The evolving world of article and journal metrics – what you need to know

To attract the best authors to your journal or find the best journal for your research, it’s essential to understand the role of metrics and the options available

By Hans Zijlstra - July 17, 2020
CiteScore Image 2019
More than 13,000 journal titles have a CiteScore 2019 but no Impact Factor. Of these titles, more than 330 are in the top 10 percent of their subject area.

When authors are deciding where to submit their article, citation metrics often play a key role. They tend to be viewed as a proxy for a journal’s academic value. Publishing in a so called “high impact” publication can positively influence an author’s academic reputation, career trajectory and ability to attract future research funding.

There are various citation metrics in play, of which the Journal Impact Factor is arguably the most well-known. The Impact Factor is not without its critics, however, and is regularly accused, for instance, of lacking transparency and consistency. Other citation metrics include Elsevier’s CiteScore, based on citations recorded in the Scopus database rather than in the Journal Citation Reports database used to calculate the Impact Factor.

The extent to which authors care about citation metrics varies by discipline. Whereas in medicine, for instance, citations to publications are generally viewed by researchers as highly important, they are considered far less relevant in fields such as mathematics. It’s also notable that the relevance of citation metrics is evolving at a country level, often in line with government policy. For example, China recently announced a new policy that puts less focus on evaluating a researcher’s contribution through the lens of their publication activity in journals with an Impact Factor and more focus on the publication of “high quality” papers. What specifically this means in practice is yet to be confirmed, but the implications of this new policy are potentially far-reaching when it comes to influencing where Chinese authors choose to publish their research. Given the amount of research now published out of China – China now accounts for more research than any other country worldwide – its relevance is magnified.

At Elsevier, we introduced CiteScore (freely available on Scopus) in December 2016 with the aim of offering users a more transparent, current and comprehensive system of measuring citations. The response has been positive, and we continue to evolve CiteScore to ensure it best meets the needs of users. This includes changing the CiteScore methodology to better quantify the value of health science journals, many of which we publish on behalf of academic and professional societies.

As the way users consume and interact with content evolves, we also continue to focus on other metrics – beyond citations – that give users a more holistic view of an article’s value. Moreover, we acquired the altmetrics company Plum Analytics in 2017, which provides insights into the ways people interact online with individual pieces of research output (articles, conference proceedings, book chapters, and many more). Examples include when research is mentioned in the news or is tweeted about. Other “societal” metrics we are looking to capture and make available include, for example, sustainable development goals linked to publications, and the development of gender related indicators, all of which can help editors and societies gain a broader view on the value of research and how it impacts and reflects wider society goals.

In summary, it’s essential to be aware of the importance of metrics, whether you are leading the publishing strategy of a journal or searching for the best journal for your research. If Elsevier publishes your journal on behalf of a society, we welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you in more detail. Please contact your publisher at Elsevier.


A new methodology for CiteScore

Here is a summary of recent improvements made to CiteScore metrics.

CiteScore 2019 has a new methodology based on customer feedback and industry expertise. ensuring that it remains comprehensive, current, clear and free. The new methodology is also being used to retrospectively calculate CiteScore values for eight previous years (2011–18) to allow for clear and fair trend analysis over time. The changes you will see are:

1. Adjusting the methodology to include typically peer-reviewed publications

Including only peer-reviewed publication types (articles, reviews, conference papers, book chapters and data papers) in both the citation numerator and publication denominator makes the comparison among journals fairer and more robust. Previously, all publications were included in the calculations (e.g., non-peer reviewed article types like editorials, news items, letters, notes).

2. Including publications from the most recent year

Publications in the 4 years up to and including the calculation year will now be included, which means that CiteScore can be calculated for journals with just a single year of publication. This gives new journals – including many open access titles – a first indication of their citation impact one year earlier.

3. Longer citation window (4 years instead of 1)

Citations will now be counted cumulatively, from the year of publication until the end of the calculation window, which is up to four years. This means that all citations received by publications in this period are counted towards CiteScore values, allowing for a more robust assessment. In the past, citations were counted for the previous year only.

4. Display only 1 decimal values

CiteScore values are displayed to one decimal place in order to avoid “false precision,” in line with industry best practice. Previously, CiteScore values were displayed to two decimal places.


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Written by

Hans Zijlstra

Written by

Hans Zijlstra

Hans Zijlstra works as a Research Metrics Product Manager in Elsevier’s Research Products department in Amsterdam. He is responsible for developing journal and article metrics with the aim of improving Elsevier’s service to researchers, librarians, publishers and funders.

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