A journal’s impact factor is a measure of the average citation frequency of articles in that journal. Many funding agencies and institutions look at the impact factors of the journals you have published. They may use your impact factor as a measure of your success as a researcher. However, we should remember that journal-level scores do not always reflect the quality of individual articles.
Journal impact factors are based on the number of times a journal’s articles are cited in other articles. Higher impact factors often indicate higher reputation and prestige. But impact factors must be treated with caution. For example, a relatively small number of articles in a journal generally receive most of the citations.
Furthermore, citations vary considerably among fields. Hence, impact factors also vary considerably across different fields. A high impact factor in physics, for example, would be relatively low in clinical medicine. Therefore comparisons should not be made across different fields.
Nevertheless, the impact factor of potential target journals should be considered in relation to the novelty of your study. High impact journals (e.g., Nature, Cell, and Science) are more likely than others to accept only manuscripts describing novel research.
How do you compare the novelty of your findings with the novelty of those that are already known in the field? In our ‘Before You Begin Your Research’ course, we discussed how important it is to regularly read scientific literature. Regular reading will help you to accurately assess the novelty of your study. Attending international conferences in your field will also help you keep up-to-date. At such conferences you can learn about the latest research developments before they are published.
An incremental advance means only slightly building on what is already known in the field. If your findings are an incremental advance, then you should probably target a low to medium impact factor journal. Let’s say you are studying a disease that is known to be genetically based. You might identify a new mutation that promotes the progression of the disease. This is a novel finding, but it merely builds on what is already known. In this case, aim for a low to medium impact factor journal.
A conceptual advance, on the other hand, has a great impact on your field. In medicine, for example, such an advance changes how a disease is studied or treated. Let’s say you are studying a disease that is not known to be genetically based. Perhaps you identify a mutation that is involved in the pathogenesis of the disease. In this case, aim for a medium to high impact factor journal.
Judging the novelty of your findings can sometimes be difficult because of your own biases. Speak with your colleagues about your work and get their honest opinions.