Journal and article indexing

Topic lead: Topic leads: Katie Foxall, Andy Nobes, Ivonne Lujano
Last updated: 06/07/2023

Indexing plays a crucial role in enhancing the discoverability of articles, and inclusion in relevant indexes often acts as a proxy for a journal’s quality. A journal index is a collection of journal titles, categorised by discipline, subject, publication type, or other features. An ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) serves as a distinctive identifier for publications, distinguishing all ongoing resources, regardless of their format (print or electronic).

When journals are started, registering for an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is one of the first steps. An ISSN is a persistent identifier for each title and can be obtained free of charge from the ISSN International Centre. Using ISSNs offers a reliable way to distinguish one journal from another as well as identifying the publishing organisation.

After covering this basic requirement, journals often consider submitting an application to be listed in a journal index, as this provides credibility and is considered as a sign of the journal’s quality. Indexes have specific requirements for inclusion, and these can vary significantly.

Benefits of indexing

Many authors will only submit their articles to journals that are indexed, due to the above-mentioned perception of quality or because this is a requirement of their funder or institution. Inclusion in a recognised index is very beneficial to the reputation of a journal and will lead to many more readers accessing its content as well as a higher rate of citations compared to non-indexed titles. Being indexed in multiple databases rather than just one increases the visibility and reach of journals even further. There is an underrepresentation of journals from some global regions in international indexes, but there are some region-specific databases such as Latindex that aim to redress the balance.

Examples of funders that require indexing from their grantees include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and cOAlitionS. Funders’ policies vary, however, with significant differences across global regions.

Choosing an index

When choosing an index, journals should focus on those that are most relevant to their scope, aims and focus. Coverage can vary, from the broadest databases such as Scopus and Web of Science to those that focus on regional publishing (e.g. ScieLO and the above-mentioned Latindex) and others that focus on specific publishing models (e.g. Directory of Open Access Journals, naturally focussing on open access journals) or disciplines (e.g. PubMed Central, Medline, PubMed). Each index will provide access to chosen features, too. For example, some cover citation data and abstracts, while others include article full texts.

There are also free online search engines such as Google Scholar, which provides a dedicated search page but also shows relevant results via Google search. Being indexed here can be very valuable as general-purpose search engines are commonly used to identify academic literature.

The application process

In order to be indexed, a journal usually applies to the selected database, providing relevant documents and evidence. Each index will have different criteria, but they will generally check that the journal meets basic scholarly publishing standards. These may include checking that the journal has a clear scope, provides information on peer review, copyright and ethics, has a clear editorial board page with names and titles, issues Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and publishes article-level metadata. It is free to apply for indexing, but there may be costs associated with complying with the index criteria, such as the generation of XML files.

If the journal meets all the criteria, it will be indexed and become available to the users of that database. If the journal does not meet the criteria required for indexing, changes may need to be introduced to make sure that it becomes eligible. Journals that are rejected can typically reapply for inclusion at different time intervals, depending on the rules of each individual index.

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