How to select the right journal for your research paper

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Christopher Ontiveros, medical writing freelancer on Kolabtree, provides an in-depth guide on how to select the right journal for your research paper.

Aside from validating the work, publication can jumpstart careers, garner promotions and recognition, support tenure, and help secure funding (Asnake 2015; Welch 2012). Unfortunately, publishing is often easier said than done. Most manuscripts require at least two rounds of submission before being accepted for publication, suggesting that authors usually do not select the “most appropriate” journals for their manuscript (Azar 2004; LeBlanc 2019).

What constitutes the “most appropriate” journal for your manuscript? Recognizing this typically requires that you find the balance between the priorities that you have for your manuscript and the journal’s limits and characteristics. For example, your priority may be to publish your research within the next two months. This would likely exclude most prestigious journals from consideration as review times alone are typically longer than two months. Likewise, promotion or tenure, which is often predicated in part on publication in prestigious journals, may motivate your submission to a competitive and prestigious journal where risk of rejection is high and delay of publication likely. Whether your priority is to publish rapidly or publish in the journal with the highest impact factor possible, this may come at some expense. Therefore, it is critical to evaluate the priorities that you have regarding your manuscript, align them with the limits and characteristics of the journal, then select those journals that have the greatest alignment with your manuscript.

In the following sections, we’ve highlighted some critical steps that will help you identify and select the most appropriate journals for your manuscript.

1. Make a list of journals

You’ll want to start by identifying 10 to 20 journals that are related to your research. Consider journals from publications that you reference in your research, journals for which you review, and journals associated with professional organizations to which you belong. Mentors and colleagues might also provide insight or guidance on which journals are regarded as relevant (Suiter and Sarli 2019).

One or more of the web-based journal selector tools might be useful if you are still having trouble coming up with a list. After inputting minimal information about your manuscript (eg, title, abstract, keywords) into the appropriate fields, these selector tools provide you with a list of related target journals and information about each like the journal’s aims and scope, impact factor, and review time.You should be aware that some of these journal selection tools are supported by publication houses like Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley and the output that you receive may be restricted to journals published only by that house. For example, Elsevier’s JournalFinder only provides Elsevier journals in their output. Nevertheless, these tools may be a good first step or supplement to developing a list of potential target journals.

Some of the more popular, free-to-use online journal selector tools are provided here:

2. Strike a balance

After developing your list of 10 to 20 journals, you will want to narrow it down by starting to evaluate the limits and characteristics of each. Consider how this information aligns with the priorities you have for your manuscript. Striking the right balance between your priorities and the journal’s limits and characteristics will allow you to identify the most appropriate journal for your manuscript. Below we describe some of the critical considerations you should think about.

Aims and scope

Misalignment with a journal’s aims and scope is one of the primary reasons that manuscripts are rejected (Hardman and Serginson 2017; Ali 2010). Therefore, it is critical that you review the aims and scope of each journal and eliminate those that do not align with your manuscript.Often described in the journal’s “About Journal” section, the aims and scope typically define the journal’s mission or goal,topics covered by the journal,types of articles and research that the editors accept,and the preferred article formats and styles.

To understand each journal’s aims and scope even better, you can perform searches in the journal using keywords from your manuscript.Identifying previously published manuscripts that are the same as the topic of your manuscript is good evidence that your manuscript would be of interest to that journal’s audience. Even if you are familiar with the types of articles or studies that a journal publishes,actually reading articles from past issues may help you better understand the topic priorities and writing style preferences.

Journal prestige

Although heavily criticized,journal impact factor is the most widely used measure of a journal’s quality and prestige. The journal impact factor is based on how often articles published in that journal during the previous two years were cited by articles published during a particular year (Garfield 2006; Suiter and Sarli 2019).  A common perception is that the value of one’s work can generally be determined by the impact factor of the journal in which their work is published. Because of this, authors often submit their manuscripts to journals with the highest impact factor at the exclusion of other considerations. The intense competition for publication in such journals usually results in a rejection for publication, repeated cycle of submission with another journal, and ultimate delay in publication. A rejection may also hinder career progression and waste limited resources like time and submission fees. Although most authors would be excited to publish their work in a journal like the New England Journal of Medicine or Lancet, it might be more worthwhile to consider a journal with a lower impact factor, especially if your priority is to reduce the likelihood of rejection and publish your manuscript as rapidly as possible.

Although we describe prestige here in terms of an objective impact factor score, you should recognize that “prestige” is actually somewhat subjective; a journal considered prestigious to one groupmay not be prestigious to another. For example, a journal that focuses solely on kidney cancer treatments may not be considered prestigious among all treating oncologists, however it may be considered the premiere target journal for kidney cancer specialists.If journal prestige is an important priority, you may need to consider whether it is prestige based on impact factor or perhaps on subjective opinion and recognition by your target audience.

Exposure and ease of access

You have likely spent a lot of time on your research and now want as many people as possible to read your manuscript.Information about distribution, open-access versus subscription publications, and database indexing can all provide you with information about the possible exposure and ease of access that potential readers will have to your manuscript if it were published in a particular journal. For example, a journal that is distributed only via print is likely to have fewer readers than one with both print and online distribution. Similarly, open-access journals, which are freely available online, may also increase the ease with which an article is downloaded and read. If you are thinking of submitting to an open-access journal, you should recognize that the quality of the journals varies considerablyand that predatory publishers with questionable ethics can be found among legitimate, well-respected, open-access journals (Bowman 2014). The Directory of Open Access Journals, which is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open-access, peer-reviewed journals can be a useful tool to eliminate the likelihood of submitting to a predatory journal. Lastly, information about where a journal is indexed may also give you an idea about exposure and ease of access to your manuscript if it were published there. In medicine or nursing, being indexed in MEDLINE and CINAHL are essential as these are some of the most frequently used databases and increase the chance that researchers will encounter your manuscript.

Timing from submission to publication

The process from submission to publication of an article can generally be divided into three time periods: 1)peer review and decision by the editor(s) (ie, accept, accept with revisions, revise and resubmit, reject); 2)author revisions; and 3)editor re-review and acceptance to publication or rejection.Although the time required to complete step 2 relieson the author,timing for steps 1 and 3 arejournal dependent.Nowadays, it is not unusual for journals to display a typical time from acceptance to publication on their websites. A review ofjournals’ websites find that the average time required for peer review by a medical journal is eight weeks, approximately five weeks for a single author revision cycle, and another four to six weeks for editor re-reviewand final decisionof acceptance or rejection (Huisman and Smits 2017; Vitse and Poland 2017). These are average times. We have all heard stories of authors who submit their paper and are still waiting for a status update nine to twelve months after submission. This happens, but it’s not typical. If the time required to publish your manuscript is a priority, your review of a journal’s timing from submission to publication is critical.

If you are unable to find submission-to-publication times on a journal’s website, the SciRev website may be helpful. The site consolidates information and experiences from more than 3500 authors regarding the peer review process of various journals. Information on the website includes journals’ average time to first response, total review duration, revision time, and total time from submission to publication.

Some useful tips

Submit to one journal at a time

You would not be alone if you thought that the time it takes to get your manuscript published sounds unreasonably long.“Submit and wait” is the anxiety-provoking prospect that most authors will face. Why not just increase your chances of obtaining an acceptance for publication by submitting to all of the journals in your list at the same time? This may sound like a very attractive proposal, however simultaneously submitting your manuscript is considered unethical and is actually prohibited by journals. Firstly, concurrent submissions would result in editors, reviewers, and other journal staff from multiple journals investing considerable time and resources carrying out the same tasks. Secondly, the standard practice upon submission is to grant exclusive publication rights to that journal if they accept your manuscript. If more than one journal were to accept your manuscript, the issue publication rights could become problematic. Thirdly, if everyone submitted their manuscripts to multiple journals concurrently, editors would be overwhelmed with submissions and the publication process would take even longer!

Make presubmission inquiries

If you really aren’t certain whether a journal would be interested in reviewing your manuscript for possible publication, there seems to be no concern over making presubmission inquiries to several journals simultaneously. Simply email the editor-in-chief and briefly describe the type of manuscript, its focus, how you believe the manuscript aligns with the journal’s aims and scope, and inquire whether they would have interest in publishing such a manuscript. This could save many months of waiting just to find that your manuscript was rejected and you have to restart your cycle of submission with another journal.

Follow up with editors

Authors often wonder how long they should wait before reaching out to the journal to inquire about the status of their manuscript. Before doing so, don’t forget that a thorough and helpful peer review takes time and that the review times listed on a journal’s website are generally averages. If you can manage their impatience, it would be reasonable to wait a few weeks after the posted review time before contacting the journal. If a journal does not post their review times, 12 weeks after submission is a reasonable time to wait before inquiring about the status of your manuscript. Sending a polite email to the journal editor asking when you can expect a decision or update on manuscript often results in a response that will hopefully ease any concerns.

Pay attention to journal guidelines

If you wrote your manuscript before selecting your journal, you will likely need to style it to the journal’s specifications before submission. If you haven’t yet written your manuscript, it’s time to get writing! Either way, a freelance writer or editor could be a good option to support you in this process as they are usually experienced or trained in the exact type of writing that is required to get your manuscript ready for submission. Indeed, the writing required to prepare your manuscript demands adherence to precision and rigor without compromising clarity (Gopen and Swan 1990; Lindsay 2020; Matthews and Matthews 2014).

Work with freelancers

It is supremely important that all of the information that you present in your manuscript is not lost to overly complicated or unnecessary technical jargon or explanations, especially as lack of clarity is a reason that journal editors reject manuscripts or require that they are rewritten before acceptance. Freelancers  can also be a valuable writing resource as they can alleviate you from the aggravation that many authors experience in the writing process. Competing interest and time, adherence to journal specifications and conventions, and language barriers are all causes of frustration that may be reduced or completely avoided by hiring a freelancer to support the development of your manuscript (Shah 2009). Lastly, the financial cost of hiring a freelance scientific writer or editor may actually be less than hiring a full-time scientific writer or editor who may not always have sufficient work to keep them busy. You can always go back to your freelancer as manuscript writing becomes necessary.

By considering each of the above characteristics with the priorities that you have for your manuscript, you should arrive at a few appropriate target journals for submission. If you are still unsure or uncertain about a journal, you can always email a brief presubmission inquiry as we discussed. Don’t lose hope if your manuscript is not accepted to the first journal you select. Remember that this is not uncommon.Consider any reviewers comments, re-evaluate your priorities regarding the manuscript, and again review the steps that we outline here.

Need help to select the right journal for your research paper? Get help with experienced scientists and published PhD-qualified authors on Kolabtree. Post your project and get quotes for free. 

REFERENCES


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About Author

Christopher Ontiveros, PhD, is a freelance medical writer who has worked in medical communications for nearly 15 years developing scientific content and providing strategic direction for big pharma and smaller biotech companies, physicians, nurses, scientists, and patients. In addition to supporting the career development of other scientific/medical writers, the work he supports for clients includes peer-reviewed manuscript writing; scientific communications platforms and publications plans; advisory board materials; poster and slide presentations for professional congresses and symposia; and internal educational/training materials for small and large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. While his therapeutic expertise most prominently includes oncology, neurology/CNS, and sleep medicine, his years-long experience in medical communications has given him the opportunity to work across many other therapeutic areas as well.

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