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Communications of the ACM

Technical opinion

How to Quickly Find Articles in the Top Is Journals

Publish or perish is a long-standing practice in academia worldwide. Increasingly, it also has become important for faculty and practitioners to publish in the top-tier journals in their disciplines. Periodically, articles appear that use various criteria to rank the top journals in computer science and information systems. These rankings are helpful to faculty members and practitioners seeking the best outlet for their research. One of the most recent articles on this topic appeared in Communications [4]. In that article, Mylonopoulos and Theoharakis list the top 50 IS journals (see the table here), ranked by world and geographic preference. While helpful to those needing this information, a more difficult question remains: how does a researcher efficiently sort through all of these journals looking for significant articles that might affect the work he or she is doing? In other words, how does one find relevant research relating to his or her own research agenda in one of these top journals?

It is doubtful that many researchers would subscribe to all of the top 50 journals or would be able to devote the necessary time at a library reading through every issue of these titles. How then does a productive researcher find relevant sources? The answer, of course, is to research a topic in the appropriate indexes. However, that is not as simple as it may sound since there are dozens of indexes that cover the broad field of IS and one could spend many hours searching all of them. In an effort to save the time of researchers, we sought to identify which indexes have the best coverage of the 25 top IS journals as identified by Mylonopoulos and Theoharakis. In addition, we considered which indexes contain full text rather than just abstracts or citations. Finally, before making any recommendations, we considered the index holdings of libraries at 20 top research universities and five industry sites to determine if the top researchers had access to the necessary indexes.

The 20 universities came from a list of 52 universities [1–3] referencing top CS/IS researchers, research institutions, and graduate programs. We chose the top five schools in each of the 12 tables contained in the articles. After eliminating duplicates, 20 schools remained. The five companies came from the article by Athey and Plotnicki [1]. Researchers from the five companies published in Communications of the ACM, which had the highest percentage of non-academic authors of the journals included in the article, "An Evaluation of Research Productivity in Academic IT" [1]. Unfortunately, corporate libraries get different versions of the indexes than academic institutions, usually with less coverage and greater expense. Therefore, we removed the corporate libraries from the search of current library holdings.

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The Study

The study began with the quest to find what indexes reference the 25 top IS journals either with a citation, abstract, or full-text listing. We searched OCLC's Worldcat, the premier bibliographic resource for libraries, and discovered there are more than 60 print and online indexes covering one or more of these IS titles. These indexes range from the expected ACM Guide and the various physics and engineering indexes to the less obvious titles such as Coal Abstracts, the Modern Language Association's International Bibliography, Ship Abstracts, and World Textile Abstracts.

While the wide range of subject areas involved with some aspect of IS may be expected, it does not help the busy researcher wanting to do a comprehensive literature review in the least amount of time. Although several indexes cover the top 10 journals, no single index covered all of the top 25 journals. One of the goals of this study was to discover a small subset of those indexes that covers all of the top 25 journals, thereby cutting down the amount of time spent perusing databases motivated by the fear that one has missed a seminal article. We decided the best approach would be to limit the research to online indexes because the number of print indexes is declining, largely because most people, particularly IS researchers, prefer the convenience of online searching.

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From the original list of indexes, there are seven online indexes that cover 10 or more of the top 25 IS journals (see Figure 1).1 The seven online indexes are:

  • ABI/Inform (
  • ACM Guide (
  • ISI's Web of Science (
  • EBSCO's Business Source Premier (
  • Ei Compendex (
  • Ingenta (
  • INSPEC (

Of these seven indexes, only three contain full text of some of their citations. The three are ABI/Inform, ACM Guide, and EBSCO Business Source Premier. The content of the indexes changes constantly as the indexes drop some journals and add others. Some journal publishers are beginning to embargo their full text for six to 24 months and do not permit full-text databases to make current issues accessible. This means if you want the full text of those recent issues, you must obtain the journal from another source. For more information about each of these indexes, consult their particular Web sites.

Overall, Ingenta has the best coverage of the seven databases, indexing 24 of the top 25 journals. Although Ingenta contains only citations, it is a good starting point for overall coverage of a topic. Everyone has access to the Ingenta journal citations through the Internet whether or not their library subscribes. Some large institutions have established credit accounts so researchers can request a copy of the article from Ingenta. Researchers that do not have an account can search for listed articles in other indexes that include full-text versions once they find Ingenta citations on a particular topic. If this fails, a trip to the library or use of interlibrary loan is the next step.

INSPEC and Web of Science follow Ingenta with abstracts for 21 titles. EBSCO Business Source Premier has 19 titles, 10 of which are current full text and one that is full text through September 2000. ACM Guide is next with 16 titles, four of which are full text. ABI covers 14 journals, two of which are current full text, and five that ABI stopped supplying in full text sometime before the end of 2001. Ei Compendex includes only 10 of the top 25 journal titles. Only four of the top journals (Management Science, IEEE Transactions,2 Harvard Business Review, and ACM Transactions) are covered by all seven indexes. Communications of the AIS is indexed in only one source, and 20 of the journals are in four or more indexes.

ACM Guide is the only index to cover the one journal not indexed by Ingenta. This means that to gain complete coverage of the 25 top journals, a researcher would only need to search these two databases. Another option to gain complete coverage is to use a combination of INSPEC, ACM Guide, and either ABI/Inform, EBSCO Business Premier, or Web of Science. As far as full text is concerned for the top 25 journals, 14 of the 15 journals available in full text are available through a combination of EBSCO Business Premier and the ACM Guide. One more full-text listing is available through ABI. This leads to the conclusion that Ingenta, EBSCO, ACM Guide, and ABI comprise the best combination of indexes. This combination gives researchers citations or abstracts for all of the top 25 journals and includes all three of the full-text indexes that cover 60% of the journals with 56% of them current. See Figure 2 for data on full-text coverage by individual index.

Having reviewed the major online indexes, the next step was to research the accessibility of these indexes at the 20 major research institutions gleaned from U.S. News and World Report [2, 3] and the article by Athey and Plotnicki [1]. Since everyone has access to Ingenta citations, we only checked for access to the remaining six indexes; 19 of the 20 libraries subscribe to Web of Science; 18 libraries subscribe to ABI/Inform; 17 carry both Ei Compendex and INSPEC; 11 handle the ACM Guide and nine have EBSCO Business Source Premier. All 20 schools have access to the top 25 journal citations through Ingenta and either ABI/Inform or Web of Science. Four of the universities carry all three of the full-text indexes, giving them access to all 15 referenced journals. Two of them do not subscribe to ABI/Inform, limiting their full-text searches to 14 of the top 25 journals. Three of the libraries have coverage of 11 of the top journals through a combination of EBSCO and ABI/Inform. Five have the full text of five journals through ACM Guide and ABI/Inform; six universities only have full-text coverage of two journals through their subscription to ABI/Inform.

This sporadic coverage by the major institutions motivated us to check with several libraries to determine why they subscribe to a particular set of indexes. We discovered that most librarians have limited budgets with which to work, and therefore must use great care in selecting subscriptions to digital resources. We examined the criteria used by the libraries at several of the top IS schools in the U.S. and found great commonality among them. The criteria used by the libraries at MIT ( and the University of Arizona ( are typical of the selection policies for electronic resources most libraries use. The primary criteria for selection include: critical to the institution's constituency; quality (comprehensiveness, scope, accuracy); full-text availability; cost/benefit ratio; ease of use balanced by ability to perform sophisticated searching; consortial benefits; availability of remote access; strong business/licensing model; good archival policy; and technical support needed and provided. While librarians fully understand that most users prefer electronic access to full-text articles, this is only one aspect to consider when deciding to which titles they should have subscriptions.

The cost of a subscription is obviously an important selection criterion. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide the cost of any of the databases discussed here. Unlike the situation with printed material, vendors of electronic resources do not have an established, list price for each title. Instead, pricing is determined through negotiation between a library or library consortia and the vendor. Most often, the charges to libraries are a price per full-time equivalent (FTE) student and the number of simultaneous users who will have access to the database. The price per FTE student varies from one institution to another and depends on the negotiating skills of the librarians. Other factors often play into the pricing, such as how many print titles a library has purchased by a certain publisher and if the library will retain those print subscriptions. Librarians also must negotiate for other factors such as use by walk-in users and for interlibrary loan purposes. Corporate libraries usually pay a higher price for databases and the database services may charge for the number of corporate locations that have access to a particular title.

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Knowing which indexes are best to use is quite helpful to researchers, provided they have access to them. It must be noted that most online indexes are very expensive and many smaller academic libraries may not subscribe to all of the indexes discussed here. This is particularly true of the more specialized indexes such as INSPEC, ACM Guide, Ei Compendex, or Web of Science. Most libraries, though, will provide access to the indexes with broader subject coverage such as Ingenta, Business Source Premier, or ABI Inform. IS researchers should investigate these resources if the specialized indexes are not available. Using just EBSCO Business Source Premier and the ACM Guide, researchers can access 60% of the full-text articles in the top 10 journals and 56% of the top 25. They can also discuss the results of this study with their librarians to encourage the institution to subscribe to the most essential databases.

Not too long ago, IS researchers needed to consult a large number of print indexes to find relevant articles in the top IS journals. The increased availability of online indexes has been a great time-saver for busy researchers, provided they know which indexes will produce the best results. We have provided a list of seven possible online indexes that researchers can use to find articles in the top 25 IS journals. Searching the right combination of these indexes will save researchers a great deal of time in locating the best articles from the best journals.

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1. Athey, S. and Plotnicki, J. An evaluation of research productivity in academic IT. Communications of the Association for Information Systems 3, 7 (Mar. 2000).

2. Best graduate schools. U.S. News and World Report (2002);

3. Best graduate schools. U.S. News and World Report (2002);

4. Mylonopoulos, N.A. and Theoharakis, V. Global perceptions of IS journals. Commun. ACM 44, 9 (Sept. 2001), 29–33.

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Ruth Bolotin Schwartz ( is an associate professor of computer science and the interim director of informatics at Indiana University, South Bend.

Michele C. Russo ( is a librarian and the director of library services at Indiana University, South Bend.

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1Since database producers regularly negotiate rights to their indexes with publishers, this material was accurate circa June 2002.

2We made no attempt to determine how many of the various publications beginning with IEEE Transactions to... an index covered. This is consistent with the way Mylonopoulos and Theoharakis [4] ranked these and similar publications.

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F1Figure 1. Percentage of top 25 journals covered by individual databases.

F2Figure 2. Percentage of top 25 journals covered by full-text indices.

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UT1Table. The top 50 journals (CS/IS) [

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