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How to identify and assess potential journals
There’s a lot to consider when deciding where to submit your work. Learn how to choose a journal that will help your study reach its audience, while reflecting your values as a researcher.
Why journal selection matters
Choosing a journal that’s right for your research can be more complex than it seems. You want to publish in a journal that will help your study to reach its intended audience. Your research has a better chance of attracting readers, accumulating citations, and impacting the field when your colleagues can easily find it. For some types of research, a more specific publication might be the best fit, while for others, reaching a wide audience is key. Also, you want to publish in a journal that matches your scientific values and principles of integrity.
It’s also in your best interest to submit to journals where your work has a fair chance of being accepted for publication. Getting rejections is a normal part of publishing, but at the same time, you don’t want to spend months submitting the same article to one journal after another. By carefully matching your articles to specific journals, you can reduce the number of submissions required to achieve publication, saving yourself time and getting your work out there sooner.
1. Determining what you need from a journal
Start by thinking about your research and how it might best reach its intended readers. Consider your values and expectations. Take a moment to answer the following questions:
- What is the topic of your study?
- Is your article specialized or interdisciplinary?
- Is your article an incremental finding, or potentially considered a big breakthrough?
- Who is your audience? Does your article have a broad potential readership, or will it be of interest only to experts in a narrow area of study? How will readers discover your study?
- Does your funding come with any special requirements for publication (for example, some funders may stipulate that you publish the work under an Open Access license)
- How do you plan to share your study? Is it important to you to have the option to post a preprint, or publish your peer reviews
- Does the journal uphold the highest values of ethics and integrity? Are you prepared to meet journal requirements for licensing, published data, and ethical disclosures?
- What is your budget for publishing?
Taking advantage of transfers
Submitting to a highly selective journal means your chances of acceptance are lower, and you should honestly assess your work against their subjective selection criteria. But that doesn’t mean publication will necessarily be delayed if your manuscript isn’t accepted. Many highly selective journals offer facilitated transfers to a journal whose scope and readership more closely match your study, so that you can try your luck at a top-tier journal without losing too much time.
2. Identifying potential journals
If you’re getting ready to submit a research article you’ve probably been working in the field for a number of years, and already have a few favorite publications. Still, it can be worth taking a moment to review the landscape and see what’s new. Established journals are constantly evolving and adjusting their scope, and new journals are starting all the time. Here are a few easy ways to discover new publishing opportunities:
- Online search. For a look at journals on the rise in your field, try searching for related articles published in the past 1-2 years. To find journals that are expanding into your field, search Call for Papers in your subject area. Review the publisher’s website to learn more about how your article will fit at the journal. (Journal blogs can also be a great source of information!)
- Word of mouth. Check-in with colleagues, labmates, mentors or collaborators. What do they see as the exciting journals in your discipline?
- Journal finding tools. Many websites track journal metrics and performance, including factors like speed, acceptance rate, and compliance with Open Science policies. Check out Think. Check. Submit.
In a 2020 survey of new PLOS ONE authors we asked which information sources authors used to identify potential journals for their manuscripts. Here’s what they had to say:
3. Deciding whether a particular journal may be right for your specific study
Next, evaluate the journals on your list against the needs you’ve identified for your study, together with your coauthors. Which journals best fit your target audience, topic, level of specialization, and funder requirements? If you’re unsure about fit, check the journal website and see if you can answer the following questions:
- What topics are within the journal’s scope?
- Who serves on the editorial board?
- Is the journal indexed in the databases that are standard in your field?
- Does the journal uphold the highest values of ethics and integrity?
- Will the journal provide article-level metrics, so you can track the impact of your specific study?
- Does the journal charge an APC, and how much is it? Are your publication fees already covered by a regional fee structure or institutional partnership agreement?
- Are there any additional fees (for example, for color figures or extra pages)?
- Does the journal offer the particular type of article that you have written? For example, do they publish meta-analysis, negative results, review articles, or protocols?
Avoiding predatory journals
Predatory journals accept articles solely for monetary gain and do not offer a real peer review process. Spotting predatory journals can be difficult, but there are some ground rules to help you get started. Look at the journal’s website: Is the peer review process clearly described? Is the editorial board listed? Is the journal indexed in databases like PubMed or Web of Science? If not, steer clear…
The website Think. Check. Submit. can be helpful
The Dos and Don’ts of Journal Selection
- Take the time to investigate options that may be new to you
- Choose your first and second choice journals with care, taking the needs of your readers and funders for this specific study into account, as well as the type of article you’ve written, and journal scope and requirements
- Watchout for potential predatory journals that charge fees without offering reliable peer review
- Discuss your needs and priorities with your coauthors and achieve consensus about your submission choice
- Submit the same study to more than one journal at the same time
- Submit to journals that do not publish your type of study or article
- Just submit to the most prestigious journals in order (e.g. top general science journals, top journals in discipline, others)