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When the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) first released in 1975, the concept of being “citable” was introduced in the context of assessing a journal’s performance impact, specifically the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) metric. Since then, the JIF for journals in the JCR has been calculated annually for journals covered in the Web of Science’s Science Citation Index Expanded and Social Sciences Citation Index editions. In each annual release, the JIF is calculated as a ratio of all citations to that journal in that data year (e.g., 2016 citations from all journals in the Web of Science Core Collection) to items published in the previous two years divided by the citable items published by that journal in those previous two years (e.g., 2014 citable items + 2015 citable items).

The definition of this ratio, specifically the denominator, was established in 1975 with the reasoning that articles and reviews were the most scholarly and likely to be cited. With over 11,000 journals that make up the JCR, the journal content spans 237 subject categories with a wide range in publishing styles and audiences. By excluding other types of material published by the journal in the denominator, the JCR can accommodate journals that publish a variety of content over time as the journal’s mission meets the needs of its audience.

So what makes something “citable”? We determine the types of items published in the journal sections when the journal is accepted for coverage in the Web of Science Core Collection. For each journal, the Bibliographic Policy team creates a file of indexing instructions, which includes the document type(s) for each section in the journal. These instructions are followed regardless of the journal’s format (electronic versus print) and delivery method, which provides consistency. Our rules are managed by a team of experts and these are adhered to regardless of how the journal identifies their material. Any item indexed as an article or review in the Web of Science for a journal in the JCR is “citable” for the JIF denominator. Multiple document types can be applied; for example, an item may be classified as an article and data paper or article and proceedings paper. In these scenarios, the item is counted as “citable” because one of the document types is an article or review. How these instructions are applied in practice is readily accessible in the Web of Science by searching for “Articles” and “Reviews” document types for the journal(s) and year(s) of interest.

The criteria determining if an item is an article or review are as follows:

  • Descriptive Article titles: Most scholarly works evince a descriptive title that clearly denotes the content of the work and the research scope.
  • Named author(s) with author address: This information typically indicates that authors are affiliated with an academic, research, or other institution as opposed to paid contributors (e.g. a staff writer or reporter).
  • Abstract or summary: Abstracts are another common feature of research and scholarly items that provide a brief summary of the key research methods, results and conclusions contained in the full article. They may be used to quickly guide readers regarding the relevance of the item to their needs.
  • Article length: Scholarly works tend to be lengthier than non-scholarly or editorial items.
  • Data content: Scholarly works typically contain research results, or summarize results from prior works, and frequently contain figures or tables describing the data.
  • Cited references: A scholarly work will cite the academic literature of the subject to provide evidentiary support of the author's hypothesis, or to review and synthesize previous work.
  • The presence of cited references indicates a level of participation in the academic discourse and scholarly development of the subject.
  • Cited reference density: This is defined as the number of cited references per text page of the item. A relatively high reference density is a typical characteristic of a significant work of scholarship.

Using these criteria, the Bibliographic Policy team determines if the section includes these citable item document types or if other document types are appropriate. No single criterion identifies an item as citable, but rather it is the combination of these criteria in the context of the journal’s subsection, section, journal, and the Web of Science database that weighs into these assignments.

Over time, journals can change their format and we ask that the publisher alert us when this happens so we can review and update the indexing instructions accordingly. In addition to notification from the journal, we select a sample of journals to review annually in preparation for the JCR production as well as conducting reviews based on feedback from other sources. In parallel, we continue to investigate new approaches to improve this process.

Most often, our policy aligns with the journal’s expectation but there are times when the journal editor or publisher does not agree. We welcome this feedback and review each request to ensure that there’s mutual understanding of how the journal will be represented in the Web of Science. But in the end, we enforce a foundational tenet of our bibliographic policy, which is to apply consistent indexing policies across all the journals in the Web of Science Core Collection to optimize content discovery and analytics across all journals and all years, including metrics available in the JCR.

Related Reading:

Journal Citation Reports: A New Primer
Best Practices for Journal Evaluation
The State of Journal Evaluation