What Is a Good Impact Factor for an Academic Journal?

First introduced in 1975 by Eugene Garfield, the impact factor was initially designed to help librarians at universities choose academic journals. Today, the impact factor is widely used as a tool for estimating and grading academic success.

The impact factor judges a journal’s quality according to the annual number of citations of needed articles that were published in it in the past two years. In the world of library science, academic journals, and scholarly research, a good impact factor is very important.

Impact Factor Journal Impact Factor is the most prestigious journal metric
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What Is the Impact Factor (IF)?

The easiest way to define the impact factor is as a bibliometric tool for grading academic journals, rather than their published articles or the scientific information they provide. It basically indicates the importance of a journal. The impact factor represents how many times the content published in a period of two years in a specific journal was cited in the third year by other scientific papers and academic publications on the average.

To be more precise, a journal’s annual impact factor is calculated by dividing the total number of times the articles from the previous two years have been cited in that year with the overall number of citable articles from that journal in the same two-year period. Keep in mind that the impact factor denotes the number of citations received by a journal, not an individual article.

A journal’s impact factor is measured by and announced in Clarivate’s Journal Citation Reports (JCR). The JCR database covers 178 subject categories in natural sciences (in the so-called Science Citation Index Expanded, i.e., SCIE database), 58 in the social sciences (contained in the database Social Science Citation Index, i.e., SSCI), and 28 in arts and humanities (Arts & Humanities Citation Index, i.e., A&HCI). Note, however, that impact factors are only computed and announced in the SCIE and SSCI categories, not in A&HCI (for reasons discussed below).

According to JCR 2020, the journals with the highest impact factor are the CA-A CANCER JOURNAL FOR CLINICIANS (which publishes articles on oncology), the NATURE REVIEWS MOLECULAR CELL BIOLOGY (subject reflected by the title), and the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE (research on a broad spectrum of medicine).

The impact factor is not the only widely used bibliographic parameter of academic journals. Another standard metric is the H-Index. It signifies the productivity and citation impact of a researcher as an author. This is assessed by calculating the number of published articles of a researcher and the number of citations received. The H-index can also be used to measure the productivity and the impact of a group of scientists or researchers, as well as of scholarly journals.

What Is a Good Impact Factor for a Journal?

Even though the impact factor was originally designed to assist university librarians in finding adequate academic journals, today the impact factor is much more important. Given the fact that thousands of journals and even more academic papers and articles are published on a yearly basis, it would be challenging and overwhelming to discern first-rate examples from those of lesser quality. That’s what the impact factor is used for.

But what is a good impact factor? The answer depends on the discipline and the specialization of the journal. If a journal has a good impact factor, it’s more likely to receive more citations and acknowledgements than other journals in the same field.

What Is a Bad Impact Factor?

As mentioned before, an impact factor indicates the number of times the content of a journal published in a period of two years was cited in the third year. Now, it’s imperative to mention that the impact factor is used to compare journals in the same subject category. The Journal Citation Reports (JCR) distinguish among 21 broad categories. These are (in alphabetical order) Agricultural Sciences, Arts & Humanities (Interdisciplinary), Biology & Biochemistry, Chemistry, Clinical Medicine, Computer Science, Economics & Business, Engineering, Environment/Ecology, Geosciences, History & Archaeology, Literature & Language, Materials Science, Mathematics, Multidisciplinary, Philosophy & Religion, Physics, Plant & Animal Science, Psychiatry/Psychology, Social Sciences (General), and Visual & Performing Arts. One of the reasons why impact factors of different subject categories can’t be compared is because they have a varying number of citations.

Therefore, it’s impossible to determine what a “bad” and a “good” impact factor is for academic journals from all fields. You can only compare the impact factor of a journal with other journals in the same category.

When it comes to impact factor scores, academic journals can have any score starting from 0 (meaning no citations of the relevant content in the observed period). The question of what a good impact factor and a bad impact factor are, may vary depending on the journal’s field of research. For example, in the History category in 2020, the highest impact factor was 2.195. In the Oncology category, this value would only qualify for the top 70%, which is not a very prestigious ranking.

Recall that when computing the impact factor, only citations of the newest articles from the previous two years are considered. However, in many disciplines, it takes much longer for new findings to spread and get cited. For this reason, no impact factors are computed for the journals in the Arts & Humanities Citations Index – they would be so low even for the top journals.

What Is an Average Impact Factor?

The same rules apply to average impact factors – they depend on the field of science of the journal. The average varies from category to category. Sticking with our previous examples, by JCR in 2020 the average was 0.697 in History, while in Oncology it was as high as 8.307 (12 times higher). According to JCR 2020, 83.51% of the journals hand an impact factor equal to or greater than 1. Furthermore, according to the same database, 11,872 of the 12,360 journals possessing impact factor have their IF between 0 and 10 (i.e., 96.35%).

What Is a Good Impact Factor?

The higher the impact factor, the better and the more important the journal is. Out of the 229 categories in which impact factors are computed, in 2020, the median IF was higher than 4 in 11 categories, it was between 3 and 4 in 53 categories, and in the majority, that is, in 165 categories it was lower than 3. An impact factor of 10 can be considered excellent – although unreachable in many categories – as in 2020 only 3.65% of the journals had an impact factor of 10 or higher.

An impact factor of 10 isn’t even the highest score though. For example, the CA-A Cancer Journal for Clinicians has an impact factor score of 508.702, while the Nature Reviews Materials had an IF of 66.308 for the year of 2020.

How to Get a Good Impact Factor?

If you are in the author’s position, then the most effective way to publish in a good impact factor journal is to write and publish high-quality work. This involves carefully researching your topic, writing concise and cohesive articles, underpinning your claims with proof and examples, and generally commanding good understanding of the topic at hand.

However, even if you do produce a quality piece of writing, it might still not be easy to get many citations.

Tips and Tricks to Increase the Citations of Your Work

In order to have your papers cited more often, here are some things you can do:

  • Pick a specific issue or topic and make sure it’s compelling
  • Write quite a few comprehensive review articles
  • Publish in open access
  • Increase the number of submissions

Pros and Cons of Using the Impact Factor to Judge the Quality of a Journal

Although the impact factor is one of the most popular bibliometric tools for grading the quality and importance of a journal, there are both advantages and disadvantages of using it.

Pros of Using the Impact Factor

As long as academic journals belonging to the same field are compared, the impact factor of a journal helps determine its quality and relevance. This is a valuable grading tool that helps high-quality journals stand out in their field.

Since impact factors are announced every year at the end of June, it helps if we follow the journal’s changing status and quality process annually. Publishing in a journal that has a high impact factor will definitely have a positive impact on the author’s academic career.

Cons of Using the Impact Factor

The impact factor of a journal may not be particularly precise, especially as it doesn’t represent the number of citations of individual articles, but that of the whole journal. Not many are aware of the fact that the impact factor also comprises self-citations. It has also become somewhat controversial, given that it has become the end-goal, not a means to grade the journals.

Not to mention that there are journals with no impact factors, which typically aren’t considered by institutions and funding agencies who look for citations. The same institutions may base their decision on whom to hire or promote solely based on the impact factors of the journals in which candidates have published their papers .

Find Journal Rankings with AKJournals

The impact factor is a bibliometric tool used to measure an academic journal’s importance and quality. It’s one of the most popular metric tools used for this purpose. However, what is a good impact factor? Technically, it depends on the subject category, but we can safely say that 10 is an excellent score in most fields.

AKJournals helps promote and publish international and Hungarian scientific papers in various disciplines, such as business and economics, arts and humanities, chemistry and chemical engineering, social sciences and law, and many other fields of research. In its portfolio, 11 journals have an impact factor.