Choosing the Right Journal is More Than Just Text Matching

A number of online tools support the matching of unpublished text (for example, your draft title and abstract) to published papers, helping you identify journals that might be interested in your work. But it is important to note that there are number of factors you should consider beyond just text matching. While you can assess your own preferences and requirements easily, it can be more difficult to ascertain whether your work fits journal preferences or requirements without asking the editorial office.

Here are some factors to consider when you are evaluating journals publishing related content. More thoughts about choosing a journal can be found on the AJE Author Resource Center.

Factors based on journal preferences

1. Overall fit with aims & scope

Each journal lists the range of topics it covers in a section called “Aims & Scope” or “Journal Scope” (check under “About the Journal”). This description will give you the best initial sense about the fit between your work and the journal’s purview.

While your text may match several articles published by a given journal in the past five years, a review of the journal’s aims and scope may reveal a mismatch: for example, a journal that only deals with human genetics being suggested for a paper carrying out genetic analysis in another animal.

If you are not easily able to imagine your work fitting the journal’s scope, consider investigating other journals.

2. Journal requirements about research results

Beyond the scope (or ideally within it), journals often specify particular requirements for all submissions they will consider. For example, some journals require that clinical data be presented or that a certain sample size is used. Others require observations about molecular mechanisms, not just clinical results. Keep these requirements in mind so you don’t waste time with a journal that will simply not be interested in reviewing your hard work at all.

3. Journal requirements about manuscript details

Journals may also have specifications for the manuscript itself, unrelated to the specifics of the results you present. For example, there may be a strict word limit. In many cases, a journal will still consider an article that’s longer, telling you to shorten it as part of the review process. However, some will immediately reject a paper that doesn’t adhere to guidelines.

Other journals require an additional piece like a separate funding statement or a summary written for the general public. Be sure to provide these when submitting your work formally, and consider writing them even for a pre-submission inquiry if they are not onerous.

These are not insurmountable issues, and they can be addressed even after your research is complete. However, it is best to be aware of such limitations, and even explicitly acknowledge them in your cover letter so the journal knows you have carefully researched their guidelines.

4. Editor interest

Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the interest of the journal editor himself/herself. An editor is the final decision maker on what is relevant for her journal, and she may simply be looking for papers of a certain type or papers that use a new technique, etc.

This final piece is impossible to discern from the journal’s website. Instead, the best path forward is to communicate with the journal to gauge their interest in your work.

Factors based on your preferences as author

1. Desired audience

You know the implications of your work; who do you want to reach with these new results? If you are looking for the potential to reach a broad array of people, say clinicians as well as basic researchers, consider a journal with a broad scope and wide readership. If your work is likely to revolutionize a key part of your field, try to find a journal that focuses on that audience. They’re likely to be avid readers. (Read more about generalized and specialized journals.)

2. Open access options

Going along with your choice of audience is your choice of accessibility. Are you interested in ensuring public access to your final paper? If so, you will want to find a journal with open access options. Many new journals are fully open access, with Creative Commons licenses. Others (termed ‘hybrid OA’ journals) provide an option to make a specific article open access. Access is unlikely to be your top motivation for finding the right journal, but it could help if you’re choosing between a couple of options. (Read more about choosing open access or traditional, subscription-based journals.)

3. Potential citation impact

One thing that is frequently important to authors is the number of citations their paper will receive. Often, this is evaluated (many argue inappropriately) with a journal-level metric like the Journal Impact Factor, assigned by Clarivate Analytics (formerly part of Thomson Reuters). While you should not read too much into these metrics, they can give you a broad sense of selectivity of a given journal.

If you are interested in a fast publication process, you many want to steer toward a lower-impact, specialized journal. If you are more interested in the potential reach of your work, then you can take your chances with a higher-impact title.

At Minerva, we list the SNIP metric from Scopus. With a list of potential journal fits and their SNIPs, you can broadly compare journals by their citation rates. By comparing to benchmark journals you are familiar with, you can get a sense of the selectivity of another journal. Bear in mind that this is NOT an exact science, but it is one factor you can use as you narrow down your focus.

The bottom line

You can give yourself a great chance to succeed by looking closely at what journals want in a submission, but ultimately, the fit for a given journal is subjective. Combining careful consideration with pre-submission feedback from journals will give you the greatest chance to succeed.

If you are interested, sign up now for free with Minerva, a platform for finding the right article/journal fit. On Minerva, you’ll get individual responses from journals indicating their level of interest.

Ben Mudrak, PhD

Director, Outreach and Communications

ORCID: 0000–0002–2805–5690