BACKGROUND We examined citation data for the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJP) and four other general psychiatry journals to assess their impact on the scientific community.
METHOD Data on three measures of citations (total number of citations, impact factor and ranking by impact factor) were obtained from Journal Citation Reports for 1985-1994. Rank correlations from year to year were calculated.
RESULTS The BJP currently ranks sixth of all psychiatry journals when journals are ranked by impact factor. The journal's impact factor fell between 1985 and 1990 and this was followed by a rise in impact factor after 1991. The BJP did not rank in the top 10 psychiatry journals between 1991 and 1993. Archives of General Psychiatry is cited more frequently than any other psychiatry journal, with the American Journal of Psychiatry usually ranking second. Psychopharmacology journals are replacing more general journals in the top rankings. Rankings of most journals have become less stable in recent years.
CONCLUSIONS The BJP would have to change the nature and number of papers published to improve its impact factor. There are a number of limitations to citation data and such data are only one of several factors useful in evaluating the importance of a journal's contribution to scientific and clinical communities.