The Question of TQ’s low impact factor

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Some readers have inquired about the reasons for TQ’s low impact-factor. The impact factor is an approximation of the average number of citations in a year, given to those papers in a journal that were published during the two preceding years.  Impact factors are calculated each year by Thomson Scientific for those journals which it indexes, and the factors and indices are published in Journal Citation Reports (http://portal.isiknowledge.com/portal.cgi?DestApp=JCR&Func=Frame).

 

 

What is intriguing for many about TQ’s low impact factor is that TQ is the flagship journal of the international TESOL organization. It has a sixty year history. It ranks high on the list of journals universities in many countries recommend to their faculty for publication in regards to tenure and promotion. Scholars from China, Turkey, Hong Kong, and UK have told me that TQ ranks highly in the estimation of their universities. TQ’s acceptance rate remains one of the lowest in the field, proving it to be a highly selective and competitive journal. For the past three years, TQ’s acceptance rate has ranged between 8.5 to 7.0 percent (i.e., only 7 or 8 articles out of 100 submissions get accepted for publication). For the above reasons, many scholars expect articles in TQ to be highly cited and to have a higher impact factor.  In comparison, very recently established journals that began publishing within the last five to ten years by commercial publishers have a higher impact factor.

 

To explain this anomaly, we have to first consider TQ’s poor electronic access and visibility. For a long time, TQ was not available in any online data bases, such as JSTOR. It was just three years ago, after much discussions with the TESOL organization, that I managed to get TQ available in JSTOR <www.jstor.org>. Even now, TESOL has opted to adopt a five-year moving wall. This means that our issues are made available five years after publication. Current issues are available in Ingenta <http://www.ingentaconnect.com/>, but one has to purchase the article one wishes to download. Only subscribers to the journal have immediate and free access to our articles. Obviously, TESOL is concerned that open access to the journal will affect its  subscription and revenues.

 

What bearing does open access have on impact factor? More TQ articles will be cited—and more often—if readers all over the world can read them freely and without delay. Since only the thousand or so subscribers to the journal have unrestricted access to TQ currently, not all of whom are active researchers and writers, our articles won’t be cited as much.

 

Testimony from other editors suggests that providing open access to their journals not only increased their impact factor, it also increased their marketability and subscriptions. Sally Magnan, in her editorial to the 90th anniversary issue of MLJ, recounts how moving to a commercial publisher (Blackwell) in 2000 enabled the journal to grow in leaps and bounds (see “From the Editor: The MLJ Turns 90 in a Digital Age,” MLJ, vol. 90.1, pp.1-5). Here are some developments she observes: “Electronic dissemination of the Journal has spread rapidly, in large part through consortia

agreements with institutions in the United States and internationally. . . . In addition, many readers whose institutions do not have subscriptions or consortia arrangements can access the MLJ through licensed databases to which they belong. As a result of its increased digital availability, online access to the MLJ has grown steadily in recent years, from 3,720 articles downloaded in 2000 to 7,433 in 2001 and 27,899 in 2002 when JSTOR began offering the MLJ . This number grew to 165,145 in 2003 when Blackwell included the Journal in its Synergy database from which articles were accessed an average of 120 times each, and to 119,326 at the most recent 2004 report. Data from Blackwell Publishing reveals that in 2004 the MLJ’s electronic access allowed it to reach over 135,000 scholars around the world. . . . Given the international visibility of today’s MLJ,it is interesting to look at the Journal’s circulation by world region. From 1999 to 2004, there has been a steady growth in the Journal’s international distribution, which changes the proportion of journals going to institutions and individuals in the United States versus those going abroad: from 70% U.S./30% abroad in 1999 to 57% U.S./43% abroad in 2004. . . . As might be expected, growth in international readership has led to a dramatic increase in the number of manuscripts submitted for consideration by international authors. In 1999, 24% of submissions came from outside the United States; by 2004 that number had grown to 38%. . . . Related to the increasing number of submissions, the acceptance rate is declining as shown in Table 2. The 2005 acceptance rate was 11% overall, with 15% for U.S. articles and 8.5% for articles from other countries.. . . In the Thomson Journal Citation Reports Social Science Edition 2004, the MLJ ranked first in the applied linguistics category in the immediacy index (2.348), which considers how quickly articles in a journal are cited. Its impact factor was 0.750, which gives the average number of times articles published in the MLJ in the past 2 years were cited during 2004. The cited half-life was 7.8 years; this figure gives the median age of MLJ articles cited in 2004.”

 

Apart from open access and superior marketing networks, there are other resources commercial publishers are able to provide. They are able to post online the upcoming articles, long before they are published in paper form. Imagine the advantages for researchers who can read the contents of an article about a year before it appears in print (this is the length of time it often takes these days for an article that has been accepted to appear in print). Timeliness and speed matter in publishing and research. An article that is available earlier will be cited immediately and influence future research and publications.

 

We also have to consider the nature of TQ as a journal of a practitioner-oriented professional organization. The editorial board is constantly under pressure to accommodate the interests of teachers, who are our primary constituency. At times, it appears to me as if the expectation of TESOL membership is that TQ should serve as a good professional newsletter for the organization rather than a selective research journal. I have been asked to include more reader exchanges (opinions), book reviews, best teaching practices, and reports from the classrooms around the world. I have now included new sections like the Research Digest (to disseminate research information from significant articles in other journals) and symposia (to present opinions of leading scholars in the profession on key professional issues) to focus more on knowledge dissemination. Though these genres of articles will certainly make interesting reading and appeal to the interests of practitioners, they take away valuable space from research articles. Opinions and exchanges are not taken into account in computing the impact factor.

 

If being a leading research journal is what matters, TQ would focus on many other strategies to improve the chances of its articles being noticed and cited more often. Here are some strategies certain editors adopt to improve the impact factor of their journals:

n  Insist on titles that would foreground topical, timely, significant keywords that have greater chances of receiving a “hit” in an online search;

n  Insist that articles submitted to the journal cite articles previously published in that journal. That would boost the number of times the journal’s articles have been cited!

n  Publish more review articles. It is said that research articles get cited later than review articles. However, review articles have an unclear status in TQ as our guidelines state that full-length articles published in the main section must “merge theory, research, and practice.”

Of course, some of these strategies are ethically questionable. We haven’t had to consider these strategies anyway as we don’t compete in online searches (our articles are available only five years later!) and impact factor doesn’t rank highly in our mission. It is more important for our professional constituency that our titles appeal to teachers and sound reader-friendly rather than attract the attention of researchers in online searches.

 

I don’t think that the demand that TQ serve the interests of teachers and be a practitioner-friendly journal is unfair. That after all is consistent with the mission of TESOL. However, the competition among journals is so intense and research is becoming so specialized that we can’t be all things to all people. We can’t be both a highly cited research journal and also a practitioner-friendly newsletter. We must define the mission of the journal carefully—and stick to it!

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3 Comments

Clyde Warden said:

TESOL Journal filled this gap very well. TQ cannot, and should not, lose the position it has built up. I suspect there is another reason for the impact factor, and it is related to the requests you mentioned. There just is not much quantity or quality research going on in this segment. Teachers tend to be practice oriented, questioning the value of research. At work, the TQ audience is often over worked, with all too little time or support for research. In the end, this means there just is not much chance to cite TQ articles.

Suresh, I do not see why you feel some of the common practices of other editors is unethical. Requesting authors to try to increase their coverage of TQ makes perfect sense. Authors are often busy with numerous manuscripts, sending them here and there, and when a successful match does occur, taking another look at the writing, the research, and contextualizing further into the TQ stream of work seems justified. In the end, everyone benefits from a TQ with a higher impact factor, and those working hard, like yourself and your team, bring real and measurable results for the whole community.

Clyde

Thanks for your comments, Clyde. Maybe I have to take another look at these practices. I was only wondering if doing things specifically to boost the impact factor might be unethical. Of course, many of our referees bring to the attention of our authors important articles that have appeared in previous issues of TQ. That, I think, is appropriate. I wasn't sure how far we should go in asking authors to cite our own articles.

Ahmed Kabel said:

I believe that one should not exagerate the real importance of impact factor. Of course, there is a crucial sense in which that is important for commercialization and product differentation. But that is not the concern here. I think we should not lose sight of 'negative citation', a fact which is not taken into account in calculating the impact factor. Therefore, if the impact factor is to have real scholarly value, its strictly quantitative methodologies have to be enhanced by the use of qualitative analysis.

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This page contains a single entry by SURESH CANAGARAJAH published on August 17, 2008 10:24 AM.

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