Thirty one things to consider when choosing which journal to submit your paper to

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some well-grounded evidence of the best place to publish your research? After all, you’ve sweated for two or more years on collecting the data or source materials, thinking though the issues involved, resolving problems, and writing up the finished text. You’re heavily invested in the work, and you want to get the best possible exposure for it in the optimal journal. So ask around in your department or lab and you’ll quickly find out that there’s a lot of folklore and anecdotes about where to go, but perhaps that different people give very different advice.

Often your department or lab may have a list of ‘recommended journals’, which may not be all that useful for various reasons. Often it is what was left over from some previous audit exercise — in the UK the REF 2014 and in Australia the ERA 2015 rounds. Often the list is where your local top professors publish their well-funded research (or perhaps where they used to publish in their glory days). But perhaps it hasn’t been updated for a while and has some obvious glitches. It can also often be just a kind of ‘idiot board’ including any journal over a certain “journal impact factor” level, even though this JIF indicator is completely discredited— e.g. it was outlawed from use in both the REF and ERA studies because of its gross limitation (and see below). If you are a PhD student or and early career research these lists are often just actively disabling — they may be out of your league for the kind of work that you have to publish and so just very depressing to read.

In fact, deciding which journal to send material to most senior staff consider a wide range of factors, not just the obvious things, because they can all in different ways have considerable effects upon impact. There is also now a great service available in Google Scholar Metrics which gives excellent quantitative information about every journal in the world (of any significance), for free from any PC, tablet or smartphone. Just pump in the journal name to GSM’s search box and get an instant reply, using two strong indicators discussed below. (Note: be careful to enter the exact journal name into GSM— eg. if the journal uses ‘&’ as part of its title, then if you put in ‘and’ instead, GSM will just show nothing as found).

Beyond that what more can we say? Well, there is an interesting and extremely expensive monograph published in 2012 by Stefanie Hauser called, Multi-dimensional Journal Evaluation. I have tried to extract from this (as best I can) the factors that seem to have proven relevance to the choices most researchers will be considering. Please do see Stefanie’s book for yourself if you want to read a highly sophisticated and extensively quantified analysis — and NO, she hasn’t endorsed or seen any of the use that I’ve made of her work below. In fact I freely have combined information from the factors she tested for with a wide range of factors mentioned to research colleagues or myself as relevant in a recent research project on The Impact of the Social Sciences, which also included some STEM science academics. (For some free to view materials on this see here).

So I hope that the 31 factors set out below are relevant for a wide range of academic and scientific authors. I’ve grouped them into five categories — about the scope of a journal; its review processes; open or closed access; coverage, scale and style issues; and lastly, the journal’s dissemination and impact. I begin with some key aspects of the journal’s mission.

The second dimension concerns how the journal goes about reviewing your work.

A third key dimension concerns open access publishing (which is still rare and often expensive) or closed access publishing.

The fourth dimension involves the fit between your work and some more specific aspects to consider in submitting.

The final set of factors to consider is what happens if a journal accepts your article. How likely is it that publishing there will reach a wide readership and begin to generate citations to your work?

To read Stephen Curry’s comprehensive and entertaining critique of JIF, quoted above, please go here.

For some related ideas, many other posts on this blog are relevant. And the LSE Impacts blog includes a lot of relevant and up to date information for the social sciences and a wider range of disciplines. Lastly my book: Patrick Dunleavy, ‘Authoring a PhD’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) has a chapter on the more timeless aspects of publishing.

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