The progress of science wouldn’t be possible without scientific journals, which play a key role in reporting new research findings. With thousands of scientific journals published today, obviously of various quality – there is a need – for authors, readers, librarians or 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 uses bibliometric citation analysis – and its most universally used instrument is impact factor, which is calculated and published by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), now part of Thomson Reuters. Impact factor is determined by averaging the number of citations a journal receives and 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 Impact Factor (IF) is the oldest, most renowned and extensively used index for measuring the quality of a journal, but having said that it does have its flaws and can be manipulated, so it needs to be treated with some precautions. Nevertheless, at least from the 1970s it remains the chief quantitative measure of the quality of a journal, especially in STM – scientific, technical and medical fields (not so much in social sciences – and for journals in the arts and humanities impact factors are not calculated at all).
It goes without saying then, that one of the main goals of journal editors is to get the impact factor in the first place and then to increase its value systematically.
How to get Impact Factor (IF)
The first goal can be achieved by submitting a journal for Thomson Reuters’ review. Once it is accepted for coverage in one of citation indices (Science Citation Index Expanded or Social Sciences Citation Index), it usually receives its first impact factor only three years later! Of course, being selected for coverage is not an easy task. Each year, Thomson Reuters 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 Thomson Reuters 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.
- Editorial Content. Thomson Reuters editors look especially for journals which will enrich their database. If the topic is already adequately addressed in 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.
- International Diversity. Thomson Reuters checks whether the authors, editors, and editorial advisory board members are from around the world. They also verify if the journal reflects the global context in which scientific research takes place. It must be mentioned however, that to provide a well-balanced coverage in each category, Thomson Reuters seeks to cover the best regional journals as well.
- Citation Analysis. Thomson Reuters looks for citations to the journal itself (it captures all cited references from each of over 12,000 journals covered, so citation information is available on journals not covered as well as those that are covered), the level of self-citations (which generally shouldn’t be above 20%) as well as citation record 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 a review can be found in the article The Thomson Reuters Journal Selection Process.
How to increase impact factor
Getting an impact factor is hardly the final stage of journal’s development. Most often editors aim to increase its value each year as much as possible. There are number of ways to achieve that goal, like some editorial policies which are adopted specifically to alter the impact factor of a journal. Unfortunately, many of them, although not illegitimate per se, 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 – as a consequence – the value of impact factor is to attract high quality articles. That is definitely easier said than done, especially for journals with low impact factor which are not as attractive for potential authors as the ones with high impact factor. However, there are some steps that the editors may undertake in order to help themselves in that regard:
- Grow number of submissions, then grow quality and keep volume. The editors can invite researchers working in the same field to publish in the journal or organize special (focused) issues. Having grown the number of submissions, the editors can reject more submissions which are of lesser quality. They can make sure that the best, potentially highly cited papers are published fast. They can invite high-class specialists in the field as authors and members of the journal Editorial Advisory Board and solicit for review articles reflecting 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. The editors can make sure that it is covered by maximum of abstracting and indexing services, which are one of the most used sources of scientific information. They can look for reviewers as broadly as possible and reach for world experts in the field. They can inform scientists working in the similar field and, being potentially interested in this article about its publication, inform cited authors that they have been cited by the journal’s articles as well as providing additional information about each of the article’s authors using similar keywords. They can also promote the best articles using social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, academic 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 subscription model. It is doubtlessly caused by the fact that the authors are free from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only. It is especially valid in case of 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 surely results in greater impact in the rest of the world.
Most editors we asked for opinion agree that the key to getting and increasing impact factor is attracting high quality papers. “Particular contributions are discussed at Editorial Board meetings; so acceptation of the paper is collective decision, to assure high paper quality”, says prof. Viliam Novak, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics (IF 2011: 0,340). Ms. Agnieszka Rozewska, Editorial Office Manager of International Journal of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science (IF 2011: 0,487): “We select carefully all submitted manuscripts – both by initial evaluation and complex external reviewing process. Papers selected for publication are then subject of in-depth editorial work, language verification included”. “The number of rejected manuscripts increased, we avoid the local papers and manuscripts without needed impact”, adds RNDr. Eva Chorvátová, Managing Editor of Geologica Carpathica (IF 2011: 0,787). Some editors go even further: “We are not publishing spontaneously submitted manuscripts anymore. We ask outstanding physicists to write reviews and tutorial papers instead. It means any submitted manuscript is processed exclusively by an invitation only. This, of course, requires our significant effort to select and convince scientists to accomplish our aims”, reveals Dr Andrej Gendiar, Managing Editor of Acta Physica Slovaca (IF 2011: 2,167).
Journals’ internationality is no less important. “We carefully selected the editorial board, with good international impact”, says Prof. Gregor Serša, Editor-in-Chief of Radiology and Oncology (IF 2011: 0,912. “We aim at increasing the number of authors from abroad – to the level of 30-50% at least – for example by soliciting papers from renowned scientists all over the world”, adds Prof. Romuald Zielonko, Editor-in-Chief of Metrology and Measurement Systems (IF 2011: 0,764)
Many editors point also at role of journal’s availability: “We ensured that full text of our papers are available in open access and proper metadata format so they can be indexed in appropriate services and search engines”, says Ms. Marta Bitner, Technical Editor of Archives of Metallurgy and Materials (IF 2011: 0,487). “Published papers are quickly indexed in important databases, which is easier as electronic version of the journal is hosted on professional platform MetaPress”, underlines Ms. Rozewska from International Journal of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. According to Prof. Romuald Zielonko from Metrology and Measurement Systems, decision about publishing in open access had the greatest influence on increasing journal’s impact factor.
This guest post was written by Marzena Falkowska. A graduate of the Institute of Library and Information Science, University of Wrocław, Marzena is the Manager of Abstracting & Indexing at De Gruyter.