It’s Impact Factor season!

By Karen Shrayer, Editor, SAGE Publishing

It’s Impact Factor season! The time of year that publishers, editors, and societies anticipate with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. The Impact Factor (IF), a metric for measuring the impact of a journal’s articles, is arguably the most well recognized measure for comparing journals and evaluating their relative importance in their given field.

The calculation itself is relatively straightforward. The Impact Factor is the number of citations a journal receives to articles published in the two previous years divided by the number of articles published in those same two years – basically, the average number of citations an article in a particular journal received over a two-year period. For example, the Impact Factor released in June 2019 will be calculated by adding together citations made in 2018 to articles published in 2016 and 2017 and divided by the total number of articles that journal published in 2016 and 2017.

Cites made in 2018 to articles published in 2016 + Cites made in 2018 to articles published in 2017 = 2018 Impact Factor. Number of articles published in 2016 + Number of articles published in 2017

Savvy editorial teams can impact their score in an appropriate way with smart editorial decisions. Because the Impact Factor is basically an average of the number of citations per article, there are effectively two ways to change the number – increase citations or decrease the number of articles published while maintaining the number of citations.

To work towards increasing citations, editorial teams should first analyze the citation patterns for their journal, as well as those from close competitors if possible. Note which topics, authors, and types of papers receive the most citations and which are receiving low or no citations. Map the journal’s policy to include article types that receive more citations – these tend to be review articles, special issues, and special collections. Low cited article types such as case studies and book reviews should be minimized.   

Invite highly cited and well-known authors to submit articles to the journal. Sleuth out impactful, well-attended sessions at conferences and invite those presenters to submit their research to your journal.

Last but certainly not least, focus on promotion of the journal’s articles, especially those articles that are likely to be cited. Encourage authors to do their own promotion through their networks. Utilize society contacts, social media accounts, and membership databases to spread word about important articles. Work with your publisher to identify hot topic articles and use their marketing resources to help spread the word. Examples of this include creating a free access campaign, dissemination via social media or email, and in some cases, creating a press release or a blog post. 

See the post on SAGE’s Editor Gateway for more specific information on ways to increase a journal’s Impact Factor here.

Now, a few notes of caution. While there are appropriate ways to focus on highly citable material, it’s also important to avoid “gaming the system”. Clarivate Analytics, the company that owns and manages the Journal Citation Reports and the Web of Science, looks for journals that engage in nefarious practices to increase their Impact Factors, such as inappropriate self-citation or underhanded agreements between the Editorial teams of different journals to encourage citations in each others’ publications. Journals engaging in these practices are subject to suppression by Clarivate and are at risk of losing their Impact Factors.

While it is of course nice for a journal’s Impact Factor to increase each year, in reality, it is unlikely to see year on year increases over a long period. IFs tend to bounce up and down a bit, but ideally, a journal’s trend will be upwards. Some specialties are also starting to pay more attention to the 5-year Impact Factor, which looks at the average number of citations over a five-year window of time rather than the traditional two-year. This can be more accurate in fields where it takes longer for articles to accrue citations, especially in the Humanities and Social Science fields. Check out SAGE’s recent announcement on the 5-year Impact Factor and our recent report, ‘The Latest Thinking About Metrics for Research Impact in the Social Sciences,’ which summarizes the key points from a workshop SAGE convened at Google’s main campus earlier this year and lays the groundwork for improving social and behavioral science impact metrics.

While editors can increase their IFs by publishing certain authors or types of material, make sure that continuing to serve your readership remains at the forefront of all editorial policies. Case studies may not receive much in the way of citations, but if your readership benefits from them, continue to include them.

Finally, please do keep in mind that the Impact Factor is just one way to measure a journal. The IF has seen a backlash in recent years as scholarly communities react to the emphasis that has been placed on it. It is too simplistic a measure to fully capture the scope and quality of any journal. There are many other factors that can and should be used to gauge a journal’s quality, including quality of the editorial team and editorial board, journal acceptance rate, affiliation with important associations or publishers, Altmetric scores, h index, etc. Ensure you have a holistic view of a journal before determining its quality, instead of relying too heavily on just one metric.

About

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Karen Shrayer manages and acquires journals in Education and Special Education in the SAGE US HSS department. As a Publishing Editor, she works closely with associations to manage the business and editorial development of their journals. She has been in this role with SAGE for four years. Prior to joining the SAGE team, Karen worked in a number of publishing and communication roles in both the HSS and STM fields. Her first foray into publishing was as an Editorial Assistant for medical journals at Blackwell Publishing in 2004. She now works remotely from outside Boston, reporting into the SAGE Thousand Oaks office.