Which journal should I choose?
I work with authors from around the world, and one of the most common questions they ask is this: How do I know which journal is the best home for my article? In fact, this is such a common question that Editoracle now offers journal recommendation as one of its core services. So in this post, I’ll lay out the general questions we ask when we go about selecting potential journals for a paper. As an author, you would benefit from thinking about these questions *before* you conduct your study or write a single word of your manuscript.
Question 1: Who will read this?
Consider your ideal readers. Are they healthcare providers, therapists, policy makers, educators? How will the findings of your study help them professionally? When you submit your paper, you will need to “sell” it to the journal’s editor, and having convincing answers to these questions is a big selling point.
Question 2: Is the paper novel enough (at least for this audience)?
It’s possible (even likely) that many papers have already been written on your topic. What does your paper add that will be of benefit to the reader? Have you reframed a topic that is well researched for other audiences but not for your audience? For example, if your paper is about effective strategies for coping with domestic abuse situations, and your audience is marriage and family therapists, the novelty may be that your research reveals ways that parents can protect themselves from physical abuse by their adolescent children.
Notice that both of the first two questions are more about your work than about any specific journal. This is because no matter which journal you choose, you will need to ensure that the audience is there and that the benefit of your findings is clear to that audience.
After considering these questions, you’re ready to select a subset of journals that might be a good fit for your work. If you’ve already published on this topic, you can of course begin by considering the journal in which your work appeared. But also look at the journals in your reference list. Which studies are most like yours in topic, methodology, and scope? Another useful exercise is to enter a search in Google Scholar for the keywords from your own paper. It’s likely that some of the articles in your reference list will appear, but you should also find some new papers. Note the journals in which those papers were published. At this point, you should have 3 to 5 candidate journals, and you can apply the first two questions to those journals. Assuming that after answering those questions, you still have at least a couple of journals to consider, you can move to questions 3, 4, and 5.
Question 3: Do the journals I’m considering have a good reputation in the field?
There are many ways to assess the reputation and quality of a journal. Most authors have heard of the impact factor, but this is only one of several indicators (and not necessarily the most important one). The details of evaluating a journal’s quality are the subject of an upcoming post, but you can answer this question more informally with a few sub-questions: Does the journal use a rigorous peer review process? Does it publish information about its rejection rates? Do well-known and respected authors publish here? Are the articles in this journal cited by others? (A quick check of Google Scholar with the journal name in the search box will help you answer this question.) A related question has to do with your assessment of your own paper’s quality. If the methods are fairly loose and informal, the sample size is too small to ensure adequate power, or the results are not clearly interpretable, these factors may well harm your chances of having the work accepted by the more prestigious journals. Everyone would like to publish in the top-tier journals, but not every study meets the high standards of those journals.
Question 4: Does my paper seem to fit with the others that have been published in the past 5 years?
Journals tend to publish papers in waves – certain topics are fashionable for a time, then their frequency of publication diminishes. It may be that the journal that published plenty of papers on a topic similar to yours 10 years ago no longer deems this topic relevant or interesting for its readers. When trying to assess fit, also look at the methodologies used in the published studies. If your methodology is uncommon or atypical for this field, are there any examples of it in this journal? If not, you may have to take extra effort to explain the methods (both in the manuscript and in the cover letter). If your paper uses qualitative methods, but all the published examples are quantitative, this may signal a preference (stated or otherwise) for quantitative work. Browse several issues of the journal, looking at articles on all topics, to see whether there appears to be a preference for particular kinds of studies.
Question 5: Are there any rules or policies of the journal that disqualify my paper?
Once you have narrowed down your search to 2 or 3 journals, check the author information sections of their websites to make sure there are no “deal-breaker” rules that apply to your paper. For example, I once worked with an author who conducted a study with medical students as subjects. According to his university’s ethics rules, his study was exempt from the informed consent requirement; however, the journal still required that all of its published studies with humans include written informed consent. Journals also may have specific requirements about data-sharing or statistical analysis. If you learn about these before you submit, you may save a lot of time and effort, and your manuscript will convey a better impression because you have shown that you understand what the journal expects.
I hope these 5 questions are helpful to you as you consider which journal is the best match for your work. If you have any questions about the process of choosing a journal, let us know by posting a comment here, or visiting our web page at http://editoracle.com.