How to make your case for impact

In another blog, I encouraged you to pick your own reference group. What better reference group than academics who have published in the same journals that you have published in? In this blog, I will show you how you can make your case for academic research impact by strategically comparing your papers to their journal reference group.

Most cited paper in the journal that year

The Publish or Perish screenshot below compares my 2013 paper published in the Journal of World Business with other papers published in the same year and finds it is the most highly cited paper in the journal in that particular year.


A comparison like this can be particularly effective as it automatically corrects for differences in citation behaviours across disciplines and differences in papers of a different age. You could write this up in your application as: "My 2013 paper in Journal of World Business was the most cited paper out of 50 papers published that year and had more than three times as many citations as the average paper in the journal that year."

Most cited single-authored paper

You can be creative in this as well. The screenshot below shows my 2001 publication in the Journal of International Business Studies. Unfortunately, it was not the most cited paper in the journal that year, but it was the 2nd most cited single-authored paper and the 5th most cited paper overall (out of 40), which in a top US journal is a significant achievement.


Most cited paper from outside North America

If you work outside North America and have published in a North American journal, you could also make an argument that publishing in these journals tends to be more difficult from outside North America. You could then look at whether your paper is maybe the most cited article by a non-North American academic or the most cited article by an academic from your own country.

Paper in the top-5/top-10 or top 10% most cited

Of course, it will not happen very often that your paper is the most-cited paper in the journal in question. However, even just being able to say that it is within the top-5 or top-10 most cited papers makes a very significant contribution to your case. You can also use percentages – such as “in the top 10% most cited papers in the journal that year” – if this makes your case more impressive.

Most cited paper over longer time period

If you are lucky you have articles that are amongst the most-cited articles in a particular journal over a longer period. If you could say that your article was amongst the top 5% or top 10% most cited articles in a particular journal over its entire history of publication that would make a very strong case, especially if the journal was a particularly well-known journal.

Worked example: top 1% most cited in AMLE

As the screenshot below shows, my article with Nancy Adler in the Academy of Management Learning & Education was in the top 1% of articles (5th out of 754) published in AMLE. Given that it was published in 2009, i.e. about mid-way in the journal’s lifetime, this might make quite a strong case.


Pay attention to the time period you are reporting on

However, it is not such a good idea to use this strategy if your paper was published early in the time period you are reporting on. For instance, if you claim that your paper is amongst the 25% most cited articles in a journal between 2000-2010, and your paper was published in 2000/2001, it is likely that your paper was actually cited less than average for articles in 2000 and 2001.

Compare a body of work rather than individual papers

If you do not have any papers that really stand out, but your papers are generally well cited in comparison to the journals they are published in, you could emphasize this. For instance, you could say: on average my articles are amongst the top 20%-30% most cited papers when compared to papers published in the same journal in the same year. Be careful with this strategy though. Unless you have some papers that have been published in journals that your evaluation committee will recognize as top journals, it will only elicit the comment that you tend to waste your work by publishing in low impact journals.


There are many ways in which you can make sure that you present your work to its best advantage. However, remember that, whatever you do, it is up to you to find the "pearls" in your record and string into a beautiful necklace. Your evaluators are unlikely to be able or willing to do this themselves!

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