Ron Hacker FARS – Chair, Publications Committee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal Impact Factors for 2018 were recently released in the Clarivate Journal Citation Report. The (2-year) Impact Factor for The Rangeland Journal was 1.019, down slightly on 1.080 in 2017 and further down on our recent high of 1.276 in 2012. What does it mean? Impact factors are calculated as the ratio of the number of citations, in the index year, of papers published in a journal in the previous (in this case) two years. So the value of 1.019 for 2018 means that papers published in TRJ in 2016 and 2017 were cited on average 1.019 times in 2018. (The 2018 figure was only published in June 2019, as usual, because some journals may not get their final issue for 2018 out until early 2019, and then it takes some time to do the calculations). This IF ranks TRJ at 133 out of 164 journals in the Ecology category, or in the fourth quartile. Since 2012 TRJ has fluctuated between the third and fourth quartiles, while the number of journals in the category has increased from 136 to 164. This performance may seem pretty pedestrian but it needs to be noted that of the 160 journals contributing to the previous year’s listing (2017), 40 had IFs in the range 1-1.999 (the most common category), and 39 had IF’s less than 1.
While the two year IF is usually quoted, Clarivate also calculate a 5-year IF which for 2018, would be based on papers published in 2013-2017. Our 5-year IF was 1.642, our highest ever, which is testament to the long term relevance of work published in our journal, as well as the generally slower rate of knowledge turnover in fields covered by TRJ compared to some rapidly moving fields.
While IF’s are commonly seen as a measure of the attractiveness of a journal to authors most of TRJ’s competitors fell within the 1-1.999 range in the 2017 listing so the journal is quite competitive with other major publishers of similar research.
It’s also worth remembering that IF’s can change quickly. A single highly citing paper can make a big difference to the index, especially if the total number of papers published in the indexing period is down. If we are going to grow our impact factor, and we should certainly be trying to do that, attracting highly citing papers is critical. Papers from Special Issues tend to cite well. Eleven out of the top-20 citing papers in 2016–2017 (contributing to the 2018 IF) were published in the special issues ‘Managing the impacts of feral camels across the rangelands’ and ‘Restore Regenerate, Revegetate’. In the 2015-2016 indexing period the importance of this source of citations was even greater with 14 of the top-20 citing papers coming from special issues, particularly ‘Enhancing the resilience of coupled human and natural systems of alpine rangelands on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau’. In fact, the movement of this special issue out of the indexing period is one reason for the decline in our IF this year. Maintaining a flow of high profile special issues is important to keeping our competitive position in the international publishing field.
Although not directly related to the IF, the production of ‘virtual issues’ is probably also important. These are compilations of papers from recent issues of the journal on a particular theme, which can be freely downloaded for a limited period of time. Virtual issues are published on-line only. To date TRJ has produced two virtual issues and the download rate is 4-5 times that for papers from normal issues. Hopefully this will eventually be reflected in increased citations. The commissioning of papers by high profile individuals on topical issues, or to mark some particular milestone in the development of rangeland science, also has potential to lift the journal’s IF. This move has been discussed within the Publications Committee but not implemented to date
Given today’s reduced investment in Australian rangeland research it is inevitable that TRJ will continue to publish international content, while striving to retain relevance for the predominantly Australian members of ARS. Constantly seeking to improve our position in the competitive business of scientific publishing will hopefully provide acceptable benefits for both authors and members.