Choosing the right journal for the publication of a manuscript is a decision that every medical writer has to face. As it can have a substantial effect on whether and when the paper is accepted, and consequently the ultimate success of a medical writing project, it is a decision that plays an important, potentially crucial, part of the overall process.
Of course, every medical writer would like to see their work published in the most historic, most prestigious, most widely read and highest quality journals. However, these are not always the most appropriate or most easily quantifiable criteria when selecting a journal.
There is another measure by which the importance of individual journals may be assessed, and one that has become a major consideration for the provider of medical writing services: The clinical relevance, or clinical impact, of a journal. Termed the “impact factor”, the concept was first suggested by Eugene Garfield in 1955. Over the following years, it evolved into a method for the Science Citation Index to select journals for its core group of large and highly cited publications, and is now used to help form the Journal Citation Report.
The impact factor for any given journal is calculated by dividing the number of cites in the current year to any items published in the journal in the previous 2 years by the number of substantive articles published in the same 2 years. In 2005, Dr Garfield argued the impact factor “could just as easily be based on the previous year’s articles alone, which would give even greater weight to rapidly changing fields”.  He added that taking into account longer periods of citations/sources would lead to a less current measure.
While this method is used by libraries to determine subscription policies, and by medical writers to examine which journal will offer their manuscript the greatest clinical influence, there are some notable drawbacks to the impact factor. For example, review articles and technical reports are more frequently cited than peer-reviewed original research, and randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses and basic science research are more commonly cited than retrospective studies and case reports.
Self-citation can also have a substantial effect on a journal’s impact factor. Within medical specialities such as orthopaedics, journals that focus on narrow fields tend to have greater rates of self-citation than more generalised journals, thus artificially increasing a journal’s impact factor.
These issues have led to the exploration of other methods of assessing a journal’s clinical relevance, such as the Eigenfactor and SCImago, which share similarities used by the Google search engine algorithms.
However, whatever the shortcomings of the methodology, the impact factor is here to stay and will remain an important consideration to medical writers and providers of medical writing services for many years to come.
To find out more about our medical writing services, please feel free to contact us. We are adept at structuring and writing complex medical and scientific information, clearly and readably. We can help get you getting published — and read.
- Garfield E. The Agony and the Ecstasy – The History and Meaning of the Journal Impact Factor. International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication. September 16 2005, Chicago, IL.