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Impact Factors and Your Scientific Manuscript

Release Date: August 24, 2012
Category: Manuscript Writing

Key Points Summary

  • The impact factor of a journal indicates how many times articles published in that journal were cited by other articles during a particular year.
  • Impact factors can be used to identify journals that may result in greater exposure for your research and may produce more citations of your research within your field
  • Impact factor should not be the sole factor considered when determining the quality of a journal; it is only one piece of information you can use to identify a target journal for publishing your research.

Journal impact factor was developed by the Institute for Scientific Information (now part of Thomson Reuters). Thomson Reuters determines a journal’s impact factor by calculating the average number of times articles published by the journal during a particular 2-year period were cited in the subsequent year. Individual articles that are cited more times are considered more influential because citations indicate that the article was read and the results were considered in the design or interpretation of further research. This is why a higher impact factor indicates that a journal publishes more influential research.

Impact factor is a simple way to compare journals and offers an approximation of how widely a journal is read and the relative prestige of the articles in that journal. Some researchers also interpret a high impact factor as an indication that a journal publishes higher-quality research.

How You Can Use Impact Factors

Impact factors can indicate which journals have a larger readership and therefore offer greater visibility for your published manuscript. For example, a journal in your field with an impact factor of 5 is likely to be more widely read than a journal in your field with an impact factor of 1. Therefore, if you are considering two journals within your field with similar coverage, audiences, readership statistics, and publication fees, you could consider which has a higher impact factor when making your final target journal selection.

Although it can be helpful to consider impact factor when deciding on a target journal for your manuscript, it may be more important to submit to a journal within your field. Submitting your research to a journal with a high impact factor that is not widely read by researchers within your area of expertise could actually reduce the visibility of your research among colleagues in your field.

Impact Factor Caveats

Publishers, professional organizations, and researchers do not completely agree about the importance and significance of impact factors. Certain publishing policies can manipulate impact factor. For example, publishers can raise a journal’s impact factor by publishing more review articles, which are likely to be cited more frequently than original research manuscripts, and fewer case reports, which are less likely to be cited.

In addition, journals with a broad readership can have a few highly cited articles that increase the impact factor for the entire journal, even if most of the journal’s articles are not as highly cited. A number of professional associations and publishers have issued official statements discussing how they approach impact factor, and some have even proposed or developed alternative metrics.

More Resources for Impact Factor Information

  • Jump, Paul. Research Intelligence - Citing to win as journals 'game' system. Times Higher Education. (accessed 15 Aug 2012).
  • Saha, Somnath, Saint, Sanjay, and Christakis, Dimitri A. Impact factor: a valid measure of journal quality? J Med Libr Assoc. 91 (2003) pp. 42-46. (accessed 15 Aug 2012).
  • Thomson Reuters. The Thomson Reuters Impact Factor. (accessed 15 Aug 2012).

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