • citation data, 
  • bibliometric indicators, 
  • journals, authors, 
  • institutions, as well as their 
  • analysis tools. 
  • Thus, databases are used not only to search for the most relevant literature and select journals to publish or subscribe to but also to – 
    • track personal careers, 
    • identify opportunities for collaboration or funding, etc. 
  • In such cases, the convenience and performance of the database’s web interface and additional features provided can also significantly influence database preference.

Comparing Scopus Publications & WoS Publications

  • Content Coverage & Citations
    • The breadth and completeness of the content covered is the most important feature of DB for obtaining reliable results. 
    • Obviously, both databases certainly offer broad coverage of the highest quality journals, as well as additional analysis tools for fast publication journals and citations. 
    • Both WoS and Scopus provide broad coverage of the disciplines of nature, medicine, health sciences, engineering, and technology and, therefore, could be used in research assessments of these disciplines.
  • On the other hand, the literature coverage of certain disciplines or fields in selective bibliographic databases should be assessed with extra care, as it strongly depends on several other aspects of coverage, such as indexed sources and types of documents and coverage of non-English language editions. 
  • However, although WoS and Scopus have made notable efforts to expand their coverage, particularly over the past decade, even the most recent studies have shown no significant improvement in book and conference proceedings coverage, concluding that the coverage of these types of documents is still insufficient for reliable analyzes or assessments in the disciplines where these types of sources are most prevalent. 
  • The same goes for coverage of non-English language publications and sources of regional importance. 
  • Therefore, the main biases towards the over-representation of English-language sources, the uneven representation of countries, and the under-representation of SSH literature remain the main limitations of these data sources. 
  • Nevertheless, several studies have shown that Scopus offers broader coverage, both publications, and citations, across all major fields and document types, as well as a better representation of non-English and regional literature. 
  • Thus, Scopus might be a better choice to carry out tasks in the context of arts and humanities and focus on more innovative and nationally-oriented research, especially when it comes to evaluating the quality of sources in these contexts since WoS does not provide impact metrics for these sources.
  • Meanwhile, the depth of coverage, especially when it comes to citations, is generally better in WoS. 
  • However, in some cases, the time to access citation data in WoS publications maybe even shorter than in Scopus publications due to content access limitations resulting from time restrictions stated in the subscription terms. 
  • The same restrictions also apply to posting data.
  • Additionally, the indexes accessible through the WoS CC subscription may also vary. 
  • Thus, although the possibility of modulating the WoS subscription offers institutions the possibility of paying just for the most pertinent content, these variations in the availability of WoS content make it very difficult to guarantee the reproducibility of any analyzes carried out from the WoS data. 
  • Variable access to WoS content can also make an assessment of WoS’s suitability for a particular task misleading when based on information provided by the database owner. 
  • Therefore, the official descriptive information of the WoS, as well as any type of results obtained from the WoS, should be evaluated with caution. 
  • Apart from this, the ability to use databases as data sources for large-scale literature reviews can also be hampered by certain limitations in data export and accessibility. 
  • Nevertheless, Scopus seems to provide better and easier access to data.
  • Content Quality
    • Due to the widespread practice of evaluating research according to the quality of scientific output, the quality of the journal becomes a leading criterion in picking a journal for publications, as the quality of research is currently evaluated by the quality of the journal in which it was published. 
    • The issue of journal quality has become even more important with the growing interest in open access (OA) publishing. 
    • This publication model aims to allow scientific content to be freely accessible to the public without the obligation of subscribing to a journal
    • In fact, in accordance with the Plan S initiated by the European Science Foundation, a number of countries already apply an obligation to publish publicly funded research according to the OA model. 
    • However, although open access publication is very beneficial because open access makes scientific research more – 
      • visible, 
      • transparent,  
      • reproducible, 

and also lessens the time it takes for the publication to be available online,

the unintended but possible effects of the OA on research and journal quality have become questioned.

  • However, the quality of content indexed in databases is defined not only by the quality of the indexed sources but even more so by the quality of the metadata provided, particularly for bibliometric analyses. 
  • Like any other platform hosting huge datasets, bibliographic databases are also not error-free. 
  • A lot of them occur due to the automatic loading of data into databases as machines sometimes fail to recognize and transfer data correctly. 
  • On the other hand, some errors may be caused by authors or editors even before the metadata is imported into the databases. 
  • Nevertheless, any discrepancies in publication metadata, source information, or other inconsistencies occurring in the databases not only complicate the analysis and other tasks but can also negatively affect the accuracy and reliability of the results obtained.
  • Content Indexing & Inclusion Policies
    • Traditionally, the high quality of the journal is perceived as its inclusion in WoS and Scopus, as these databases would index only the highest quality sources carefully selected under strict screening procedures. 
    • The CSAB (Scopus Content Selection and Advisory Board), which decides upon the inclusion of Scopus content, is an international group of –
      • scientists, 
      • researchers, and 
      • librarians,
      • representing major scientific fields. 
    • In WoS, this task is carried out by an internal editorial development team. 
    • Both databases publicly declare their content indexing policies, which are provided separately for various types of sources and are elaborated upon in numerous descriptive documents.
  • Nevertheless, Clarivate offers at least three separate documents outlining journal selection procedures. 
  • Apart from this, this information is also provided in other documents and websites.
  • Additionally, the inclusion of books and conference materials is described in additional documents and separate websites. 
  • At the same time, the descriptive information of Scopus is more concentrated because the selection criteria and policies for all types of documents are presented in general and separate descriptive documents and on a single website.
  • In both databases, sources are evaluated in several steps. 
  • When a journal is assessed for inclusion in WoS CC, after the initial screening to gather general information regarding the assessed source, the journal undergoes editorial screening, where a set of twenty-eight criteria is applied, including twenty-four quality criteria and four impact criteria. In Scopus, the evaluation criteria are grouped into five categories –
    • journal policy, 
    • content, 
    • journal status, 
    • regularity of publication, and 
    • online availability. 
  • However, the main criteria in both databases are the same –
    • the source has to be peer-reviewed, 
    • published in a timely manner, 
    • meet editorial standards, and 
    • certain citation thresholds indicating its impact. 
  • In addition, the linguistic criterion exists, requiring that abstracts and titles be written in English, and the importance of the international relevance of the content with references listed in roman characters is clearly indicated.
  • Nevertheless, a recent study of WoS CC journal inclusion criteria showed that WoS CC coverage not only depends on the general (universalist) inclusion criteria listed above but can also be potentially influenced by specific characteristics (particular) journals, such as the –
    • discipline represented, 
    • the language of publication, 
    • the type of publishing institution,  
    • the country of residence, and even 
    • the economic wealth of the country, 

since the majority of journals were published in languages ‚Äč‚Äčother than English and in smaller countries, and journals representing very specific areas of research, especially those published by universities, were found to have a lower probability of being included in WoS CC.

  • Meanwhile, from the perspective of universalist criteria, it has been observed that meeting editorial standards does not guarantee inclusion in WoS, while the quality of journal impact may have greater influence. 
  • The inclusion of all journals in WoS may be affected by these same determined biases.
  • “Predatory” Journals
    • Today, many publishers and journals exploit the OA model and its attractiveness to authors to collect APCs (article publishing charges), but they are highly questionable when it comes to peer review practices and overall reliability. 
    • These highly dubious publishers and reviews are most often referred to as “predators”, but they can also be referred to as “pseudo”, “fake” or “pirated”.
  • Predatory journals usually exploit names and other details, even web pages of credible reviews. 
  • Thus, it is often very difficult to determine the credibility of the journal. 
  • On the other hand, several characteristics can signal a possible predatory nature of a journal. 
  • For example, the APC fees of predatory journals are usually much lower than those charged by credible OA journals. 
  • Additionally, authors are often asked to pay APC only after their manuscript has been accepted. 
  • Other characteristics include the absence or questionable location and composition of journal editorial boards, as their members often lack academic skills. 
  • Often, predatory journals also do not clearly state manuscript submission, review, acceptance, and licensing policies. 
  • In 2012, Jeffrey Beall compiled and published a list of nearly fifty criteria for identifying predatory publishing and continually updates these criteria and an index of publishers as well as individual journals meeting these criteria.
  • Although these criteria are often considered controversial, predatory journals have generally been shown to meet several of the criteria set out by Beall.
  • However, there is no common definition that clearly distinguishes between predatory and credible open access publications. 
  • Download the IFERP app for access to the best and most reputable Scopus as well as Web of Science journals around the globe. 
  • Nevertheless, aiming to index themselves in the DBs in order to create a brand image and attract more authors, these artificial journals have evolved, and they even manage to pass the selection process of the large bibliographic ones, as well as OAs, DBs, and unethical ones, the nature of predatory journals can only be noticed after a long time. 
  • For example, in January 2018, Elsevier halted the indexing of 424 journals in Scopus, citing “publishing issues” and, less commonly, “metrics” as the reason for the halt.
  • A plausible hypothesis was made that these journals were potentially or actually predatory. 
  • More recently, a more detailed review of journals removed from Scopus for publication reasons was conducted. 
  • The study indeed confirmed that the majority of abandoned titles could be considered predatory journals (77% of abandoned journals were included in Beall’s blacklist). 
  • Even so, it has also been determined that the problem of predatory OA appears to be very limited to the United States and, in a few, primarily to developing countries (e.g., India, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria). 
  • Having published in a predatory journal can damage the reputation of the authors. 
  • Thus, although the open access publishing model offers researchers faster dissemination and greater visibility of their work when selecting a journal to publish, open access journals, even those indexed in Scopus and WoS, must be assesed with caution. 
  • Attend an online virtual conference to learn more about predatory journals and how to avoid them. 

Although over the past decade, there has been significant growth in available data sources and bibliographic metrics, the Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus (DB) databases remain the two primary and most popular sources, complete with publication metadata and impact indicators. Therefore, they serve as major tools for a variety of tasks – from journal and literature selection or personal career tracking to large-scale bibliometric analyzes and research assessment practices at all possible levels. However, since both publication databases are expensive and fee-based data sources, institutions often have to choose between them.

Inspite of the fact that the WoS and Scopus databases have been widely compared for over 15 years, the Scientometric community has yet to come to a verdict on “which is better”. On the other hand, both databases are constantly being improved due to the intense competition and the noticeable transfer of academic activities to an Internet-based digital environment. Therefore, today they encompass so many features and functionality that it is impossible to draw such a general conclusion because a database may be a better choice for one purpose but less so for another. Therefore, if an institution has access to both databases, each member of the institution should be able to make a personal and informed decision as to which is best for a particular task.

Despite the serious biases and limitations that WoS and Scopus share, in the author’s opinion, Scopus is better suited both for evaluating search results and for performing day-to-day tasks for several reasons. 

  • First, Scopus offers broader and more inclusive content coverage. 
  • Second, the availability of individual profiles for all authors, institutions, and serial sources, as well as the interdependent DB interface, make Scopus more convenient for practical use. 
  • Additionally, thirdly, the impact indicators implemented perform as well or better than the measures provided by WoS, are less susceptible to manipulation and are available for all serial sources across all disciplines.

However, more importantly, Scopus is subscribed as a single database, with no confusion or additional restrictions regarding content accessibility. Additionally, Scopus is more open to society, as it provides free access to author and source information, including metrics. On the other hand, WoS also offers its own set of perks. For example, it may be more suitable for searching and analyzing open access resources at the publication level.

Generally, the suitability of DB depends primarily on the objectives and application context of the particular task, including consideration of the required degree of selectivity and level of aggregation. Nevertheless, academic institutions will be forced to subscribe to the WoS and Scopus databases, or at least one of them, as long as their provided metrics remain the core elements of research assessment practices and for undertaking daily tasks. Therefore, the institution’s choice of DB subscription is primarily determined by the parameters that have been applied in national and institutional research assessment policies. On the other hand, since publication and rating trends, as well as the databases themselves, are not constant, new information about the suitability of databases for particular ratings may, in turn, suggest changes to these policies. In any case, changes in review policies are needed because the widespread obligation to publish research results only in Web of Science journals and Scopus journals and the fact that the careers and salaries of researchers often depend on the number of these publications inevitably affect their behavior, shifting their focus from quality to quantity, which poses a threat to the overall quality of science.

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