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CIS 600 - Research Methods

Introduction to Impact Factors

An Impact Factor is a quantitative measure of the relative importance of a journal, individual article or scientist to science and social science literature and research.

Each index or database used to create an impact factor uses a different methodology and produces slightly different results.  This is why it is important to use several sources to gauge the true impact of a journal's or scientist’s work.

This guide includes information on Journal Impact Factor, Author Impact Factor, and Article Impact Factor.

Informed and careful use of these impact data is essential, and should be based on a thorough understanding of the methodology used to generate impact factors. There are controversial aspects of using impact factors:

  • It is not clear whether the number of times a paper is cited measures its actual quality.
  • Some databases that calculate impact factors fail to incorporate publications including textbooks, handbooks and reference books.
  • Certain disciplines have low numbers of journals and usage. Therefore, one should only compare journals or researchers within the same discipline.
  • Review articles normally are cited more often and therefore can skew results.
  • Self-citing may also skew results.
  • Some resources used to calculate impact factors have inadequate international coverage.
  • Editorial policies can artificially inflate an impact factor.

Extracted and modified from Impact Factors (University of Washington, Health Sciences Library) Library Guide

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