How do I evaluate journals?

Various methods have been used to evaluate academic journals and create journal rankings. One gets a picture of how competitive the journal is by looking at the acceptance rate vs the rejection rate. Another way is to examine how often articles are cited in subsequent research to gauge a journal’s impact. The resources listed below use some of these methods and may be used as a guide to help evaluate academic journals.

Cabell’s Directories of Publishing Opportunities Online

Cabell’s Directories of Publishing Opportunities Online provide acceptance rates, review process, as well as topic(s) of articles, manuscript guidelines, type of reader, publication and contact information for over 4,000 journals in these areas: Business: Accounting, Economics & Finance, Management, and Marketing; Education: Educational Curriculum & Methods, Educational Psychology & Administration, and Educational Technology & Library Science; Psychology: Psychology & Psychiatry; Computer Science: Computer Science – Business Information Systems; Health: Health Administration, and Nursing

Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory

Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory is a bibliographic database providing detailed and authoritative information on over 290,000 periodicals (journals, magazines and newspapers) published throughout the world. You can find a description of a specific journal, and it tells you if the journal contains academic/scholarly articles and if the articles are refereed. Publisher details, ISSN, publication dates, abstracting and indexing sources, reviews, table of contents, subscription information are also included.

Journal Citation Reports

Journal Citation Reports provides easy access to data that helps evaluate and compare scholarly journals within the sciences and social sciences using citation data drawn from over 7,500 journals from over 3,300 publishers in over 60 nations. Information available includes:

  • Most frequently cited journals in a field
  • Hottest journals in a field
  • Highest impact journals in a field
  • Leading journals in a field
  • Related journals in a field

What is a Refereed Article?

The following definition is from Cabell’s Directory of Publishing Opportunities at

With some exceptions, a refereed article is one that is blind reviewed and has two external reviewers. The blind review requirement and the use of external reviewers are consistent with the research criteria of objectivity and of knowledge.

The use of a blind review process means that the author of the manuscript is not made known to the reviewer. With the large number of reviewers and journals, it is also likely that the name of the reviewers for a particular manuscript is not made known to the author. Thus, creating a double blind review process. Since the author and reviewers are frequently unknown, the manuscript is judged on its merits rather than on the reputation of the author and/or the author’s influence on the reviewers.

The use of two (2) reviewers permits specialists familiar with research similar to that presented in the paper to judge whether the paper makes a contribution to the advancement of knowledge. When two reviewers are used it provides a broader perspective for evaluating the research. This perspective is further widened by the discussion between the editor and reviewers in seeking to reconcile these perspectives.

In contrast to these criteria, some journals that have attained a reputation for quality do not use either a blind review process or external reviewers. The most notable is Harvard Business Review that uses an editorial review process. Its reputation for quality results from its readership whose continual subscription attests to its quality.

In addition to these criteria, some researchers include the journal’s acceptance rate in their definition of a refereed journal. However, the method of calculating acceptance rates varies among journals. Some journals use all manuscripts received as a base for computing this rate. Other journals allow the editor to choose which papers are sent to reviewers and calculate the acceptance rate on those that are reviewed. Also, many editors do not maintain accurate records on this data and provide only a rough estimate.

Furthermore, the number of people associated with a particular area of specialization influences the acceptance rate. If only a few people can write papers in an area, it tends to increase the journal’s acceptance rate.

Although the type of review process and use of external reviewers is one possible definition of a refereed article, it is not the only criteria. Judging the usefulness of a journal to the advancement of knowledge requires the reader to be familiar with many journals in their specialization and make their own evaluations.

What is Journal Impact Factor?

The following information is from:

Journal Impact Factor is from Journal Citation Report (JCR), a product of Thomson ISI
(Institute for Scientific Information). JCR provides quantitative tools for evaluating journals. The impact factor is one of these; it is a measure of the frequency with which the “average article” in a journal has been cited in a given period of time.

The impact factor for a journal is calculated based on a three-year period, and can be considered to be the average number of times published papers are cited up to two years after publication. For example, the impact factor 2009 for a journal would be calculated as follows:

A = the number of times articles published in 2008-9 were cited in indexed journals
during 2010

B = the number of articles, reviews, proceedings or notes published in 2008-9

impact factor 2010 = A/B

(Note that the impact factor 2009 will be actually published in 2010, because it could not be calculated until all of the 2010 publications had been received. Impact factor 2010 will be published in 2011)

Impact factor of Nature, Science and Cell journals can be found on their journal websites.

What is Acceptance Rate?

Acceptance rate refers to the number of manuscripts accepted for publication relative to the number of manuscripts submitted within the last year. The method of calculating acceptance rates varies among journals (

Definition of Terms

Except for refereed journal, the following definitions are adapted from the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science:

Serial A publication in any medium issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely.
Periodical A serial appearing or intended to appear indefinitely at regular or stated intervals. Magazines, journals and newspapers are all periodicals.
Journal A periodical containing scholarly articles and/or disseminating current information on research and development in a particular subject field.
Magazine A periodical for general reading containing articles, stories, photographs and advertisements on a variety of subjects.
Refereed/Peer-reviewed Journal A refereed journal has a structured reviewing system in which at least two reviewers, excluding in-house editors, evaluate each manuscript and advise the editor as to acceptance or rejection. Refereed is oftern used interchangeably with peer-reviewed.