This post is part of a series, which serves to provide hands-on information and resources for authors and editors. It was first published in 2012 and has since been updated.
Scientific progress wouldn’t be possible without scientific journals, which play a crucial role in reporting new research findings. With thousands of scientific journals published today, obviously of varying quality, there is a need – for authors, readers, librarians, and funders alike – to have a reliable instrument for measuring a journal’s importance and relevance to the academic community.
The most common method of evaluating journals is bibliometric citation analysis, and its most universally used instrument is the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), which is calculated and published by Clarivate Analytics. The impact factor is determined by calculating the average number of times that articles within the journal are referred to by other articles. Simply put, the more often a journal’s articles are cited, the higher its impact factor.
The Journal Impact Factor is the oldest, most renowned, and extensively used index for measuring the quality of a journal. Having said that, it does have its flaws and can be manipulated, so it needs to be treated with some precautions. Nevertheless, since its creation in the 1970s, the impact factor has remained the chief quantitative measure of a journal’s quality, especially in STM (scientific, technical, and medical) fields. This does not apply as much to the social sciences and even less to the arts and humanities, as until 2023 impact factors were not calculated for these disciplines at all.
It goes without saying that two of the main goals of many journal editors are to get an impact factor in the first place and then to systematically increase its value.
Obtaining a Journal Impact Factor
The first goal can be achieved by submitting a journal for Clarivate Analytics review. Once it is accepted for coverage in the Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE), the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), or the Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI), the journal usually receives its first impact factor only three years later.
Of course, getting selected for coverage is not an easy task. Each year, Clarivate Analytics editorial staff reviews over 2,000 journals, and only around 10-12% of them are accepted for coverage. That is why avoiding rejection, which results in not being able to re-apply for the following 2-3 years, is paramount to any publication. Taking that on board – a journal needs to meet specific selection criteria, such as:
Basic Publishing Standards
A journal must be published on time (that is, according to its stated frequency). It is of essential importance, as Clarivate Analytics reviews three consecutive current issues, which need to be sent one at a time as they are published.
The journal also has to follow international editorial conventions (informative journal titles, fully descriptive article titles and author abstracts, complete bibliographic information for all cited references, and full address information for every author), publish full text – or at the very least, bibliographic information – in English, have cited references in the Roman alphabet and be peer-reviewed.
Clarivate Analytics editors look especially for journals that will enrich their database. If the topic is already adequately addressed in the existing coverage, a journal may be rejected. That is why there must be some good rationale for the journal to exist. In other words, a journal needs to have unique features and be distinguished from other journals in the field.
Clarivate Analytics checks whether the authors, editors, and editorial advisory board members are located around the world. They also verify if the journal reflects the global context in which scientific research takes place. However, it must be mentioned that to provide a well-balanced coverage in each category, Clarivate Analytics seeks to cover the best regional journals as well.
Clarivate Analytics looks for citations to the journal itself (capturing all cited references from each of the over 21,000 journals covered), the level of self-citations (which generally shouldn’t be above 20%) as well as citation records of the contributing authors and editorial board members – especially in case of relatively new journals, which don’t have an expanded citation history of yet.
More information on how to prepare and submit a journal for review can be found in the article Editorial selection process.
Increasing the Impact Factor
Getting an impact factor is hardly the final stage of a journal’s development. Most often, editors aim to increase its value each year as much as possible. There are many ways to achieve that goal, like some editorial policies explicitly adopted to alter the impact factor. Unfortunately, although not illegitimate per se, many are at least questionable and arguably lack academic integrity.
In general, the best, most direct and powerful way to increase the number of citations and, consequently, the value of the impact factor is to attract high-quality articles. That is definitely easier said than done, especially for journals with a low impact factor, which are not as attractive for potential authors as the ones with a high impact factor. However, there are some steps that editors may undertake to help themselves in that regard:
Grow The Number of Submissions, Then Grow Quality and Keep Volume
Editors can invite researchers working in the same field to publish in the journal or to organize special (focused) issues. Having grown the number of submissions, they will be able to reject more submissions that are of lesser quality. They should also make sure that the best, potentially highly cited papers are published quickly.
Editors can invite high-class specialists in the field as authors and members of the journal’s Editorial Advisory Board and solicit for review articles, which reflect the hottest and the latest results in the field – this kind of papers generally attracts more citations.
Grow Journal’s Visibility
There are a lot of ways to make a journal more visible. Editors should make sure that it is covered by as many abstracting and indexing services as possible (e.g. Google Scholar, SCOPUS or PubMed), which are among the most used sources of scientific information.
They should look for reviewers as broadly as possible and reach for world experts in the respective field. They can inform scientists working in a similar field and, being potentially interested in this article about its publication, inform cited authors that they have been cited by the journal, providing them with additional information about the article.
Editors can also promote the best articles via social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, academic and social networking sites, etc.)
Publish in Open Access
Although not all researchers agree, many studies suggest that open access articles are cited more often than articles published in a subscription model. This is doubtlessly thanks to the fact that authors are free from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only.
It is especially valid for researchers from countries with lower income, who don’t always have access to the literature in their field. While open access might not boost citations much in the developed countries, it undoubtedly results in a more significant impact in the rest of the world.
Most editors we asked for their opinion agree that striking a balance between following high-impact topics and providing high-quality services for authors and readers can be considered an effective strategy for improving the impact factor of a journal.
“To keep the impact factor rising it is essential to ensure the highest quality of the published articles – for that reason we select only the most original and innovative papers for consideration and constantly increase our rejection rate”, says Magdalena Wierzchowiecka, Managing Editor of Open Medicine (JIF 2022: 2.1).
Martin Kröger, Editor-in-Chief of Applied Rheology (JIF 2022: 1.8), adds:
“We appreciate submissions that are so carefully prepared that there is not a single character, not a single label whose relevance has not been triple-checked by the authors. Such manuscripts that cannot be improved anymore enlighten referees and readers by their clarity, rigor, respect and thoughtfulness and are the only ones that deserve being refereed, read and ultimately also published in a journal.”
The proper organization of editorial work is no less critical. According to Ewa Chmielewska, Managing Editor of High Temperature Materials and Processes (JIF 2022: 1.5), Open Astronomy (JIF 2022: 0.7), and Reviews on Advanced Materials Science (JIF 2022: 3.6):
“Nothing is more important than the trust of potential authors and readers in the quality of the peer-review process, which makes the published articles worth to be read and cited.”
Last but not least, the editors emphasize the role of promotion.
“The main activity influencing the growth of the impact factor is encouraging authors to disseminate their manuscripts among colleagues and on scientific websites. In addition, we promote review articles and ‘hot-topic’ articles”, says Natalia Pierunek, Managing Editor of Science and Engineering of Composite Materials (JIF 2022: 1.9).
Different journals have their own strategies in that respect. Vicentiu Radulescu and Runzhang Xu, Editors-in-Chief of Advances in Nonlinear Analysis (JIF 2022: 4.2), report:
“We have selected a very competitive editorial board – honorary editors and associate editors – from all parts of the world. These renowned editors promote the journal not only in their own papers, but also among their colleagues, collaborators, students, etc. In this way, the visibility of the journal has continuously increased. The publisher and the main editors have distributed promotional materials to the participants of several international conferences and workshops organized by top-level universities. In such a way, distinguished researchers have been encouraged to read the papers published in ANONA and submit papers to the journal”.
Agnieszka Topolska, Managing Editor of Open Chemistry (JIF 2022: 2.3), explains:
“Although it sounds obvious, sometimes we may forget what tools we have, how accessible they are and how easy to use. Article-level press releases via platforms like Science Daily and Eureka Alert might start to snowball and give more attention to the article. Social media usage to promote the content, especially via journal channels, should be supported by authors and editors. As they spread the word to their peers, for example via ORCID, Kudos, Publons, Researchgate, LinkedIn, Mendeley, or Twitter, the research community gets more chances to know about new publications of the journal.”
[Title Image via Getty Images]