Choosing a journal: Where you publish matters as much as what you publish

November 17, 2016

Clement Weinberger, PhD, Filipodia Editor


You have done the research, analyzed your data, written the manuscript, and all authors agree on publication. Your article is ready for submission, but where should you send it? Finding the right journal is important. The first choice of many investigators is a “big name” “high-impact” journal like the New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Nature publications, or Cell. Unfortunately, the originality and significance that the editors look for make the probability of acceptance close to P<0.05. Remember, the primary publication goal is to find an indexed, peer-reviewed journal that is known and read by the people you want to communicate your results and interpretation to. Rejections happen to everyone, usually not because manuscripts are of insufficient quality, but because they didn’t match the journal’s objectives or scope or what the editors believe are the interests of their readership. Rejected articles usually are not lacking of anything, just submitted to the “wrong” journal. It pays to spend some time and effort to find the best journals for your paper before you submit it to one of them. Take a look at this recent article on journal submission and publication patterns (Calcagno, Science 2012;338:1065–1069). It confirms that the majority of original research papers are eventually accepted by the first journal they are sent to, usually after careful revision.

Make a list of target journals. Which journals do you read frequently? Which journals are read by many researchers/authors in your field? You must already have an idea which ones they are, but discuss preferences with other investigators/authors who you work with. Check the publication history of similar studies in indexed journals – PubMed is good for this. Which journals turn up the most often?

Now that you’ve selected a few candidate journals in your subject area, visit their Internet sites to see if their scope and aims are consistent with what you are reporting. If the target audience is experts in a research area or medical specialty, choose a journal with a narrow rather than a multidisciplinary or generalist focus. Are you targeting readers with an interest in research or clinical medicine, theoretical or applied science? Look at the author instructions, the specifications for each type of article, the maximum number of tables and figures, the format and style requirements. Sometimes the Internet site has information on the average length of time from submission to publication. There are three critical intervals. How long does peer review take? How soon after resubmitting a revised manuscript will you hear about acceptance? How soon after acceptance will your paper be published? Consider the frequency of journal publication. The journal website should have this information; if not, you can email or call the editorial office. Expect to wait 9 to 12 months for paper publication, but online publication usually happens much sooner. Does the journal have an open access option? That helps others to access your research results. If so, there is probably a fee to be paid, which could come from your grant or from the financial sponsor.

Is the journal very selective, or do they publish many of the manuscripts that are submitted? Is the competition for space so great that you’ll be wasting time submitting it to that journal? The editorial office may tell you their acceptance rate if it’s not published on the Internet site. What about impact factors? Remember, your aim is to find a good, indexed, peer-review journal that has the audience you are looking for and will be interested to read what you have to say. Search the publication histories of each journal for the number of articles similar to yours that they have published and when. The content and quality of those publications will be very helpful in deciding whether the journal is a good place to submit and for estimating the editorial interest in your submission.