Importance of impact factor in scholarly journals in academic and research publishing

Importance of impact factor in scholarly journals in academic and research publishing

Importance of impact factor in scholarly journals in academic and research publishing

Impact factor meaning

Impact factor (IF), also known as journal impact factor (JIF), of a scholarly journal refers to the scientometric index that indicates the annual average number of citations that published research and scientific based articles presented in the last two years in a given journal. It is usually used as a substitute to determine the relative importance of a journal within its scope and discipline; scholarly journals with the greater impact factor are often considered as having more significance and credibility compared to journals with lower impact factor.

How impact factor is calculated

Impact factor is used as a scale to measure or evaluate the quality and importance of an academic journal by expressing the number of reference and proposed articles cited for validating a study or research. It works as the parameter to underline the relative significance and value of a scientific journal. This is done to calculate the frequency of articles appearing in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR).

Measuring the impact factor of scholarly journals has been in practice since 1975, covering every academic and scientific journal listed in the JCR. If a published article is cited one time, then it represents the impact factor on a scale of 1.0. Similarly, if a published article is cited 4 times, then the scale denotes the impact factor of 4.0. Scholarly journals with high impact factors are more remarkable and notable vis-a-vis journals with lower impact factor. The listing and ranking of scholarly and scientific journals in their respective fields and disciplines by the JCR are based on the level of impact factor these journals earned. In simple terms, impact factor is a scale of evaluating the relevance of scientific journals based on the citation frequency of journals with the purpose to make comparison possible.

A high citation frequency implies the journal has a high impact on the scientific community. It is assumed that journals with high impact factor fulfill high standards of quality.

How to find the impact factor? 

The impact factor can be found in the web of science database, which can be accessed via library and journal websites. The impact factor can be found under the JCR after insertion of the journal’s name. This allows users to access the calculation report of the journal’s impact factor in the given year. The impact factor of the given year determines the frequency of how often journal articles from the two preceding years were cited in a given year, and it relates the figure to the sum of articles from the relevant journals that were published in the same period.

Impact factor without journal self cites 

Self cites indicate how often articles in a journal refer to articles in the same journal. The impact factor of a journal can be deliberately increased by self cites. This has drawn several criticisms on journal’s impact factor from the scientific community. Another form of criticism is that impact factor is based on the fact that it is mainly determined for the Anglo-American journals. For example, journals in Germany rarely have an impact factor to determine the standard and trust of a scholarly journal because of the low international distribution. For this reason, it is advisable to depend on other quality parameters to understand the relevance and value of a journal.

What is the difference between journal impact factor and cite score?

Generally, journal impact factor and cite score are the metrics used for assessing the quality of a journal.

Impact factor:

It is the journal quality indicator that is based on the number of papers cited in the last two years. For example, to calculate the impact factor of a journal for the year 2019, the parameters are as follows:

1.  X= How many number of times the paper cited in the year 2019 were published in 2018 and 2017.

2.  Y= Total number of citable papers in those two years.

3.  Now, IF= X/Y

4.  Cites in 2019 to papers published in 2018=35, 2017=65 (Total X) =100

5.  The number of papers published in 2017-100, 2018-200 (Total Y) =300

6. Impact factor = X/Y =100/300 =0.33 (impact factor value after calculation)

7. Web of science follows impact factor as the quality metric for most of its journals, for example, the impact factor of “Nature” or the impact factor of Scientific Reports.

Cite Score:

1. Cite score is the same as the impact factor, but rather the last three years cited papers are considered for calculation.

2. Generally, journals indexed in Scopus database have cite score as the quality metric.

3. In other words, cite score is the Scopus impact factor.

Difference between impact factor and cite score:

1. All the journals indexed in Scopus have cite score as the quality metric.

2. Whereas all the journals that are indexed in Web of science have impact factor as the quality metric.

Impact factor is not encouraged for comparison between or across different academic disciplines because the citation rate would differ based on subject hierarchy. Citations received from a mathematician would be more in comparison from the chemist. Journals with more citation rates and impact factor are more endorsed and trusted by scholars, researchers, authors, academicians, professionals, and experts. Publishing in a journal with high impact factor can determine the value and background of a research or author, as they attain more recognition and value than other researchers who publish in journals with a low impact factor.


Science is a subject that is almost impossible to define and understand by just one word. It is study that is intriguing, vital, innovative, complex, ground-breaking, and much more. And a lot of scientific research and data are disseminated through science journals, with articles being the primary unit for data sharing. With thousands of active journals and possibly millions of papers and articles published yearly, it is quite easy to get lost in the profusion while searching for the most relevant research information in a journal. And this is where impact factor comes in as the most useful and handy tool to narrow down the confusion. It is one of the only assessment tools available that can be used to compare journals in a subject category and it is worth investing time and effort in finding out more about impact factor if you have due regard for relevant science, effective reading, and important discoveries.

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