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“How long does it take to get a Journal Impact Factor?” That’s one of the first questions we often hear from new or developing open access (OA) journals.

For your first Journal Impact Factor (JIF), it takes about three years — because your JIF will be based on the number of citable items from the last calendar year (e.g., 2020) and the two years of publication data before that (e.g., 2018 and 2019). But when it comes to increasing and demonstrating journal impact, is it really all about the JIF?

No, there is so much more.

In this blog post, we look beyond the JIF as the sole metric for success and discuss some alternative measures to show journal impact, as well as tips for implementing them.

1. Start with the basics

The first step to increasing the impact of any journal is ensuring researchers can easily find its content in related online searches, and integral to that is producing and disseminating quality article-level metadata. Content registration services such as Crossref have evolved to serve as discovery platforms with citation and reference linking tools. By prioritizing making clean, correct, and rich metadata deposits to them, you can make your articles more discoverable. Crossref metadata is also used by third-party databases/vendors, like Kudos and Altmetric, as a vital component of their services, expanding the discovery value of Crossref metadata deposits. So start by making a plan to produce and submit quality core and, where possible, enriched metadata to the DOI registration service of your choice. Here are five of the top rich metadata elements to focus on.

Next, consider where you are indexing your content. And are you working with aggregators to host the abstracts or full text of your articles? Applying to have your articles indexed with the main directories in your subject discipline and those for OA journals, like the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), as well as to have your content added to relevant aggregators, can further increase its discoverability. This will, in turn, help you reach a wider audience, improve your article citation prospects, and gain access to different impact assessment tools provided by indexes and aggregators.

So, where is the first place to start? Review the journal evaluation processes for the indexing and aggregation services you are part of or would like to apply for, like Web of Science (WoS), Scopus, and the DOAJ, to cross-check your journal against their requirements and recommendations. Then develop a plan to apply for or take steps to improve the quality of your deposits to those indexes/aggregators, setting priorities based on the requirements and recommendations that are most feasible for your team to implement in the short term. The more achievable your goals are in the near future, the more likely you’ll be to reach them.

2. Provide post-publication support to authors

In addition to taking steps to ensure your journal articles are discoverable, promoting them is another way to increase their potential impact. Due to resource limitations and the volume of articles published in journals, it’s often not feasible for publishers to give each one the same level of marketing attention as, say, a book. As an alternative to doing individual promotion for every article you publish, consider ways to enable and encourage self-promotion from your author community to increase the impact of their work. Some ideas to explore include:

  • When an article is published, send its corresponding and co-authors an email with links to hints and tips or a designated toolkit webpage about how they can increase the impact of their work. You can also include example text for communicating article highlights via email and social media. Discover how Antony Williams was able to breathe new life into older, still relevant articles with a bit of time investment and self-promotion.
  • Send a trackable article link to authors so you have more transparency about what promotion they are doing and where.
  • Commission high-profile researchers to write review articles and give them a higher level of marketing activity.
  • Commission content on trending topics with a call for papers — these are often the most read and cited papers.
  • Run special issues and article collections around trending themes to increase the impact of older, yet still relevant articles.
  • To get research out faster and help increase citations and sharing, review your time to publish against your competitors and how your processes can be improved without compromising on quality, editorial practices, and ethics. And publish articles online prior to them being made available in an issue.

3. Adjust your editorial strategy

We have already covered some areas to improve the quality and discoverability of your journal’s content, but let us showcase other ways you can adjust your existing editorial strategy to improve the impact of your journal. Below are key considerations:

  • Do you want to target a specific audience, and, if so, how is that audience currently represented? E.g., how international are your author community, editors, and editorial board members? What can you do to expand your reach?
  • How consistently are you releasing new content? Should it be more frequent or even less? How saturated is the community with this type of research? Do you need to tighten your scope or increase your issues because you have such high-quality submissions?
  • How is your journal currently positioned? What makes your journal’s story compelling? What would you tell a potential Editor in Chief if you only have 30 seconds in an elevator with them?
  • Are you doing marketing that is most effective to improve the impact of your journal and its content? Make sure you test and adjust to best fit your target audience. You will have more impact and resonate with your audience when you understand them better.
  • What best practice examples are you using to inform your strategy, and how are you getting up-to-date industry learnings? Membership bodies and service providers are often a great way to find out what others are doing.
  • Have you just launched your OA journal and want to increase the number of quality submissions, readership, and citations? You may choose to make it diamond/platinum OA — free to read and free to publish in — to generate more awareness, submissions, and citations for your JIF and CiteScore, as well as having a positive impact on article altmetrics.

4. Think beyond the Journal Impact Factor

For years, the original purpose of the JIF has been misconstrued, resulting in misuse of the metric. What was once “citation analysis as a tool in journal evaluation“ has now become a “gold standard” in journal evaluation, and not without its drawbacks. Nowadays, publishers include JIFs on their journal homepages to verify their reputability. And the JIF is often used as a “quality” metric for institutions to determine where their researchers should publish. This combination of actions creates huge competition between researchers to publish in “high-impact” journals, in some cases instead of smaller titles with more specialist communities where the research could likely have greater influence.

But that doesn’t mean the cycle of JIF-based assessment has to continue, and the JIF is certainly not the only factor in journal evaluation. As Marie McVeigh of Clarivate Analytics recently explained when speaking to WoS’ indexing criteria, “…we do a data-driven, not metrics-driven, analysis of the value of publications to their communities as well as to the literature.” So it’s important to remember the JIF is only one evaluation tool. For a more comprehensive picture of journal impact, it’s imperative to look to other measures.

The Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) is a prime example of an initiative born out of the academic community’s desire to change how research impact is measured. It’s about advancing more robust approaches to impact analysis that put data into context.

The Centre of Open Science’s Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines is one newer example of how publishers are displaying editorial rigor and transparency as a means of communicating journal value as well as impact metrics. TOP contains eight modular standards with three levels of stringency.

So what other means of communicating and measuring journal impact are available?

  • Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines: As discussed, TOP is an emerging framework for displaying journals’ adherence to publishing best practices, which any publication can adopt.
  • Eigenfactor and Article influence: An academic research project that uses network analysis algorithms and five years of citation data to evaluate the impact of journals and articles.
  • Relative Citation Ratio (RCR): From the National Institute of Health (NIH), this metric measures the scientific influence of individual articles by field.
  • Source Normalized Impact Per Paper (SNIP): A metric meant to account for the subject-specific differences in citation practices, powered by Scopus.
  • SCImago Journal Rank (SJR): A metric for measuring the scientific influence of scholarly journals, powered by Scopus.
  • CiteScore: This is essentially Elsevier’s equivalent of the JIF, which looks at the last three years of publication data.
  • scite: A platform for discovering and evaluating scientific articles via Smart Citations.
  • Journal usage data (i.e., HTML page views, full-text article downloads, turnaways, demographics, etc.): You can track journal analytics to showcase readership numbers online and better understand reader behavior to inform publication decisions. Keep in mind — if you have content hosted on aggregation platforms (e.g., ProQuest and EBSCO), OAPEN, preprints like Arxiv, and archives like PubMed, you will need to collate all of those usage metrics for a holistic picture. There also may be usage data you don’t have access to (e.g., if an author has uploaded the full text of their article to ResearchGate, Academia.edu, or a preprint server).

It’s also important to note that it’s not just about journal-level metrics — be sure to consider alternative author- and article-level metrics (or altmetrics) as well.

Article-level metrics give a way to measure the level of attention each of your articles is getting online, whether via citations, Twitter mentions, or references in mainstream media (among other data sources). Three altmetrics services to consider analyzing are Altmetric, Plum Analytics, and OurResearch (formerly ImpactStory). Publishers can include the scores of these services on their article-level pages in addition to other metrics.

There are many services you can use to take a deeper dive into article-level impact (some at a cost), like Kudos, Altmetric, Dimensions, Wizdom.ai, Google Scholar, PubMed, and CrossRef Cited-by.

Making the most of your opportunities

We have explored four key steps for you to work through and consider when assessing your journal, its content, and community impact. Each publisher is different and often has limited resources available, so it’s about what you can prioritize that is going to have the most positive impact for your journal, aligned with your strategic editorial objectives. Whether you have extended your journal scope and want to encourage quality submissions from new communities or you are looking to showcase the authors publishing in your journal, there is a wealth of information available to help you identify the best approaches.

Go beyond the JIF and consider how else you can track and demonstrate impact. Make sure you are empowering your community to promote their work and that you’re making the best use of the data available to drive your editorial strategy forward. And then review where you can adjust to be more competitive. It’s essential to seek advice from your service providers like Scholastica and member bodies you are part of to share and learn best practices.

About the author: This blog post was written by Lou Peck, CEO and Founder of The International Bunch.