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SOCY2210 Research Methods


Assessing Journals: Qualitative Factors

Qualitative versus Quantitaive

Quantitative measures of a journal's importance like journal impact factor are not always available for many disciplines, especially the humanities.  As a result, any attempt to determine which journals in subjects like literature and philosophy are more highly regarded than others must rely on qualitiative criteria such as the ones described on this page.  

Peer Review - A Basic Criterion

In order for a journal to be considered acceptable as a scholarly publication, it must have a peer review or referee process whereby papers submitted for consideration are read by at least two scholars knowledgeable about the paper's topic.  A reviewer may accept the paper as is, accept it with recommendations for changes, or reject it.  In most cases, the identities of the reviewers are not made known to the author.  If a journal has a peer review process, it is usually detailed within journal issues or on the journal's website.  Whether or not a journal is refereed can also be determined by consulting Ulrichsweb.

Acceptance / Rejection Rates

A journal's rate of accepting submissions for publication might be considered a measure of quality.  A low acceptance rate can mean that the journal receives far more article manuscipts than it can publish, an indication that scholars prefer it above others for submitting their work.  However, it is not always easy to find acceptance rates for many journals. Moreover, there is no standard way to calculate acceptance rate. For example, should all manuscripts submitted be considered as the basis for acceptance rate or only those sent to reviewers?  Also, a high acceptance rate for a journal specializing in a niche subject may simply reflect the small size of the community of scholars writing on that subject.

Scholars in modern languages and literatures are well served by the MLA Directory of Publications which includes acceptance rates, for example:

Editors and Editorial Boards

An investigation of a journal's editors and editorial board members can help determine a journal's quality. Journals usually list their names, academic degrees, and institutional affiliations, giving enough information to find their pages on institutional websites where their academic training and publications may be listed.  

Indexes and Abstracts

Every academic discipline has at least one or two indexes or abstracts that are essential tools for doing research in the subject. Most index publishers use some form of a selection process to determine which journals will be indexed to make sure researchers will find the most important articles.  Index title lists can often be easily found by doing a Google search for ["index title in parentheses"] title list, for example "mla international bibliography" title list which came up with the following list: MLA International Bibliography Current Serials Source List. Some indexes have links to title lists on the index search page, for example:


Journals published by university presses tend to be among the more highly regarded, but not all university presses are equal. To some extent, the reputation of a university press reflects the reputation of the university itself, and although they are not without their critics, lists of university rankings can give some indication of a school's quality. Here are two such lists:

Two other important types of publishers are scholarly societies and commercial publishers like Wiley-Blackwell and Springer. In both cases there is no ready measure of journal's importance, and using some of the other qualitative criteria described on this page might be the best approach.

Subscribing Libraries

Search results for a journal in WorldCat will include a list of libraries which subscribe to it.  

This particular journal is held by over 2,000 libraries, which in itself may indicate its importance.  But there may be some quality journals in niche subjects where the number of subscribing libraries is much smaller.  In those cases, if a journal is being received by libraries at highly ranked universities, even if few in number, it might be an indication of the journal's importance.