Understanding the Meaning of Impact Factor and Quartile Ranking for Scholarly Journals

As an academic scholar in any Nigerian University you might be hearing about Impact Factor (IF) journals and ranking of journals in terms of Quartile Scores. You may have also heard that your institution accepts a number of articles published in Thomson Reuters journals to get promoted to a particular level. Some other schools might be requesting that you publish in Quartile 1 (Q1) or Quartile 2 (Q2) journals before getting promoted. You may not even know how many Quartiles exist and what makes a journal a Q1 or Q2 journal.  In case of Q1, you might be required to provide one paper but to provide two papers if it’s a Q2 journal. The thing is you have no idea which journals are included in Q1 and Q2. Your school may be requesting that you submit articles to journals based on the Journal Citation Report (JCR) for promotion to rank of Professor or Associate Professor. You might have heard about JCR journal ranking and this language was strange to you. If you want to understand what these terms mean and how they concern your research career, then this article should be useful to you.

 

What is Impact Factor?

Impact Factor (IF) is used to measure the importance of a journal by calculating the number of times selected articles are cited within the last few years. The higher the impact factor, the more highly ranked the journal. This is one of the major tools used to compare journals in a subject category.

“High-impact journals” are those considered to be highly influential in their fields. A journal’s impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which an average article in that journal has been cited in a particular year.

Where Can You Find the Impact Factor of a Journal?

This is always a key question for most researchers. First step is to visit the online platform of the journal you desire to know its impact factor. Under Current Year, you will see the current “impact factor”. To view the Categories and Rank, click on All years: Scroll past the Key Indicators table and click on Rank from the lower left menu: A table called “JCR Impact Factor” will appear, with the Rank for each Category the journal is in. The Journal Citation Report (JCR) provides a ranking of impact factor of journals.

One important fact to note is that though Impact Factors are useful, they should not be the only consideration when judging quality. As MD Anderson observes, not all journals are tracked in the JCR database and, as a result, do not have impact factors. New journals must wait until they have a record of citations before even being considered for inclusion. Another important fact to note is that the scientific worth of an individual article has nothing to do with the impact factor of a journal. So scholars must be careful with the way articles are judged based on Impact Factor or even JCI reports.

The Journal Citation Report (JCR) does the ranking of Impact Factors. So the big question is: what is JCR?

What is a Journal Citation Report?

A Journal Citation Report (JCR) is an annual publication which provides information about academic journals in natural sciences and social sciences. This report is a publication by Clarivate Analytics which contains an analysis of the impact factor of a journal, thereby providing the specific journal’s high visibility, performance, and a ‘rich array of publisher-independent data’ relevance. The report is based on citations of articles is specific journals, among other indices for analysis. Most top Universities across the world base their assessment of articles for promotion on journals contained in the JCR. The JCR has been integrated with the Web of Science and is accessed from the Web of Science-Core Collections. The JCR aggregates the meaningful connections of citations created by the research community through data, metrics and analysis of the world’s high-quality academic journals. Only serious and well organized academic journals are selected for ranking in the first place. The report is primarily based on impact factors of the journals analyzed. It provides yearly rankings of science and social science journals, in the subject categories relevant for the journal (and there may be more than one).

Thomson Reuter’s Journal Citation Reports (JCR) also includes a ranking of journals. The top 25% of journals in a particular category are placed in Q1, the next in Q2 and so on. The JCR Impact Factor table includes the Quartile and Journal Impact Factor (JIF) Percentile for each year.

It is advisable to follow the JCR rankings in selecting journals you want to submit your articles to so that you will discover during assessment and promotions that the publications you have are acceptable to your institution based on the Assessment and Promotion’s (A & P) requirements. You can always ask your librarian for a copy of the most recent JCR so you can see a collection of journals to submit tour articles to. Once you get hold of the list, you can check the impact factor table to find out which journals in your subject area have a Q1 ranking. The next step is to shortlist your target journals from among the rankings.

 

READ ALSO: HOW TO KNOW IMPACT FACTOR FOR SOCIAL SCIENCE JOURNALS

 

So how can you find Journal Citation Reports?

You can access JCRs via the Web of Science database. Just click on the link for “Journal Citation Reports” at the top of the Web of Science homepage. You can search for a specific journal, view all journals or view a group of journals with a common subject area, publisher, or geographic area.

 

Important Facts About Journal Citation Reports

Research Information provides the important facts below which you need to understand about how journal citation report work and what it actually does.

The Journal Citation Report (JCR) is billed as the only journal report of its kind which is both complete and editorially selective; it contains all the data required to understand the components that index the value and impact of each journal as it captures all citations to the journal – including non-article materials such as editorials and policy-relevant comment. It also allows the status of a publication in that journal to be better interpreted, as it captures and highlights the network of references that connect one journal with another while identifying the key stakeholders – at institutional and international level – who lead that journal’s community.

The structured data are curated by a global team who continuously evaluate and select the collections of journals, books and conference proceedings covered in the Web of Science Core Collection to ensure accuracy in evaluating journal impact. These expert insights enable researchers, publishers, editors, librarians and funders to explore the key drivers of a journal’s value for diverse audiences, making better use of the wide body of data and metrics available in the JCR, including the Journal Impact Factor (JIF).

Keith Collier, managing director for publisher services at the Web of Science Group, said: ‘Each year, millions of scholarly articles are published containing tens of millions of citations. Each citation is a meaningful connection between two pieces of research, showing how research connects.

‘The JCR takes all of this selective, structured and comprehensive citation data and delivers it to the research community, so that they can make better decisions, leading to better outcomes. The journal selection that underpins the JCR is informed by more than 50 years’ experience of developing a citation index of substantive value, which cannot be matched.

‘This value is founded on a proven and trusted selection process as the journals included are chosen on criteria that are balanced across research cultures and regional domains, and on complete indexing of all documents that should be included and none that should be excluded. This meticulous attention and care is why the JCR has stood the test of time, to become part of the fabric of the research society.’

Journal Citation Ranking and Quartile Scores (Q1-Q4)

The Journal Citation Report provides Quartile rankings derived for each journal in each of its subject categories according to which quartile of the Impact Factor (IF) distribution the journal occupies for that subject category. Q1 denotes the top 25% of the IF distribution, Q2 for middle-high position (between top 50% and top 25%), Q3 middle-low position (top 75% to top 50%), and Q4 the lowest position (bottom 25% of the IF distribution)

How Quartiles are Measured in JCR

Quartiles are defined as the following:

X = the journal rank in category according to the metric (Journal Impact Factor, Total Citations, etc)

Y = the number of journals in the category.

Z = Percentile rank (X/Y)

(Note: Percentile rank of a score refers to the percentage of scores in its frequency distribution that are equal to or lower than it).

 Yearly Updates of Journal Citation Reports

The Journal Citation Report is an annual publication. Every new publication is an improvement on the previous (an update), the more reason why you should request for the most recent edition while making a choice of where to submit your articles. For instance, the 2019 update includes new benefits which build on the innovations from 2018, delivering richer, more detailed information to enhance users’ understanding of journal performance. According to Research Information, the 2019 edition provided the following updates which were not in the 2018 edition:

  • An enhanced Article Match Retrieval link service so publishers can directly link to the Journal profile page and promote this link on their website(s);
  • The ability to print/download the entire Journal profile page via the “Printable version” links ;
  • New graphs to show both the Journal’s percentile rank in a category by JCR year within the Journal Impact Factor Tile and key indicator metrics for a journal from within the Journal profile Page; and
  • A view of the breakdown of the “Uncited items” per article and the ability to view the Cited and Citing Journal Data in new JCR profile page.

Basic Uses of the Journal Citation Report

There are numerous uses of the Journal Citation Report but in a nutshell, the JCR plays the following key roles in research institutions and citadels of learning, as reported by Research Information.

The citation data, impact and influence metrics, and indicators contained within the JCR, are a vital resource for the entire research community: publishers, librarians, funders, institutions and individual academics. Publishers use the JCR to understand how their journals are performing, and to benchmark them against others in their discipline. Librarians use it to understand which journals are the most important to their institutions and researchers’ success and work, and which journals to subscribe to. The JCR is used by researchers as a definitive list and guide to discover and select the most appropriate journals to read and in which to publish their research findings.

    Information about Publication in the Journal Citation Report

The report provides the following data about the ranked articles and journals;

Basic Journal Information:

The information given for each journal includes:

  • the basic bibliographic information of publisher, title abbreviation, language, ISSN
  • the subject categories (there are 171 such categories in the sciences and 54 in the social sciences)

Citation Information:

Basic citation data:

  • the number of articles published during that year and
  • the number of times the articles in the journal were cited during the year by later articles in itself and other journals,
  • detailed tables showing
    • the number of times the articles in the journal were cited during the year by later articles in itself and other journals,
    • the number of citations made from articles published in the journal that year to it and other specific individual journals during each of the most recent ten years (the 20 journals most cited are included)
    • the number of times articles published in the journal during each of the most recent 10 years were cited by individual specific journals during the year (the twenty journals with the greatest number of citation are given)
  • and several measures derived from these data for a given journal: its impact factorimmediacy index, etc.

There are separate editions for the sciences and the social sciences; the 2013 science edition includes 8,411 journals, and the 2012 social science edition contains 3,016 titles. The issue for each year is published the following year, after the citations for the year have been published and the information processed. In the 2019 edition 283 journals were added to the list of journals analyzed and ranked. Of this number, 108 are fully open access. The JCR 2019 report reflected cover-to-cover indexing of 2.3 million articles, reviews and other source items. A total number of 11,877 journals from 81 countries across five continents were accessed and analyzed in 2019. The report covererd 236 disciplines, including the introduction of three new ones: Quantum Science & Technology (SCIE), Development Studies (SSCI) and Regional & Urban Planning (SSCI); and Seventeen journals were suppressed from the JCR this year to ensure the integrity of the reports, representing 0.14% of the journals listed. Integrity is a major watchword in JCR report writing. In fact, the JCR is the only citation index which monitors and excludes journals that demonstrate anomalous citation behaviour including where there is evidence of excessive journal self-citation and citation stacking.

Summing Up

So when next you hear about JCR based journals which your institution says are you should publish articles in such journals as part of the requirements for promotion, you now know what that language means. When you are told to submit your articles in Q1, Q2, Q3 or Q 4 journals you should understand what is required and have a list of such journals with you. When your institution says you should publish in Thomson Reuters Journals, you now understand they are talking about the JCR journals. Remember that the JCR is annual publication by Clarivate Analytics but it was previously the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters. That is the list between the “Thomson Reuter” and JCR. Don’t let the language confuse you. Also, you now know that the JCR is where you can find impact factor of journals. It is now simple for you to even check the Quartile Ranking or Impact Factor of the Journals where you currently have your articles published.

As was pointed out earlier in this article, though Impact Factors are useful, they should not be the only consideration when judging quality. This is because not all journals are tracked in the JCR database and, as a result, do not have impact factors. New journals must wait until they have a record of citations before even being considered for inclusion and this might take a while, which does not mean that articles contained in them are not high impact articles. Another important fact to note is that the scientific worth of an individual article has nothing to do with the impact factor of a journal. So scholars must be careful with the way articles are judged based on Impact Factor or even JCI reports. This is a very important observation and a good way to end this quick excursion into the world of Impact Factor and JCR based journals.

 

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is an experienced communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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