Impact factors of journals are one the most commonly use indicator of their quality. As a consequence when someone is looking for a journal in which publish his results, the highest the impact factor, the better. However, over the years journal's impact factors change depending on the quality of their article.

My question, that is more theoretical then practical, is twofold:

  1. Should I care about the future impact factor of the journals I publish in (similarly as when buying stock market).
  2. Would it be advisable to keep track of the impact factor at the time of publication in a list of paper (a bit like saying "I know to impact factor of the journal I published in five years ago is bad, but it was better then").

This question is somehow related to the fact that I hear once or twice about examining boards considering only the papers published in journals above a certain impact factor when assessing the quality of a candidate. In other words, papers published in low impact factor journal are not even worth noticing.

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    Maybe I did not get the question well, but once your paper is accepted and will be printed, you can not do anything. If your article is be good it will be cited regardless if the impact factor of the journal will be high or low. Or you are thinking about publishing in the only one journal in the future?
    – MasterPJ
    Dec 6, 2012 at 21:48
  • @MasterPJ The question is motivated by the fact that, when assessing the quality of your research (for a grant, a new position) the impact factor of the journals in which you publish is an easy way to do so.
    – Wiliam
    Dec 6, 2012 at 21:54
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    @William: No, it isn't. The impact factor of a journal says nothing whatsoever about the quality of a single paper in that journal.
    – JeffE
    Dec 7, 2012 at 1:07
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    @JeffE I totally agree, but it is an indicator (good or bad) of the quality of the journal in itself. My question is somehow related to the fact that I hear once or twice about examining boards that considered only the papers published in journal above a certain impact factor when assessing the quality of a candidate.
    – Wiliam
    Dec 7, 2012 at 7:50

2 Answers 2


Related to your last comment:

boards that considered only the papers published in journal above a certain impact factor when assessing the quality of a candidate

I think that such borders are not doing well. As you said, the IF (Impact Factor) varies in time (regardless if we consider it as a relevant measure).

According to me, there are 2 points of view by which the IF which should be considered in your question:

  1. The point that you tried (and succeeded) to publish a paper in a journal with high IF. What would that fact say to me (if I would be in a committee)? That you were confident about your results and you trusted your work to be published in a good journal. (BUT(!) it does not meat that the journal or the paper is good, it just reflects you, the candidate). In this case relevant is the IF by the time your article was accepted.
  2. The point that the IF of the journal you published rises in the next 2-3 years after the time your paper was accepted. Why? Lets take a look how the IF is calculated:

    A = the number of times articles published in 2006 and 2007 were cited by indexed journals during 2008.

    B = the total number of "citable items" published by that journal in 2006 and 2007.

    2008 impact factor = A/B.

However, can we say that articles published in 2006 and 2007 will be cited in 2008? Just very small amount of them. Someone reads your article (month 1), then does the part of research related to your article (2-3 months?), approved by co-authors (another month) and goes through the acceptance procedure (12-14 months). It takes about a year and a half to print the citation of your article. So, if the editors decide that they will accept just good articles the resulting rising of IF will be visible in 2-3 years in the future. So if I would be a committee member I would like to know how was the IF 2-3 years after the article of the candidate was printed. That can tell me that by the time the article was printed, also a considerable amount of good articles were printed as well. But keep in mind that IF consider citation just within 2 years back, and that is just too short. I think it should be 3 years at least.

So, to answer your questions:

add 1.: YES, for the next 2-3 years as it is effectiveness time of IF.

add 2.: YES, because it reflect the actual state of the author by the time he decided to publish.

But please, all this can help as a indicator but is should be taking into account with caution. I should also say that IF is very tricky and it can be easily misinterpreted (self-citation, how many review articles the Journal publishes,...). If you want to take a look at other evaluating tools, you can visit:

Eigenfactor or Journal Ranking

and: What really matters is how much your article is cited(!)

  • Thanks for the elaborate answer. I totally agree that what really matters is how much your article is cited, but I am not sure this is often considered by evaluating committee...
    – Wiliam
    Dec 7, 2012 at 12:33
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    No, even the number of citations isn't what really matters. Citation counts are (at best) only loosely correlated with impact; moreover, impact is only loosely correlated with quality. An evaluation committee that relies only on numerical citation data is not doing its job.
    – JeffE
    Dec 7, 2012 at 17:18

I would be wary of going with Impact Factors as a good metric.

There has been recently a couple of Journals that got into trouble for artificially blowing their IFs, they basically asked any submitter to cite at least 3 articles of the same Journal.

However, it is true that good Journals like Nature, IEEE Transactions, Elsevier, etc will give your paper a lot more credibility than unknown Journals.

In my experience, all of that was good for a pre-Internet era, where Universities had to pick and choose their subscriptions, but now, with all the plethora of information available that is probably less the norm than ever.

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    Ahem. First, Elsevier is a publisher, not a journal, and does publish a lot of unknown journal (not to use worse, impolite adjectives). Second, Universities need to pick and choose their subscriptions at least as much than before: that subscriptions have mostly become electronic did not change that fact. Dec 7, 2012 at 22:16

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