Monday, August 1, 2011

Journal Impact Factors and Rankings: How Categorization Influences a Journal's Rank

Management scholars publish their research in journals that fall into two broad categories: Business and Management. This category assignment is made by Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR). As I mentioned in an earlier post, JCR does not rank journals based on impact factors. But, the journals rank themselves in their own category. Depending on the category in which a particular journal is placed, the rank a journal receives can be quite different for the same impact factor. In particular, journals placed in the Management category receive a lower rank for the same impact factor than they would get if they were in the Business category.
As shown in this document, the number of journals by category is: Business – 101, Management – 140, Both combined – 203. However, 38 journals are common to both categories. These 38 journals get a lower rank in Management compared to their rank in Business category. For example, Organization Dynamics is ranked at 65 in Business Category and 90 in Management Category – a drop of 25 places. Combining the Business and Management categories, however, produces another different ranking, which is typically lower than the rank received in either of the category rankings. For example, Organization Dynamics gets a rank of 128 if both categories are combined.
Given this influence that category assignment has, the definitions of category and the criteria on which those assignments are made must be sound. JCR says that management covers “resources on management science, organization studies, strategic planning and decision-making methods, leadership studies, and total quality management.” The category of business “covers resources concerned with all aspects of business and the business world. These may include marketing and advertising, forecasting, planning, administration, organizational studies, compensation, strategy, retailing, consumer research, and management. Also covered are resources relating to business history and business ethics.” Although these definitions appear to be somewhat different, they are quite similar and many business management journals can fall into either category or both.
Not surprisingly, in practice, journals with similar mandate and focus are assigned to different categories. For example, Supply Chain Management is assigned to both the categories, while Journal of Operations Management is assigned to Management category alone. Asia Pacific Journal of Management is assigned to Management category, while Asian Business and Management is assigned to both categories. If APJM was assigned to Business category, then its rank would have been 10 – a better looking place compared to its place of 18 in Management category. 
In short, category assignments do not appear to be based on sound criteria and many journals in Business category can easily fit into the Management category, and vice versa. For the same impact factor, those journals in Business Category tend to get a better rank than those in the Management Category. Therefore, one needs to pay attention to the category and other journals in the category as one makes use of the impact factors. This also raises broader questions: If the category assignments are themselves not very sound, how meaningful are the journal ranks, and how sensible is the obsession with these ranks?

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