Ranking Disciplinary Journals with the Google Scholar H-Index: A New Tool for Constructing Cases for Tenure, Promotion, and Other Professional Decisions

By Hodge, David R.; Lacasse, Jeffrey R. | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Ranking Disciplinary Journals with the Google Scholar H-Index: A New Tool for Constructing Cases for Tenure, Promotion, and Other Professional Decisions


Hodge, David R., Lacasse, Jeffrey R., Journal of Social Work Education


THE EMPIRICAL RANKING of social work journals is important to many professional stakeholders. At the macro level, the quality of social work's disciplinary journals plays an important role in the profession's advancement (SSWR Presidential Task Force on Publications, 2008). At the micro and mezzo levels, perceptions of journal quality helps inform the decision-making process of researchers, writers, administrators allocating merit pay, educators selecting syllabus content, and tenure and promotion committees (Cnaan, Caputo, & Shmuely, 1994; Sellers, Perry, Mathiesen, & Smith, 2004).

Journal rankings may be particularly salient in tenure and promotion decisions. In a survey of 130 social work deans and directors, Green (2008) found that scholarship was the most important factor in tenure and promotion decisions. Scholarship was accorded more importance than either teaching or service, and the salience attributed to scholarship increased with rank. Although scholarship is manifested in many forms, professional journals continue to be the primary vehicle through which the discipline's scholarship is disseminated (Green, Bellin, & Baskind, 2002; Cnaan et al., 1994; Furr, 1995). For instance, one study of full-time faculty (N=189) in graduate programs found that respondents gave more weight to referred journal articles than any other form of scholarship in making tenure decisions (Seipel, 2003).

This study also found that publication in top-tier disciplinary social work journals was given the most weight in tenure decisions (Seipel, 2003). On a 10-point scale in which 0 represented no value and 10 represented great value for obtaining tenure, publication in first-tier journals was accorded a 9.69, publication in second-tier journals a 8.18, and publication in third-tier a 6.61. Publication in disciplinary social work journals was deemed more important than publishing in other outlets, including social work-related journals, general academic journals, or partisan journals (Seipel, 2003).

Although it is widely accepted that publication in top-tier disciplinary journals plays a central role in tenure and promotion, more ambiguity exists regarding the ranking of social work journals. Currently, journal quality is typically assessed by either personal judgment or perhaps more commonly with the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) produced by Thomson Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Knowledge (Furr, 1995; Green & Baskind, 2007; Holden, Rosenberg, & Karker, 2005; Jenson, 2005; Seipel, 2003; Sellers et al., 2004). Although both methods represent important contributions, they also are characterized by flaws that limit their utility.

Two studies have used samples of faculty to evaluate journal quality in 1990 (Cnaan et al., 1994) and 2000 (Sellers et al., 2004). These reputation-based approaches provide important insights into faculty perceptions. At the same time, they are characterized by a number of limitations. Included among these are the subjective nature of assessing journal quality, marginal response rates, the timelimited nature of the resulting data, and the difficulty of maintaining sufficient familiarity to evaluate the growing number of social work journals.

As a result of these limitations, Thomson ISI Web of Knowledge JCR are widely used to assess and rank journal quality in social work (Furr, 1995; Green & Baskind, 2007; Jenson, 2005; Seipel, 2003). Indeed, the JCR are widely recognized as the de facto standard for assessing journal quality across the sciences (Olden, 2007). The JCR (2008) purport to offer an objective, reliable method of providing current evaluations of prominent disciplinary journals. They are objective and reliable in the sense that they rely upon citation counts--in keeping with the theory that better work is typically cited more frequently. To ensure their currency, Thomson ISI calculates JCR yearly for a wide variety of disciplines, including social work. …

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