Commentary on Jackson D, Haigh C & Watson R (2009) Editorial: Nurses and publications – the impact of the impact factor. Journal of Clinical Nursing 18, 2537–2538


Zenobia CY Chan, School of Nursing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China. Telephone: +852 2766 6426.

Currently, in JCN, the attention on impact factors has been critically addressed by Jackson et al. (2009) in their editorial ‘Nurses and publications – the impact of the impact factor’. We, writers and readers, play a part in supporting and maintaining the use impact factors in the realm of journal publications. The risk of ‘Impact factor addiction’ should be noted and the possible need for ‘Impact factor cessation’ should be considered and are the two responses I wish to make in this commentary.

Impact factors have been sceptically challenged across various disciplines (for example: Anseel et al. 2004, Bloch & Walter 2001, Boor 1982, Ironside 2007, Nolan et al. 2008, Urquhart 2006). Courtney (2006) also provided an interesting discussion in nursing journals as to what ‘Impact fever’ is. The dominant discourse of impact factors can represent which journals are better than others, which articles have higher cited rates than others and which authors have a larger influence than others; the utility of impact factors is then created. Subsequently, the selling of a journal will be accelerated by higher impact factors. A high impact factor journal will attract higher subscription rates and enlarge the scope of its readership. The dominant discourse of the importance of impact factors is constructed and then reinforced by commercial settings, educational institutions, editorial members and authors and readers, either voluntarily or involuntarily; consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, impact factors are coconstructed by the above parties. Some nurse colleagues may suffer from an addiction which I call it impact factor addiction in this commentary. Addiction implies unhealthy behaviours that are worthy of attention in our nursing scholarly community.

Primarily, the intention behind having impact factors and citations was good, but when nurse authors are so addicted as to engage in such technological academic exercises as only submitting articles to high impact factor journals or crafting their articles according to the ‘taste’ and editorial mandate of particular journals, then the essence of scholarly sharing and knowledge is distorted and the spontaneity and creativity in the process of writing disturbed. It is, therefore, time that we participated in impact factor cessation. How? Just like our patients who are addicted to smoking, we suggest that they join a smoking cessation programme. For our nurse colleagues, we should start our cessation of impact factors to ensure the integrity of our nursing profession and to protect our freedom to write and submit. More importantly, the effects of impact factors have resulted in many absurd writing and submission behaviours in our nursing communities. For example, some universities have set yearly, biyearly, or triyearly targets for a particular faculty grade (assistant professor, associate professor, professor), such as the number of publications in ‘A’ grade journals, which usually have the highest impact factors. Eventually, at least five possible publication behaviours will result as follows:

  • 1 Some who are capable in writing will conform by submitting articles to high impact factors journals to meet the university’s requirements and be regarded as productive staff worthy of promotion and a sense of achievement;
  • 2 Some who are capable in writing will conform to the requirements of the university but will also write according to their own preferences, such as writing for journals without impact factors (common for humanity and social science journals), books, fiction and poetry;
  • 3 Some who are poor in writing will experience anxiety but still try hard to meet the requirements of the university and believe that the torment of writing inadequately must be overcome to get impact factors and thereby secure his/her job;
  • 4 Some who are poor in writing will not experience anxiety and will not attempt to meet the requirements of the university, instead increasing their teaching or administration workload or preparing to leave the institution;
  • 5 Some will view impact factors as a benchmark for evaluating individual performance and progressively lose their all-round writing ability because of writing mechanically. This is one of the possible reasons why nurse researchers or scholars write very similarly and lose their character, style and voice in recent nursing publications.

The addiction to impact factors will continue if we do not resist. If we are satisfied at being controlled by such numerical figures as impact factors, then we will lose our sense of reflectivity and criticality. Addiction does not happen in a day, but gradually over time with the interplaying influences of the above mentioned factors and parties. Cessation is not completed in a day; it takes time and requires effective strategies and the client’s participation and cooperation. The same applies to impact factor cessation, for which there are some strategies as follows:

  • 1 The authors should write freely based on their interests, not on the impact factors of a particular journal.
  • 2 Nurse editors and editorial board members should revise their journal mandate not to over-stress the impact factors of their journals.
  • 3 Institutions should not purchase journals only because of impact factors.
  • 4 Readers should not evaluate journals solely on impact factors.
  • 5 The top management of universities should evaluate the scholarship of faculty members by various means, not just counting publication in refereed journals with high impact factors.
  • 6 Freedom to have regard for the significance of impact factors should be respected, as tolerance of differences and human rights should be ensured.

Some nurse colleagues are not only researchers writing for journals, but also theologians, playwrights, poets and others. They may write textbooks, plays, fiction and poetry without the indication of impact factors. If the nursing community continues to rely on impact factors, there are many talented nurse writers who will be moulded or trained to be robots who write purely to earn citations. It is a sad thing to see nurses narrowing their writing horizons. Eventually, nursing will not be able to grow in a healthy and free manner, generating knowledge and reaching readers from all walks of life. It is extremely timely and crucial for editors, institutions, writers and readers related to nursing to revisit ‘the impact of the impact factor’ suggested by Jackson et al. 2009.

Briefly, impact factor addiction or impact factor cessation is not only an individual issue but also a social issue. More importantly, impact factors do affect knowledge development in nursing. Will my alternative viewpoint on impact factor appear in JCN– a high impact factor journal?