Ranking IR Journals

7 January 2014, 1632 EST

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Brian J. Phillips, of the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics.

What are the best International Relations journals? How do we know if one journal is better than another? And how should this affect your decision about where to send a manuscript?

I recently worked on a ranking of IR journals at the behest of an institution, and this blog post shares some of the information I learned in the process. This might be helpful for graduate students and junior faculty still getting a feel for where to send manuscripts. A number of questions came up during the process, and while they perhaps can never be fully resolved, I’ll leave them here for your consideration.

Scholars publish in journals for a variety of reasons. Most fundamentally, it is done to communicate with the community for the purpose of advancing scientific knowledge.

Academic publishing is also a way, to a large degree the way, that a scholar shows her or his value – to the department, the university, and the discipline. For those of us hoping to keep our jobs, or move on to better jobs, where we publish is essential.

This post focuses on article publications, as opposed to books or chapters. How do our peers evaluate our articles? The content of an article might have certain intrinsic value – a genuine contribution independently of where it is published – but it is much easier for committees to evaluate an article based on the prestige of the journal in which it was published.

Surveys and citation indexes

There are two primary ways to order journals: surveys and citation indexes. Regarding surveys, the Teaching, Research, and International Policy project surveys IR scholars regularly to get their opinions on a host of issues, including journal prestige.

Below are the results of the 2011 survey, the most recent. Scholars were asked to list the four journals that publish articles with the greatest influence in IR (page 52 of the report). Other surveys rank Political Science journals generally, which often include IR journals, and some examples include McLean et al. 2009 and Giles and Garand 2007.

TRIPS rank Journal
1 International Organization
2 International Studies Quarterly
3 International Security
4 Foreign Affairs
6 World Politics
7 European Journal of International Relations
8 Journal of Conflict Resolution
9 Foreign Policy
10 Review of International Studies
11 Millennium: Journal of International Studies
13 International Affairs
14 Security Studies
15 Review of International Political Economy
16 Journal of Peace Research
17 International Studies Review
18 International Relations
19 Comparative Politics
20 Global Governance


One issue that might jump out at readers is the inclusion of non-peer-reviewed publications: Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. It’s not clear that FA and FP are directly comparable to double blind peer-reviewed journals because the publication process is so different.

An additional issue with this list is that because it is a global survey, some scholars might not be familiar with journals published in different regions. For example, some U.S. scholars might not be familiar with all of the European journals. This speaks to regional differences, and that scholars often communicate regionally more than globally.

(All of the journals discussed in this blog post are in English, and come from the developed world – important issues, but perhaps beyond the scope of this humble post.)

Regarding citation indexes, one of the most commonly used is the Thomson-Reuters Journal Citation Reports. There are various metrics, and the table below uses the two-year Impact Factor, which is basically the number of times the average article in the journal is cited in the following two years. (For a helpful Duck post on Thomson-Reuters rankings, see here.)

  Impact Factor Journal
1 3.916 American Political Science Review
2 3.025 World Politics
3 2.98 International Organization
4 2.756 American Journal of Political Science
5 2.333 International Security
6 2.237 Journal of Conflict Resolution
7 1.98 Journal of Peace Research
8 1.537 World Development
9 1.536 British Journal of Political Science
10 1.478 Journal of Politics
11 1.381 International Political Sociology
12 1.352 European Journal of International Relations
13 1.308 Journal of Common Market Studies
14 1.265 International Studies Quarterly
15 1.118 Review of International Organizations
16 1.11 Review of International Studies
17 1.097 Human Rights Quarterly
18 1.039 Review of International Political Economy
19 0.915 Terrorism and Political Violence
20 0.902 Cooperation and Conflict
21 0.864 Security Studies
22 0.826 Conflict Management and Peace Science
23 0.74 International Studies Review
24 0.7 International Interactions
25 0.691 Millennium: Journal of International Studies
26 0.65 Studies in Comp. and Intl. Development
27 0.613 Survival
28 0.533 International Relations
29 0.487 Studies in Conflict and Terrorism
30 0.435 Global Governance


The list above is ordered according to Impact Factors, but the decision of which journals to include was my decision for the purposes of this blog post. The list is probably incomplete, but it represents an effort to include many of the well-known IR journals. Some might argue that general journals (APSR, AJPS, BJPS, JOP) should not be on an IR list, but of course these journals contain important IR articles.

This indicates a central challenge of rankings with citation indexes: Which journals should be on a list of IR journals? Impact factors can help order journals, but not decided the contents of the list. Thomson-Reuters has a somewhat odd idea of IR, so individuals or institutions using their rankings might need to add or remove journals. This is discussed more in the Duck post mentioned above.

For an alternate take on citation metrics, see Google Scholar’s ranking of IR journals. This is their list of journals filed under “Diplomacy and International Relations” and one notices some overlaps with the lists above, but also some perhaps odd journals, and some absences. As with Thomson-Reuters and other databases, one can search for a journal to find its score, and create a new ranking of journals based upon one’s own criteria for inclusion.

The problems with citation indexes are many (for example, see this), but they are one way to attempt to sort journals. We can mitigate problems with these rankings by creating a hybrid ranking also using survey data, and inevitably some qualitative criteria.


Whether using surveys or citation indexes, a number of important questions arise. The answers to these questions are basically qualitative, and will depend highly on departmental norms, regional norms, and so forth.

How are general journals valued relative to IR journals?

For example, most of us would probably agree that it is better seen by our departments and the discipline to publish in APSR instead of a mid-tier IR journal. However, it gets muddier as we talk about other general journals vs. highly-ranked IR journals. Is it better to publish in JOP or ISQ? PRQ or JPR? PRQ or CMPS?

How are comparative journals valued relative to IR journals?

The line between CP and IR is blurry, especially for those doing research on political economy or subnational violence. CPS and CP have lower impact factors (1.186 and .711 respectively) than some IR journals like JCR and JPR. Of course it’s important for comparativists to have publications in top Comparative journals. It is less clear how an IR scholar will be evaluated for publishing in Comparative journals.

How do we compare (no pun intended) an article in CP with an article in ISQ, JCR, or other valued IR journals? For this question, the answer might depend on if the scholar is worried about being viewed as “not IR enough,” and in that case she or he might not want to submit to a comparative journal.

How are policy journals valued relative to more theoretical journals?

This question likely depends greatly on one’s department – policy school or political science? If a department values more policy-oriented research, it will likely give more influence to a publication in Security Studies or Survival than impact factor alone might dictate. Independently of department preferences, hopefully you know the fit of your manuscript, and this will help in deciding between International Security and JCR, for example.

This gets at a wider point: the value of an article in a journal depends greatly on what a department expects of its faculty, and how an individual scholar is trying to shape her or his profile. Overall, the rankings help identify important journals, but the final ordering likely hinges on many qualitative criteria.

Are there other important questions raised by these rankings? How else can we determine the value of article publications in a systematic, transparent, and fair manner?