The Most Cited Research Papers Ever Written


ornerstone, noun:

Historically, a cornerstone was the first stone set in construction. All other stones were set in reference to this stone. It determined the position of the entire structure.

I came across Google Scholar’s list of the most cited research ever written recently. Of the hundred strong list, I recognised three names. Just three.

I wanted to put that right. These papers changed the world and I wanted to find out why. Here are the twelve most cited pieces of research ever written. When I find time, I intend to go through more.


The most cited research article ever written.

The article is cited for a method it outlines but the paper isn’t about the method at all. It exists only as a footnote.

The method – SDS Gel Electrophoresis – made it faster and more precise to separate and analyse proteins.

Fun fact: the Swiss scientist’s Wiki page is 138 words long…

Most Cited Research Paper Ever


Often regarded as the most cited research article of all time.

Lowry’s 11-page article details a method to measure the concentration of protein in a sample. It built on, and improved, the existing process for protein measurement.

Fun fact: Lowry never intended to publish the method. Peer pressure made him.  

Second Most Cited Research Paper Ever


Another biochemist, another protein measurement method.

Bradford made protein measurement around 4x faster than the previous best method, based on Lowry’s 1951 article.

Fun fact: the dye that enables this method was designed for the textile industry. Bradford thought it had wider applications. 200k citations say he was right.

Third Most Cited Research Paper Ever


The ‘cloning bible.’

This 545-page spiral-bound manual contained almost every technique needed to manipulate DNA.

When there was nothing else out there, this made the technology palatable and usable so people who had interesting problems weren’t afraid to jump in and do it.

Fourth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


A cookbook scientists could snack on.

Numerical computation was for experts. Until this book.

At the advent of computers, well before the open source software movement, it enabled people to use numerical techniques without becoming an expert in applied mathematics.

Fifth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


A “how-to” for case studies.

Case studies have been used forever but their credibility came under attack in the mid-20th Century when numbers > stories.

Yin’s readable, well-designed and example-laden book helped restore their reputation and sowed the seeds for a revival.

Sixth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


A ‘Paradigm shift’.

The most famous idea so far. Published in 1962, it was the first and most important book to unwrap the idea of scientific progress.

Kuhn said progress isn’t continuous. It’s cyclical. Business-as-usual, crisis, paradigm shift, new-normal.

It was radical.

Seventh Most Cited Research Paper Ever


0 and 1.

The cornerstone of our digital revolution.

The most remarkable piece of research I’ve read.

Eigth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


An idea that shocked Daniel Kahneman.

Power analysis. The statistical kind.

The what, why and when guide to statistical power that helped psychologists and other researchers improve their work and test their theories.

Ninth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


20th Century Darwin.

This book is an entry-level guide to genetic algorithms, which fuse the mechanics of evolution with the power of computers to eliminate an important issue when solving complex problems: asking the right questions.

Interdisciplinary thinking at its best.

Tenth Most Cited Research Paper Ever


Grounded Theory.

The summer of ’67, a time when quantitative methods were considered the only unbiased way to determine truths about the world, this theory started an intellectual coup.

Behavioural scientists finally had a legitimate base to do qualitative analysis.

Eleventh Most Cited Research Paper Ever


Only four people have won two Nobel Prizes.

Frederick Sanger, the author of this article, is one of them.

20 years’ after DNA’s double-helix structure was discovered, Sanger taught scientists the best method to read DNA’s letters. It made the Human Genome project possible.

Twelfth Most Cited Research Paper Ever
May 20, 2021
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