How to choose the best academic journal for your paper

Dr Zoran Dinev

Journal selection is one of those things that comes with experience. The more journal papers you read and write, the better idea you will have about where to publish your research. But for researchers with less experience, how do you decide if you have a Nature or Science paper in your hand or if it is more suitable for the dreaded (for all the wrong reasons!) specialised journal?

Journal selection tools

There are a number of journal selection tools available that can point you in the right direction. Just plug in your title/abstract into one of these tools and it will spit out a list of journals that “match” your paper. They come in many flavors, including publisher specific, such as Elsevier’s Journal Finder and Springer’s Journal Selector, which let you search journals published by a particular publisher, or some publisher-neutral journal finders including Jane and Journal Guide. From my experience selecting target journals for our clients, the results that come out of these algorithm-powered search engines can be hit and miss. These tools should not be used on their own.

None of these tools consider your target audience or the type of article that a journal publishes. You still need to go to the journal website and determine if any of the suggested journals are suitable for your paper. Journal selection tools also don’t consider the quality of your work, impact factor, open access fees, or indexation of the journal. These factors can be important for some researchers because they are requirements for recognition, promotion, and funding.

Impact factors and indexation

Let’s take the impact factor as an example. Like it or hate it, right or wrong, it has become, and still is, a measure of the quality of a paper. Researchers, institutions, even funding bodies still believe that the impact factor (and indexation) of the journal is a true measure of the quality of a paper. Two or three people have decided that your paper is worth publishing in a particular journal, and this determines the quality of your work (this obviously needs its own blog post in the future so I will stop here). With regard to journal selection, how do you choose the journal with an appropriate impact factor? The only way is too read recent papers and compare them to yours. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter if you aim too high or too low. If your paper is good and you have chosen the right target audience, it will get published and it will get cited.

Look in your own paper

Another way to narrow down your target journal is to look at the citations that you have made in your paper. If you are citing a paper published in a particular journal, chances are that the journal publishes work related to your research. You should be able to pick out at least two or three relevant papers. If your paper builds on results that have already been published in a journal, that could be your best target journal. If your paper blows any of the current research out of the water, then it is time to look at Science and Nature.

Article type and target audience

The journal you choose needs to accept the type of article you want to publish. We have already discussed how to choose the right article type. If you are writing a full paper, don’t submit it to a journal that only publishes communications or letters, or at least check that their policy has not changed (hello Angewandte Chemie!) Then there is the target audience. Who reads papers in a particular journal. The best way to tell is to find out who is citing papers published in the journal.

Open access or traditional publisher

Most journals now offer an open access option, but this usually comes with a hefty “publication fee”. If money is an issue, there are some open access journals that don’t charge a fee or your research grant or university could cover this cost. If money is not an issue, your decision should be based on whether you want your research to be accessible for free.

Speed of publication

This is a hard measure to actually determine. I could post a link to websites that post average times, but these numbers are just that, averages. Every paper is different. Your paper could be published in 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years. If speed of publication is important to you, consider a journals that does open peer review after publication.

If you need help selecting a journal for your next paper, consider our submission or acceptance concierge service, which includes journal selection as part of the all-inclusive concierge service.

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A collection of blog posts that will help you with preparing your paper for publication. From choosing your journal to writing yoru cover letter, and everything in between.