How do you measure academic impact? Metrics are a common facet of our lives, especially in academic environments. For journals and their publishers, measuring how content resonates can influence the course of editorial strategies and track the productivity of publishing programs. There are a variety of ways today to measure the impact of your publication, from journal-specific metrics such as readership, to CiteScore citation metrics, the Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP), and the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR). But it’s worth taking another look at the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) and exploring why this measurement is still the most popular, despite some flaws.
The Journal Impact Factor: A Refresher
As many journal publishers know well, the JIF tracks and averages the frequency of citations to your publications. In effect, it serves as a shorthand for the relevance of your journal by calculating the times its articles are cited in other published articles. The annual calculations are based on the previous two-year timeframe, dividing the number of times articles are cited by the number of articles that can be cited.
JIF was launched in the 1960s by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), now part of Clarivate Analytics. Information scientists and librarians have been monitoring the success of journals for more than 75 years, but the Clarivate model is one that stuck (although as you’ll see, the model is increasingly under attack). In 1975, the organization began publishing this data in its Journal Citation Reports (JCR).
Why use the Impact Factor?
If you’re seeking to gauge the immediacy and influence of your publication or the profile of your research, JIF is an easy framework for measuring your engagement in a particular academic discipline. But does it hold up? Proponents say the JIF clarifies citation frequency in a way that eliminates the bias around large versus small journals or older (more respected) publications over their younger counterparts. However, Clarivate proclaims, “All things being equal, the larger the number of previously published articles, the more often a journal will be cited.”
Although a 2018 article describes the JIF as coming under increasing scrutiny, it quotes a sociologist with the Max Planck Society who concludes this impact metric “should not be generally damned for its use in research evaluations.” Information scientists Vincent Larivière and Cassidy Sugimoto express concern that the citable item count is heightened with letters to the editor, news, and obituaries. The two-year citation window is also suggested as a limiting factor, pointing out that most biomedical research receives the bulk of its citations 8 to 13 or more years after publication.
As argued in a 2019 article by author engagement platform developer Kudos, there is validity in supplementing JIF with additional metrics that measure the impact of the publication in the real world.
Measuring the real-world impact of your publication
Traditional measurements of academic reach have sought to measure the impact of publications in that field. So typically, we would see the JIF coupled with an H-index measurement to track both the reach within the academic community and the impact of the researcher or author. But Professor Mark Reed at Newcastle University suggests that designing real-world metrics for academic publications could be the answer for journals seeking relevance in a changing world. Reed suggests a 10-point impact measurement for organizations seeking real-world relevancy. This includes:
- How did the research impact human understanding of a particular issue?
- Did the research change attitudes or behaviors?
- Did the publication contribute to cost savings, profit, or otherwise have a financial impact?
- How did the study affect the health and well-being of a population?
Measuring the impact of your journal, no matter what evaluation you use, keeps publishers focused on the purpose and not the process of our research. Reed does bring up an interesting point that speaks to the criticism of the JIF metric. The best academic research can have a substantive impact on culture, society, health, and so many other areas that affect our world. While JIF continues to measure the reach in the academic community and is thus still relevant, our work impacts the world and should be measured as such.
Contact your Sheridan or KGL representative for a consultation or visit our contact pages ( Sheridan contact page / KGL contact page ) to learn how we can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.