Journal Impact Factor: Uses, Significance and Limitations

Impact Factor (IF) of a journal is a widely recognized metric used in the academic and scientific community to measure the influence and prestige of scholarly publications. Developed by Eugene Garfield in the 1950s, the Impact Factor has become a standard tool for evaluating journals and their contributions to their respective fields. This article explores the concept of Impact Factor, its calculation, its significance, criticisms, and its role in the academic publishing.

What is Impact Factor?

Ø  Impact Factor is a quantitative measurement that reflects the average number of citations a journal’s articles receive over a specific period (usually previous two years).

Learn more: What is H-Index?

Ø  In essence, it measures the “impact” or influence a journal has on its academic field.

Ø  The formula for calculating the Impact Factor is as follows:

What is Impact Factor of Journal?


Ø  Citations in Year Y: Represents the total number of citations that articles published in the journal received in the reference year (Year Y).

Ø  Number of Articles Published in Years Y-1 and Y-2: Refers to the total number of articles published in the journal in the two years preceding the reference year.

Ø  Example:

o   Total number of citations in previous two years: 1251

o   Total number of citable articles published in previous two years: 275

o   Impact Factor (IF) = 1251/275 = 4.55

Significance of the Impact Factor

The Impact Factor serves several key purposes in academia and scholarly publishing:

Journal Ranking

Ø  Journals with higher Impact Factors are often perceived as more prestigious and influential in their respective fields.

Ø  Researchers, academics, and institutions use these rankings to make decisions about where to submit their work or where to seek information.

Author Reputation

Ø  Publishing in high-impact journals can enhance an author’s reputation and academic standing.

Ø  Articles in these journals are more likely to be cited, potentially increasing the visibility and impact of the author’s work.

Funding and Promotion

Ø  Academic institutions and funding agencies may use the Impact Factor as a criterion for promotion, tenure, and research funding decisions.

Ø  High-impact publications are often favoured.

Benchmarking and Quality Assurance

Ø  The Impact Factor provides a benchmark for journals to assess and improve their performance.

Ø  It incentivizes journals to publish high-quality, influential research to maintain or increase their IF.

Criticisms and Limitations of Impact Factor

While the Impact Factor has several merits, it is not without its criticisms and limitations. Some of them are summarized below.

Field Dependence

Ø  The Impact Factor varies significantly across different academic disciplines

Ø  Impact factor of journal will be high in a field with high citation rates.

Ø  This makes it challenging to compare journals across various domains.

Journal Manipulation

Ø  Some journals may engage in practices that artificially inflate their Impact Factor

Ø  Example: publishing review articles increase the impact factor.

Ø  This is because review articles are more likely to be cited than research articles.

Article Citations

Ø  The Impact Factor is based on the number of citations received by a journal’s articles.

Ø  This might not accurately reflect the quality of the journal itself, as some papers may be highly cited due to reasons other than their inherent value.

Time Lag

Ø  The calculation of the Impact Factor relies on citations over a specific period, creating a time lag that may not account for more recent influential publications.

Neglect of Non-Research Articles

Ø  The Impact Factor focuses primarily on research articles, neglecting other valuable content, such as editorials, commentaries, and review articles.

Role of the Impact Factor in Scholarly Publishing

Ø  Impact Factor remains a powerful metric, influencing publishing decisions and academic careers.

Ø  However, many within the academic community and the publishing industry are actively seeking alternative measures to supplement or replace it.

Ø  Metrics like the H-index, and article-level metrics are gaining popularity, aiming to provide a more comprehensive and nuanced assessment of research impact.


The Impact Factor is a double-edged sword in academic publishing and research evaluation. While it has been a valuable tool for decades, its limitations and controversies have prompted many to seek alternative ways of assessing the impact of scholarly work. Regardless of its shortcomings, the Impact Factor continues to play a significant role in shaping the publishing landscape and the careers of researchers.

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