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Finding Important Journals in a Research Discipline

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This tutorial will show you how to locate the most important journals (those with the highest impact) in a research discipline.

Use the active webpage on your right to complete the tutorial.

Impact Factor

There are literally tens of thousands of academic journals that publish the scholarly output of universities and research centers throughout the world. Scholars must decide which journals are the best to read and publish in.

Scholarly Journals

The primary method for evaluating which are “the best” journals in any given research discipline is to find out how many times articles in that journal are cited by other articles. This is metric is called the impact factor.

What is an impact factor?

Finding Journal Citation Reports

           Journal Citation Reports logo

Journal Citation Reports (JCR), a library database, can be used to look up journal impact factors. JCR calculates citations between all journals included in the JCR database. To access JCR:

  • Click on the Databases tab on the top right of the library’s homepage, and cut and paste or type in Journal Citation Reports.
  • Click GO.
  • Scroll down. Click the link to Incites Journal Citation Reports (JCR).
NOTE: Incites Journal Citation Reports will most likely open in a new tab.

Using Journal Citation Reports

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First, we’ll look at a specific research area and see how the journals in this field are ranked according to impact factor. We’ll look at journals in the field of agronomy. From the JCR landing page:

  • Select Browse by Category in the center.
  • Under "Select Categories," click Agronomy.
  • Click SUBMIT.

To see a listing of journals in this area, select "Journals by Rank," at the top of the list.

Using Journal Citation Reports

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This page is a list of journals from the field of agronomy. Each column has information about the journal.

  • Total Cites is the number of times the journal has been cited by all journals in JCR.
  • Journal Impact Factor is the average number of times articles published in a journal in the previous two years have been cited in a given year.

More information about JCR metrics.

Comparing Impact Factors

Impact factors vary widely between disciplines. For example, you'll notice that the highest impact factor for an agronomy journal is ~ 5. This is very different than the highest impact factor for a cell biology journal. Let’s go back and look at the cell biology journals to see the difference.

  • Use the back arrow at the top left of your screen to go back to the JCR Subject Category Selection page.
  • Change the category selection from AGRONOMY to CELL BIOLOGY.
  • Click SUBMIT.

You can see that journals in the field of cell biology have much higher impact factors than journals in the field of agronomy:

  • Agronomy top impact factor = ~5
  • Cell biology top impact factor = ~43

This doesn’t mean that cell biology journals are better or more important that agronomy journals. It just means that more articles are being written and cited in this field. That’s why it’s important to first examine journal impact factors within the context of a research discipline. Once you are familiar with the range of impact factors in a discipline, finding the impact factor for an individual journal will make more sense.

Finding a Specific Journal in Journal Citation Reports

We’ll search for a particular journal in JCR titled Biology of the Cell.

  • Click twice on the back arrow at the top left of your screen to go back to the JCR home page.
  • Change your selection to Browse by journal.
  • Under "Journal profile," on the top left, type in Biology of the Cell.
  • Click SUBMIT or select from the dropdown.

You will see information about the journal from a variety of years. You will also see information about regions, organizations, metrics, etc.

Knowing the range of impact factors for journals in the field of cell biology, what does the impact factor for Biology of the Cell tell you about the relative importance of this journal?

Accessing Journal Citation Reports from Off Campus

Journal Citation Reports is a UC Merced licensed database. To use JCR from off campus, you will need to use the VPN to connect to the campus network.

What is the VPN?


This concludes the Finding Important Journals in a Research Discipline tutorial. Now that you’ve finished:

  • Complete the short 2-question quiz on the next page.
  • Enter your email and your professor’s email when prompted.
  • Print your quiz results if desired.
  • Let us know what you think about the tutorial by clicking on the feedback link.

Thank you!

Questions? Contact the library or 209-228-4444.



Journal impact factors vary across disciplines because:

Choose the best ending for this sentence:

The impact factor of a journal determined by...


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