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The best sources of information about scholarly, peer-reviewed journals

By AuthorAID Team | Sept. 28, 2017

How can researchers make informed choices about the best publications to follow or submit articles to? In this post, Gail Clement, Head of Research Services at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Library, answers this question by sharing the most reliable sources of data about peer-reviewed journals.

Members of the AuthorAID community sometimes ask about “the best” journal(s) in a particular research area. This is not a simple question to answer for two reasons.

The first reason is the huge number of journals that exist. Indeed, Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory lists over 60,000 active scholarly journals – a vast group representing most fields of knowledge, many countries, and diverse languages.

The second reason is that no single indicator of journal quality is universally accepted. Opinions vary as to the importance of journal impact factors, download counts, manuscript rejection rates, editor reputation, etc. Researchers may consult with advisers, colleagues and libraries to identify the journal characteristics most important for their profession.

AuthorAid mentors have encouraged researchers to evaluate journals on a case-by-case basis, using tools such as the ThinkCheckSubmit checklist. You can read blog posts by Sian Harris, Andy Nobes and Ravi Murugesan for further information on evaluating journals.

This blog post builds on their advice by highlighting the most trustworthy journal data available. It is hoped that researchers will use this information to identify diverse journals relevant to their interests, and then apply sound criteria to select which one(s) best match their goals.

Sources of trustworthy journal data

Reliable journal data sources come from organizations ­­­­that are not journal publishers and thus have no vested interests in advancing any one publication. If these organizations cover only selected journals, they must make their selection criteria openly available for inspection.

Journal data sources allow users to search or browse by subject, in order to bring up relevant results from a large pool of data. Other helpful search filters include the frequency and language of the publication, as well as open-access options. It is also possible to search the indexing and abstracting services that cover the journal, which can help readers to find articles of interest. Plus, readers may also have the option to export and download journal data for further exploration and analysis.

Subscription-based sources (and what they provide for free)

The following reputable sources are available by subscription. Subscriptions are maintained by libraries, universities or knowledge centers, all of which offer access to authorized users. Researchers without a subscription may find useful free journal information from the providers’ websites, as noted below.

Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory tracks over 60,000 peer-reviewed journals (along with popular magazines and newspapers). Search options allow filtering by subject, language, open access and coverage in indexing and abstracting services. Users may select, save and download journal data to their own computers. Helpful information about journal data collection is freely available on Ulrich’s website.

According to Silver (2017), the more selective Cabell’s Directory of Publishing Opportunities covers a smaller set of 11,000 journals that meet their selection criteria. Data includes publisher information, manuscript submission requirements and quality metrics. Non-subscribers may freely consult Cabell’s selection criteria and apply them to their own list of relevant journals. Also, a recent addition to Cabell’s offerings is the Blacklist, which describes journals that have demonstrated ‘deceptive, fraudulent, and/or predatory practices’. Cabell’s Blacklist is available only by subscription, but the criteria used to identify these journals is freely available online.

Journal Citation Reports (JCR) by Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters) covers about 11,000 scholarly journals selected from sciences and social science. JCR data includes the exclusive Journal Impact Factor (JIF), a metric that represents the frequency by which ‘an average article’ is cited. JCR and its companion Web of Science database are available by subscription, but non-subscribers may freely consult their journal list and selection criteria.

Freely available (and less complete) journal guides

The Scholarly Journals Database is the newest free journal guide online. Developed by analysts at the College of Business, University of Florida,  it draws on highly-authoritative journal data that the DOI-agency CrossRef collects directly from publishers. The database covers over 50,000 journals and provides options to filter by subject category and open access availability.

The Directory of Open Access Journals, DOAJ covers 9,446 free journals that meet quality criteria. The directory is searchable by subject, publisher, language and type of open-access licence. Data about each journal is downloadable.

JournalGuide is a free tool from the commercial author services company ResearchSquare to help researchers evaluate scholarly journals. In addition to searching by journal name, category or publisher, authors can input an article’s title and abstract to discover journals that have published papers on similar topics.

JournalTOCs is a free database offering tables of contents from over 28,905 journals. Editors from Heriot-Watt University select journals for inclusion, according to criteria posted freely online.

Gail Clement is Head of Research Services at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Library. She is a long-time science librarian and library administrator who helps authors with the best practices, tools, and resources to achieve success throughout the research lifecycle.

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