Journal Impact Factor Explained
Impact Factor: What is It and Why is It Important?
You might already be familiar with the colorful world of journals, their rankings and the race of some scholars to publish in journals with high impact factors (IF) attached to them. Some universities and other institutions, as well as grant agencies, require their employees to publish in journals with an IF. The higher the impact factor, the bigger the importance, prestige and bragging rights. But although research is often evaluated based on where it gets published, you shouldn’t get too overwhelmed with these somewhat artificial standards of quality – especially when submitting your article for the first time.
What is Impact Factor?
Impact equals effect. There are different ways of looking at it – article’s impact, journal’s impact, author’s impact. To quantify an article’s overall effect it is best to look at how many times it was cited. The journal’s impact factor is calculated yearly and refers to the average number of citations received per paper published in that journal during the two preceding years. This means that if in 2015, the journal Creativity and Innovation Management had an impact factor of 1.143, articles published in this journal in 2013 and 2014 were cited on average 1.143 times each by other indexed publications. Usually, journals get an IF value after two years of publishing. You can often see journals also using a 5-year impact factor, which is the average number of times articles published by this journal in the past five years have been cited.
The gentleman credited with coming up with citation indexes that track and count citations was Eugene Garfield. His ideas evolved into the Web of Science (WoS), managed by Thomas Reuters, where you can view a comprehensive index of journals and article citations (this service is subscription-based). Google Scholar is another alternative and is considered a poor man’s version of WoS. Impact factors of journals are available from a database called the Journal Citation Reports which is related to WoS. Journals also generally feature their IF on their websites.
Tracking Who is Citing You
You can use Web of Science and Google Scholar to track how many times you’ve been cited. You can do a Cited Reference Search in WoS or search in Google Scholar Citations. It is also possible to create an alert in both WoS and Google Scholar so you get notified when new articles cite your work.
Should You Always Care About the IF?
IF has received a lot of criticism and alternatives have been suggested. For example, the quality of articles published in a certain journal can vary greatly and editors sometimes use editorial policies to boost their journal’s IF. Review articles are usually more cited than original research articles, so there might be a bias towards these type of articles to increase the journal’s IF.
There is no conclusive answer as to what constitutes a ‘good’ IF, but higher numbers suggest higher ranking journals. Most journals’ IF is below 10. When you start, you’ll generally be looking at numbers around 1 and 2 (or lower).
It’s of course important to publish your work, so it can reach other people and get read. It’s also true that more visible journals will more likely attract more readers. However, you should not choose the journal you want to submit to just based on its IF. Generally, it is more important to decide on a journal that fits your topic, and is read by people in your field, than solely worrying about a journal’s impact factor.