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Library Research Guides

Research Methods in Public Policy

The library guide provides basic information related academic research for students of the Ford School of Public Policy, especially MPP/MPA students

The Impact Factor

Definition: The journal impact factor measures the importance of a journal by calculating the number of times its articles are cited.

How Impact Factor is Calculated: The calculation is based on a two-year period and involves dividing the number of times articles were cited by the number of articles that are citable.

Be Aware

Experts stress that there are limitations in using impact factors to evaluate a scholar's work. There are many reasons cited for not relying on impact factor alone to evaluate the output of a particular individual. Among these are the following:

  • A single factor is not sufficient for evaluating an author's work.
  • Journal values are meaningless unless compared within the same discipline. Impact factors vary among disciplines. 
  • The impact factor was originally devised to show the impact of a specific journal, not a specific scholar. The quality and impact of the author's work may extend beyond the impact of a particular journal.

According to Jim Testa, a researcher for ThomsonReuters Scientific, the most widespread misuse of the Impact Factor is to evaluate the work of an individual author (instead of a journal). "To say that because a researcher is publishing in a certain journal, he or she is more influential or deserves more credit is not necessarily true. There are many other variables to consider." (interview 6/26/2008 in Thomson Reuters blog entry)

Using Journal Citation Reports

For an overview on the topic, see the Introduction under the Journal Rankings tab.

To use Journal Citation Reports, follow the steps below:

  1. Open Journal Citation Reports.
  2. Select the SSCI and the Year (Currently 2014 version is available).
  3. Select an option to search for a specific journal, or categories.
  4. To search for a specific journal, you may search by Full or Abbreviated journal title, title word, or ISSN.
  5. Click on the journal title to see Journal Information, Impact Factor, Immediacy Index, Cited Half-Life, Cited Journal Graph,etc.

For more information about Journal Citation Reports, click on the Information for New Users located in the upper right hand corner of the database opening page, or view the Journal Citation Reports tutorial created by Thomson ISI.

More information on Journals

To get detailed information about a journal, use UlrichsWeb.  There is information about whether a journal is "refereed" (same as peer-reviewed) near the top of the listing for each journal.