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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Journal Citation Reports and Traditional Metrics


Nathan Boutin, Associate Editor

August 2022

Why are data and metrics important?

In the modern age, extensive data are a necessity for decision making. Everything from complex business decisions to individual purchasing behavior is influenced by data. The same is true for academic publishing. In fact, journals use many types of data to market themselves to researchers and institutions, which can be critical for fundraising and attracting quality submissions. Similarly, authors require sufficient data to make an informed decision on their target journal prior to publication. With thousands of journals and millions of articles published every year, it can be difficult to make sense of the vast publishing space and the large amount of information available to users.

Recently, >researchers and publishers have begun to apply alternative metrics, or Altmetrics, to determine the quality or impact of a journal or individual articles. While these novel measurements are the bleeding edge of impact analysis, they are less understood and accepted than traditional metrics. Thus, it is important to understand what these traditional metrics are and how they are collected, distributed, and understood.

What is Journal Citation Reports?

Journal Citation Reports (JCR), published yearly by Clarivate, compiles reputable journals into one place by recording resources for relevant data. A team of editors from across the globe evaluate journals using strict criteria. These criteria include total citations, total articles, changes in citations from year to year, percentile rankings, and the immediacy index. Aggregated data are compiled and reviewed to produce the JCR, which compares and ranks journals in a master list as part of the Web of Science. These reports are also the source for journal impact factor (JIF), which measures the number of citations the articles in any given journal receive across the broader publishing space. Thus, it is one of the most widely recognized metrics, and it is common for researchers to consider JIF as the premier determining factor before submitting to a journal.

These annual reports are regarded as the gold standard for providing unique insights into journal performance and research trends. For example, the recently published JCR of 2022 tells an interesting tale about how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the foundation of publishing. Using the 2021 data, an increase in citations for fields such as general medicine, immunology, and public health was observed. Researchers exploring the spread, origins, and social implications of the virus, as well as those studying vaccinations and preventative measures, skewed the JIF of journals in relevant fields upward. For example, The Lancet surpassed the New England Journal of Medicine for the first time since the JCR’s inception. Moreover, Nature jumped to over one million citations in a single year, with a significant portion of those related to COVID-19.

However, the JCR is more than just painting a picture of the real impact of journal contributions. It is also about upholding integrity in scholarly literature. This involves weeding out predatory journals, which can be done by identifying behaviors that go against fair publishing practices. One new citation behavior listed by Clarivate this year is self-stacking. Self-stacking is when a journal publishes one or more articles in which the majority of the articles’ references are self-cited within the last two years of content. Generally, these articles are short summaries of recent research that incorporate references entirely from the same journal, which can artificially inflate the JIF. This goes against the ethics of self-citation in research articles. The practice of self-stacking, whether done intentionally or not, along with other journal-level citation distortions such as general self-citation and citation stacking, are referenced in the JCR 2022 Reference Guide published by Clarivate.

Other resources

Accessing the raw JCR data will require and institutional or personal subscription. Most academic institutions will be subscribers, so it can be easy to jump right in. Notably, there are other resources provided by Clarivate that integrate JCR data. Specifically, checking out the Master Journal List and Web of Science database, which all require a login for Clarivate, can be great ways to find the newest home for your research. You can also check out LetPub’s Journal Selector Tool!

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