How do you select the best journal for your research?


Selecting a journal to submit your newly written research paper to can seem like an overwhelming decision – but it doesn’t have to be! Here, we will talk about a variety of factors that may influence your journal selection, so that you can feel more confident about your decision.


How important is the journal impact factor?

Impact factor is typically the most important factor that researchers consider when deciding where to submit a paper. And for good reason: the impact factors of the journals that you publish in are often used as a ‘shorthand’ for other people to determine the quality and importance of your work, and can be factored into important career milestones such as grant applications and promotions. For this reason, it is a clear priority for most researchers to publish in a journal with as high an impact factor as possible.


It’s important to first aim high by identifying competitive journals that could be good potential choices, and to then choose appropriately by selecting the most suitable journal or journals from that list based on a realistic assessment of your work. An important point to remember is that the impact or significance of a study depends almost entirely on the scientific context; for example, a paper that is revolutionary in the world of Salmonella research may not be considered especially significant to microbiology in general, or to researchers in fields other than microbiology. We will talk more about scope and audience, and how these affect journal selection, below.


What is the open access publishing model?

Another very important consideration for most researchers is publishing in an open access journal. Open access means that the entire content of the paper is freely available to all readers, with no need to subscribe to a journal or pay to access the paper. Many researchers prefer this publication model because it can help disseminate their research to a wider audience, and helps create a more open and interactive scientific community.


Two of the most well-known open access publishers are PLoS and BioMedCentral, both of which publish a variety of open access journals. In addition, many more traditional publishers have responded to the strong interest in open access publishing by offering individual journals with an open access model. For example, while Science is not open access, Science Advances is.


One point to keep in mind when searching for an open access journal is whether the journal has a green or gold model. Green open access means that some form of the paper will be made freely available after publication through a repository (for example, PubMed), and in most cases the copyright will be retained by the publisher. In contrast, gold open access means that the final form of the paper will be made freely available upon publication (typically on the publisher’s website), and the authors will own the copyright. In terms of accessibility, these models are fairly similar, but gold open access gives you more ownership of your own work after publication and ensures that the most accurate, final form of the paper is available to all readers.


How important is the journal’s scope and audience?

Of course, submitting to a journal that is appropriate to the topic of your paper is a key feature of journal selection. To identify a journal with an appropriate scope (also referred to as aim or focus), you should first consider the topics it covers. You can usually find a list or description of a journal’s scope on the About the Journal section of its website.


Another good way to identify a suitable target for submission is to consider the main journals in your field that have published your previous papers and your colleagues’ (and competitors’) work. If you’re unsure, it can often be helpful to look through your paper’s reference list and get an idea of the journals that published those papers, as they are directly relevant to your study. If a journal has published on your paper’s topic before, they are very likely to again! There are also a variety of online resources that suggest target journals based on keywords, abstract content and more: two of the most well-known are Journal/Author Name Estimator (Jane) and JournalGuide.


Keep in mind that, while some journals have a very narrow scope, some have a very broad scope and therefore attract a wider range of readers. For example, one journal may focus on breast cancer, whereas another may publish papers related to all types of cancers. If you are a breast cancer researcher, than publishing in either of these journals would be a possibility, but your decision is likely to influence how the paper is written. For example, if your study is about a fairly narrow topic and you choose to submit to a journal with a broad scope, you may want to define field-specific terms clearly and explain basic concepts in detail in the Introduction, to help ensure that readers from a wider range of scientific backgrounds can understand your paper.


Other considerations

Of course, given the sheer number of scientific publishers and journals out there, there are many more factors that may influence your decision. Below we discuss a few additional journal features that you may want to keep in mind when deciding where to submit:

  • Indexing: If people are going to read your paper, they have to be able to find it, which is where indexing services come in. Indexing services are essentially literature databases: PubMed and Scopus are the main indexing services used by researchers in the biomedical sciences. If you’re considering submitting to an unfamiliar journal, you may want to quickly check the information available on their website to ensure that they are indexed prior to submission.
  • APCs: Article processing charges, or APCs, are the fees that you will be charged to publish in a journal. APCs can vary dramatically, and often reflect differences in the editorial or peer review model of the journal. Every journal should state the amount they charge for an APC clearly on their website. Importantly, this charge will be assessed after your article has been accepted for publication; a journal that attempts to charge you upon submission is likely a predatory journal, and should be avoided.
  • Peer review model: While the vast majority of journals follow a pre-publication peer review model, as publishing continues to evolve some journals are now experimenting with post-publication, in which a paper is published without peer review and reviewers are then invited to publicly comment on or review the paper. While this option provides a much quicker route to publication than the standard pre-publication peer review model, it is new enough that some institutions or funding organizations may be unsure what to think of papers published within these journals, so consider carefully whether this is the right choice for you.
  • Transfer cascades: One aspect of scientific publishing that many researchers are unfamiliar with is the existence of ‘families’ or portfolios of journals within a single publishing house. Many portfolios with prestigious journals that receive a high volume of submissions also contain less competitive journals that publish papers on the same or similar topics. In many cases, if a publisher with this type of portfolio rejects your paper from a high impact factor journal, they will offer to transfer it to a lower impact factor journal in the same ‘family’ of journals, which can help accelerate your overall publication process by avoiding the need to identify a new journal, reformat the paper and create a new submission.


End note

Choosing a journal to submit to can feel like a daunting task, but you don’t have to do it alone! We offer a Journal Selection Service that will provide you with detailed, customized advice on where to submit your next paper. Contact us today for a quote!


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