Choosing a Journal for Your Paper

By Kareem Carr

Recently, Diana wrote about how to submit a paper for publication. I thought I’d touch on one earlier aspect of this process, how to choose where to submit your paper.


If you’re writing the paper with someone else, such as a professor or post-doc, the first step should be to ask them where they were thinking on sending the paper. You don’t have to agree, and there can usually be some discussion about that, but it can certainly simplify things if they have an opinion and you do agree.

Failing that, the best way to get a sense of where your paper belongs is to go back to your reference list. Take a look through the papers you cited in your manuscript and make a list of all the journals that occur more than once. If there’s one standout journal, responsible for a large majority of the publications you cited, that’s most likely candidate for where your paper belongs.

If the citations are fairly evenly split between a handful of journals, there are other considerations you can make which may act as a tie breaker. First, there’s the issue of Open Acccess. More and more these days, I’m finding that academics I work with are only willing to publish in Open Access journals – that is, journals that offer their contents free online for anyone who wants it, typically immediately after publication or even before the accepted article is actually published in a hard copy format.

Arguments for Open Access include the idea that knowledge should be free and available to all, especially when your work has been funded by a public source – in fact, many governmental agencies require that work resulting from their funding programs be freely available online no less than 6 months after publication. That last part, about the 6 months, is where you have some flexibility – many journals that aren’t technically Open Access now have policies that allow your paper to become Open Access at the 6 month point, either through payment of an additional fee by the authors (that would be you) or by default.

Another consideration which may be important to you, and which to some extent operates in conflict to the above Open Access idea, is that of Impact Factor. Impact Factors are assigned to journals by Thompson Reuters and are a measure of how widely read your paper is likely to be, and how likely it is to generate additional research, based on the success of the average paper submitted to each journal. Many people try to get their papers accepted to the journal with the highest Impact Factor they can – generally these people are looking for an Impact Factor of at least 1.0, but it varies a great deal by field.

Impact Factors are only assigned to journals once they’ve been in operation for a sufficient number of years to generate usable data on readership and citations, so new journals often don’t have Impact Factors. This is where the conflict with Open Access considerations often arises – Open Access is a relatively new idea, and many of the Open Access journals are too new to have an Impact Factor, or too new to have a particularly large impact. However, this is changing.

So, overall, my advice on choosing a journal is: ask around, check your citation list, think about Open Access and consider Impact Factors.

What about you? Anything I’m missing?

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