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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Journal Indexing in 2023: What You Need to Know

 

Nathan Boutin, Associate Editor

May 2023


What are journal indexes?

Journal indexes are bibliographic databases that list accredited journals. They are organized by discipline, subject matter, or publication type. In a general sense, indexed journals are perceived to be of higher quality than nonindexed journals because they follow specific quality control guidelines set forth by the indexing authority. However, indexes are not the sole determinants of a journal’s quality. Nevertheless, journal indexes can be helpful for authors who want a list of journals that have been evaluated within a certain field.

Indexing standards

Each index has different standards that journals need to meet, but here are a few common ones.

Ethics and peer review. Journals are reviewed for their ethical guidelines and peer review processes. Journals that lack sufficient peer review, publish too many issues simultaneously, and exhibit poor judgment when accepting papers will not be listed. This is to ensure that the quality of published material is good and that citations from these journals will meet the standards of the scientific community.
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). This number is specific to the journal and confirm that the journal publishes issues on a regular basis.
Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). These are unique codes provided to digital objects such as individual publications. Unlike website links, a DOI never changes. DOIs are fantastic for researchers because they provide a constant record of published material.
Copyright policies. Journals almost always have some form of copyright policy that protects the author’s work. Failing to have such measures in place could lead to reused or stolen content.
Fees and compensation. One hallmark of predatory journals is excessive fees for quick open access publishing. Indexes often monitor fee schedules and can disqualify journals that overpublish for a price.

Why are journal indexes important?

The main purpose of indexes is to connect authors with reputable journals. As open access becomes the norm, knowing what journals to trust has become an important question. Indexed journals receive the institution’s approval, which means that authors don’t need to worry about it being a predatory journal. Thus, publishing an article in an indexed journal improves the credibility and visibility of your research. In fact, publishing with an indexed journal is sometimes a requirement for promotion or graduation, meaning that indexing can be an important factor to consider when deciding which journals to submit to.

The second purpose of journal indexes is to facilitate content discoverability. The impact of content is often related to its visibility. In other words: if people can’t find it, then they can’t read it, which means that publishing in indexed journals is important for authors to reach a wider audience. Exposure can lead to more article views, more citations, and greater impact.

Popular journal indexes

There are many journal indexes, but here are a few of the largest.

• PubMed is a free resource that focuses on biomedical and life sciences research. As one of the most widely used search engines by researchers, PubMed has a rigorous process by which journals are indexed. Specifically, publishers must fill out an application and meet certain criteria (e.g., minimum number of published articles, demonstrate compliance with the National Library of Medicine content guidelines), after which a scientific quality review of the journal is conducted.
• Scopus is Elsevier’s premier abstract and citation database. Released in 2004, the database aims to provide high-quality data that covers over 40,000 titles using journal-level metrics such as CiteScore, SCImago Journal Rank, and Source-Normalized Impact per Paper. While Scopus has a source list for journals, the curated abstract database supports authors by identifying and highlighting authoritative research through reliable data and analytical tools.
• The Web of Science Core Collection, owned and operated by Clarivate, is home to many subindexes for journals across the scientific community. These include the Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), and Arts & Humanities Citation Index (AHCI). Its master journal list, which received a new look a few years ago, provides a valuable resource for researchers looking for the best place to submit their work.

Alternatives to journal index data

Journal indexes are an important piece of the puzzle for researchers, but there are a few caveats.

Second, metrics that you value, such as impact factor, time to publish, and certain altmetrics, can be just as important to understanding the reputation of a journal. Determine what metrics are important to you, your team, or your field and adjust the ratings of journals accordingly.

Third, word of mouth can be a good way to way to discover journals. Perhaps other members of your research group have had good experiences publishing in a particular journal. Mentors and colleagues can provide valuable insight. Reading comments about different journals, which is a function on LetPub’s Journal Selector, is also useful. Just be sure that your conversations align with your goals, and journal indexes can be used to supplement your ideas.

Finally, remember that journal indexes comprise a large amount of information in one place. They often consider a multitude of metrics and data. There is a great deal of pressure to publish in indexed journals, but new journals need to publish papers before their true impact is realized. Therefore, do not immediately exclude a journal from your list of target journals simply because it is not listted in a particular index; consider all factors.


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