One of the many challenges faced by scholars is to identify the impact their scholarship is having in their respective disciplines. This need is frequently driven by promotion and tenure. Alternatively, scholars may be interested in locating the most important research being done in their field. The impact of published scholarship is also important for institution-level evaluation conducted by university and college administrations and for collection building and maintenance projects conducted by academic libraries.
Traditionally, journal impact factors have been utilized to calculate the impact of scholarship. Calculated as the average number of cited articles divided by the number of citable items in a journal in the past two years, the impact factor illuminates which journals are most influential in a scholar’s given field. In other words, it is a measure of how often a journal is cited by other journals in a field.
The journal impact factor, created during the 1970s, is still used today as a measure of the relative importance of a journal within its field. However, there has been growing dissatisfaction with reliance upon the traditional journal impact factors due to the time lag in accruing citations, the prospect of gaming the system, the risk of elevating the rank of an article that is cited as a cautionary or corrective tale to the scholarly community, and the rise of alternative modes of assessing impact that include sources other than journal citations. As a result different metrics have emerged including author and article level metrics and alternative metrics, which rely upon social media, reference/bibliography creation software and other non-traditional citations. Additionally, tools are available to researchers to create profiles that track their individual impact and correctly and consistently identify what research outputs are the product of their efforts.
This purpose of this page is to assist you in thinking critically about traditional metrics to help facilitate conversations about the role of impact factors in evaluating scholarship, whether for tenure and promotion or for finding and evaluating research in your field. This section will also provide tools and resources on the growing field of altmetrics as well as tips and resources for assisting scholars with maximizing the identification and impact of their research.