At the end of 2022, Dalhousie University will no longer have access to the Journal Citation Reports (JCR). This tool is best known for the Journal Impact Factor (JIF). JCR is a subscription product, and its owner has arbitrarily decided to allow subscriptions only in combination with another of its pricey databases, Web of Science. Dalhousie ceased subscribing to Web of Science after internal review found the journal coverage was already available through other, more cost-effective subscriptions. Fortunately, while the JIF is widely recognized, it is not unique. Other products are available through Dal Libraries that serve much the same purpose.
First, what is the Journal Impact Factor (JIF)?
The JIF was developed in the 1960s as a tool to help decide what journals should be included in the new Science Citation Index. It was developed to help librarians see what journals researchers were consulting. It was not in itself meant to determine quality of those journals. The JIF is calculated by averaging the number of citations to the journal’s contents as a whole over a two-year period. Only citations found in journals indexed in the Web of Science database count. The JIF does not look at citation counts at the article level – a few highly cited articles can sway the average.
It is worth knowing that citation counts are often used as a proxy for quality or “impact” but authors might cite an article for a variety of reasons, so metrics based on citation counts do have limitations.
In addition, not every academic journal is included in JCR. Only about 12,000 journals have a JIF calculated in JCR – a small fraction of the number of peer-reviewed journals currently publishing.
What is the JIF used for?
To identify a potential publisher of my work
The JIF is often used to help identify journals in which authors might aspire to publish. There are several alternatives to this.
- Scopus. Scopus has a metric called Citescore which is found by following the “Sources” tab on the Scopus homepage. CiteScore is a similar calculation to the JIF with two differences.
- The first is that it looks at the average number of citations over the previous four years instead of two.
- The second difference is that it considers citations found in journals indexed in Scopus instead of Web of Science. Because the two databases cover much the same content while Scopus is larger, citation counts tend to be a bit higher in Scopus.
- The databases specific to your discipline. While Scopus is a general academic database with emphasis on the sciences, other databases can be used to identify appropriate outlets for your work. By searching for your research topic is a subject-specific database (such as MLA (Modern Language Association, or AGRICOLA) you can see where other researchers are publishing their work. This has the advantage of helping to ensure that your article will be findable to people in your field.
To check the integrity of a journal
The JIF can also be used to determine whether a journal is “predatory”. Journals that lack integrity often advertise that they have various “Impact Factors” as a way to deceive authors. A quick way to check the veracity of these claims is by going to the recognized source – JCR. However, that is by no means the only way a journal can or should be assessed. Checking to see if the journal in question is indexed (included) in databases such as Scopus, Academic Search Premier, and the databases commonly used in your field is a way to not only see if a journal is possibly trustworthy, but also if publishing there will ensure the accessibility of your work. For more information, see https://dal.ca.libguides.com/c.php?g=257122&p=2830098
To assess the quality of research
Unfortunately, the JIF is often used to access the quality of the work of individual researchers. We say unfortunately, because this is not an appropriate use of this metric. As the very first statement of the internationally recognized San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) says, “1. Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions.” This is because the many limitations of citations as a proxy for quality, combined with the limitations of journal level metrics do not provide reliable insights into the value of work at the individual level.
Please contact one of Dal Libraries if you have questions about using Scopus or other subject specific databases to help you select a journal to publish in, look up a CiteScore, or have general questions about our resources.
W.K. Kellogg Health Sciences Library
Killam Memorial Library (Arts & Social Sciences, Computer Science, Management, Sciences)
MacRae Library (Agriculture)
Sexton Design & Technology Library (Architecture & Planning, Engineering)