Can you quantify your journal’s value? Answering that question is the premise behind the journal impact factor, a construct developed and applied to measure a journal’s importance and relevance in its respective field. The impact factor number tracks the average number of citations to a publication across channels. The more citations, the greater the perceived value of the publication. Today’s impact factor has evolved.
What is the journal impact factor?
Historically, the goal of the impact factor was to provide a quantitative measurement of influence and popularity by tracking the number of times a publication was cited in other external research documents. The Journal Citation Reports has been publishing impact factor numbers since 1975.
Most readers will know that the Impact Factor is calculated by:
Number of article citations in a year associated with articles published in the previous two years
Total number of citable articles within the same timeframe
Outside of this calculation, understanding the impact isn’t quite so simple. Funding, promotions, and even the volume of author submissions affect the impact factor. There are limitations to the ratings, which must be interpreted carefully.
The science community considers the impact factor controversial at best, arguing that these metrics may only popularize topic selection geared toward higher impact factor ratings. When Clarivate launched the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) in 2015, filled with up-and-coming niche journals striving to make an impact in the research community, the community was abuzz. By early 2022, some of those journals still had not been assigned an impact rating — but were still “emerging.”
What are the changes to the journal impact factor?
In July 2022, Clarivate Analytics announced expansion of the impact factor standards to all the journals in the Web of Science Core collection, including arts and humanities publications. The change affects almost 9,000 journals from more than 3,000 publishers. Many of these are smaller publishers from developing countries. The evaluation process includes a set of 28 criteria, including four metrics for an impact factor rating:
- Comparative citation analysis: Number of citations from reputable sources, as well as the sustainability of those citations.
- Author citation analysis: Authors should have a strong publication history, deemed appropriate to the specific journal category in question.
- Editorial board citation analysis: Editorial board members should have a reputable publication history, deemed appropriate to the specific journal category in question.
- Content significance: Journal content should demonstrate value to the reader, such as providing a unique perspective or new information that advances knowledge in the area intended.
Some publishers argued the problem with these criteria is the element of human decision-making in the evaluation process via an editorial board. But this isn’t the only criterion needed for an impact factor rating.
There are 24 journal quality measures encompassing peer review, publication timeliness, editorial board affiliations, ethics, and more. Most journals that passed these measures were included in the Web of Science Core Collection. If the journal met the 24 quality measures in the past but didn’t meet the four impact measures listed above, they were placed in the emerging category and included in the ESCI index.
Now, with the 2023 changes, a journal can meet the 24 journal quality metrics but miss the four impact measures and still receive an impact factor rating.
What do these changes mean for publishers?
Having a journal in the Core Collection brings greater searchability and expands the journal’s reach. It signals the publication has met core quality standards and will likely accelerate the time it takes for a new journal to receive an impact factor rating. This is good news for journals that have been “emerging” in the ESCI for years.
According to Clarivate, “Expanding the [journal impact factor] to ESCI journals will help them demonstrate their value to the research community. This decision is aligned to our position that publications in all quality journals, not just highly cited journals, should be eligible for inclusion in research assessment exercises.”
There’s no question that researchers and institutions need to make decisions based on high-quality data. We can only predict what these changes will bring in 2023 and beyond.