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Journal & Article Evaluation

Finding Journals in Your Field

* Search for articles an online journals index (which one? check a subject guide for ideas). Use several key words from your field to identify some articles with relevant content.

* Check the bibliography and footnotes of a few books that are related to your topic to see which journals are often cited.

Library Lingo

Librarians tend to use three terms interchangably to describe where to look for articles, although there are nuances:

Index -- publication (printed or online) that gives citations to journal articles or books. Often the citations will use the Find It button link to the full-text of articles. (e.g., MLA Bibliography, Historical Abstracts, Web of Knowledge)

Database -- Online collection of citations or other data, Often includes full-text of articles or data within the database itself, in addition to the Find It button. (e.g.,  Astrophysics Data System, Global Market Information, ATLA Relgion with ATLA Serials)

Resource -- Catch-all term used for a reference book (print or online), index, database or website.

Evaluating a Journal for Quality

A journal is considered more rigorous and scholarly if it is peer reviewed. Look for the following to identify a peer-reviewed journal: 

  • The journal is published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society or association (e.g., the American Psychological Association) or by a university program (e.g., Critical Inquiry) or department (e.g., Social Science History).
  • There is a list of reviewers or an editorial board on the web site, inside the front cover, back cover, or on the first few pages (example).  The list should include scholars from diverse institutions.

Other indications of importance to a field:

  • Availability online in well-regarded archives such as JSTOR or Project Muse.
  • If a journal is indexed in an important index for your field (which are they? check a subject guide).

Something to keep in mind:

Some journal indexes allow you to narrow your search to articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

The Impact Factor

The Impact Factor, available in Journal Citation Reports, and other citation analysis tools serve as indicators of the 'quality,' 'impact,' 'prestige,' or 'influence' of a journal.  Though somewhat controversial, Impact Factors, which rank journals within a discipline, are used widely in the sciences.  The controversy surrounding the Impact Factor (IF) revolves around the possibility that publishers and/or authors may manipulate the data to produce a higher IF (e.g., self-citations, including more review articles, etc.), and that the formula for calculating the Impact Factor, while it may work well for some disciplines, may be misleading in others.

Please note that using the Impact Factor to compare journal ranks from disparate disciplines is not valid, due to variations in publishing cycles, citation rates, the size of the field, etc.

For more information about Impact Factors or other citation analysis tools, please Ask a Librarian.

Ask a Librarian