Choosing the right journal – think before you submit!

Last Updated on March 11th, 2019 by Sharon Johnatty

Deciding on the journal best suited to your research can be difficult, particularly for interdisciplinary research. Reputable journals are increasingly rejecting sound, well-written manuscripts without review, and with the recent explosion in new journals, deciding where to publish is an ongoing challenge.

Only you and your collaborators can assess the value of your research findings and decide where to submit your work, but some basic journal sleuthing will be a good start. It can be difficult to discriminate the legitimate journals from the predatory ones, and this could take some time, but it is well worth the effort.

My last blog outlined strategies to avoid predatory journals. In this article I continue the theme of journal selection with additional thoughts that also apply to avoiding predatory journals. A combination of these approaches will yield the best results.

  1. Develop a list of journals suitable for your subject area. This should ideally be done at the start of the write-up process. Research the journals relevant to your specialty area and develop a list of candidate journals for submission. I usually start by looking at articles that I have referenced or used to generate my hypothesis. Check with your co-authors, collaborators or colleagues and ask about their experiences with journals on your list and their response time. In many large collaborative groups this information is often readily shared. Update your list as you progress, or if your work is not accepted by your first choice journal.
  1. Read the aims and scope of the journals on your list. Beyond the evidence of transparent and accessible peer-review editorial and fee policies, the question of whether the journal is a good fit for your topic should be considered. Check that the Aims and Scope of the journal fits with your research, particularly if your topic is narrowly focused on a specific scientific question. Likewise, if you notice that a journal’s aims are so broad that they will publish just about anything, then look at some of their recently published articles before making a decision.
  1. Think about your target audience. Journals you find interesting and relevant to your field are also likely to be accessed by your peers or other researchers in your field. Compare articles that are similar in design and methodology to yours, and check if your target journal publishes such articles. This helps if you wish to refute a claim by a journal that ‘we do not publish’ these types of articles. I recently had the experience where a journal’s Editor-in-Chief took 15 weeks to respond, stating that they did not publish our particular methodology — which was actually spelled out in the title of the article! Consider a presubmission inquiry if in doubt, as their response may also highlight their legitimacy and save you precious time.
  1. Impact factor isn’t everything. Publishing in journals with a high impact factor was the second most common reason for journal selection, according to a recent opinion poll. Despite concerns that they can be manipulated, impact factors continue to play a key role in academic career progression. Journal impact factors and other journal metrics are available from Thomson Reuters Web of Science and can be used in conjunction with SCImago Journal Rankings based on Scopus.  Changes in journal rankings and metrics over the past few years should be reviewed, as a drop in journal metrics may signal potential problems, but an increase may simply be the result of decreasing numbers of articles published by the journal. A recent systematic analysis explored contributors to changes in journal impact factors and recommends caution in interpretation, as the number of articles published by the journal is also part of the impact factor calculation. 
  1. Check with your university or institution whether they have an approved list of journals. Many institutions, in cooperation with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and other publishers of ‘whitelists’, may already have resources in place as part of their career advancement scheme, and to encourage researchers to publish in credible journals. In the past three to four years, a number of online forums and websites that aim to protect against deceptive publication practices have been initiated. For additional guidance and advice visit the Think Check Submit website. 

As part of large international consortia, I have been fortunate enough in my career to have co-authored articles published in high-impact journals, as well as a number of respectable journals with lower impact factors. In my experience, an honest appraisal of your research, both in terms of interpreting your results and assessing methodological flaws, should be considered in determining the appropriate repository for this work.

It is important to find the right balance when deciding if your research is ready for publication. Attempting to submit weak or incomplete findings for the sake of your publication record, or holding out too long for what you hope will be Nobel-prize winning results, can prove to be demoralising. Applying a ‘Goldilocks’ approach in deciding when and where to publish can save time and money, and avoid frustration and disappointments.

Please feel free to contact us with additional thoughts on this topic. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

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