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How to Select a Journal for Publication: A Comprehensive Guide for Researchers

Journal selection is often done at the last moment and without much thought or strategy. This article explains why this is a mistake. Here, we provide comprehensive information about choosing a journal for your next research project.

Catherine Zettel Nalen, MS

Catherine Zettel Nalen, MS

Academic Editor, Specialist, and Journal Recommendation Team Lead

MS, Medical and Veterinary Entomology
University of Florida

See more articles by Catherine Zettel Nalen, MS

Popular Categories

Writing a manuscript

Finishing touches

Choosing a journal

Peer review and publication

Sharing your research

Research process

Publication ethics

Successfully completing a research project and getting it published in a leading international Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE)-listed journal has three parts: Researching, writing, and publishing.

Researchers tend to focus on the first two of these. However, publishing is arguably the most important step. Publishing in an indexed journal can boost your reputation, funding and career.

Journal selection is often done at the last moment and without much thought or strategy. This article explains why this is a mistake. Here, we provide comprehensive information about choosing a journal for your next research project.

Choose a journal before you start writing

Selecting a journal can feel very overwhelming! Understanding the different characteristics of journals can help you narrow down your options. Targeting and selecting a journal before you start writing your paper can help answer many questions you may have when working on your paper. What should go into the different sections? How should the figures and tables look? How do I pitch the importance of my work within the writing?

We recommend selecting a journal for your next set of research results or your next project before beginning the writing process. This simple tactic can make the whole process smoother.

Smart journal selection will put you ahead of the curve. This is because most researchers choose a journal after both the research work and writing are finished.

Choosing a journal early in the process can also help guide your experimental design, methods and results presentation. Critically, it can also guide how you write your manuscript, including what information to include in the different sections.

You can also plan for, and set aside, any publication costs for Open Access (OA) article processing charges (APCs) if you already know that these are required by your target journal.

For more information about the benefits of selecting a target journal early, check out this AJE Scholar article. We also provide useful article templates for many popular journals here.

As you’ll learn from some of our popular webinars and training presentations, you can dramatically speed up your research journey and article publication process if you keep three key factors in mind before you start writing:

  • Your message (what should someone reading your paper take away from the experience? What’s the key take-home message?)
  • Your audience (who will be reading your article? Experts in the field or a more general audience?)
  • Your structure (what key sections should my paper include? This can be gathered from looking at previously published papers in your target journal.)

Easy enough!

You may be asking “What if I need to change my target journal later?” Don’t worry. This can and often does happen! Even if you select a target journal early, there may be many reasons you need to change journals. You may be rejected from your first-choice journal, or your grant may not cover the cost to publish in that journal.

No matter where you are in your publication journey, keeping the tips and resources in this article in mind will help you choose an appropriate journal and will speed up your publication journey.

Why does journal selection matter so much?

Journal publication is the end-goal of the research process. Publication in a scientific journal will maximize impact and the number of citations post-publication.

Publication in a good journal will validate and share your research findings, advance knowledge, create impact (citations as well as downloads, clicks, and engagement) and promote future collaboration.

Moreover, careful article publication in a leading journal can help advance your career and obtain funding. Finally, publication in a reputable journal can validate your work. According to Dr. Jeffrey Robens, Senior Editorial Development Manager, Nature Research Academies, “The greater the recognition of the platform, the higher the likelihood it will be for people to find and read that research. And that is how scientists improve their impact.”

For additional insights from Dr. Jeffrey Robens on choosing the right journal for your research, check out this AJE Scholar article.

Let’s get into it!

Consider your article type (original research, review, case report, protocol, etc.)

Types of Articles Consider what kind of article you plan to write. Then, select a journal that publishes that type of article.

It sounds obvious, but many researchers don’t check this information before they submit. In these cases, desk rejection (an immediate “no,” without being sent for review) is sure to follow.

Most journals will accept original research articles. They’re the type you’ll most commonly write and publish in your research career.

Fewer journals accept reviews ( especially unsolicited ones), though they are a great way to summarize existing research and get citations. Commentaries, perspectives, case reports, and study protocols are also in lower demand. These often have lower citation rates, though they’re still valuable, and there are times when you may author one. When publishing these types of articles, choose a journal that accepts them.

Presubmission Inquiries

Read the journal’s Aims and Scope to ensure that the journal is a good fit. Then, verify that your target journal accepts your intended article type before submission. Even if the journal says it accepts your article type on its website, submit a presubmission inquiry to the journal editor before sending (or even starting to write) your full article. This simple step can speed up your publishing journey.

Some journals (especially those with higher impact factors) will require that you submit a presubmission inquiry before officially submitting your article. Even if it’s not required, many Editors will appreciate it, and you’ll give yourself a chance to get immediate feedback.

The journal Editor will likely tell you if the paper is not suitable or if they’re not interested, saving you time. Similarly, if an editor is interested in considering your paper for peer review, you will be ahead of the game. When you make your full submission, include your presubmission inquiry email chain so that the Editor will remember you and view your paper in a favorable light.

A free AJE presubmission inquiry sample is available here.

Specialized Journals

There are many specialized journals that publish only Case Reports or Reviews. For example, BMC publishes the Journal of Medical Case Reports, and Springer Nature publishes Nature Reviews, a portfolio of 20 journals that publish only review articles. Other specialized journals publish only protocols or data depositions.

In summary, choosing a journal that publishes your article type will save you time and effort. Making presubmission inquiries will speed up the process.

If you are unsure of where to publish your paper, the AJE Journal Recommendation service can help. With this service, one of our expert editors will review your paper and provide 3 well-chosen journal recommendations for potential publication.

Consider your audience

Journal editors select submissions for peer review and potential publication based on their readers. If Editors are interested in your paper, then readers will likely be too.

It is important to think carefully about the type of paper you’d like to write: What will the paper convey? What kind of format will it have? What results will it present?

You can select a target journal, or short-list potential journals, by considering who the leading researchers in the field are. These are colleagues worldwide whose work you often read, cite, and refer to in your own research.

Once identified, check their websites. Investigate their publication lists. Find out where they are publishing articles with topics similar to yours. Next, investigate those journals and download some recent papers that are similar to the paper you plan to write.

If you want to be successful, take a look at how and where successful researchers get their work published.

More information about specific types of journals and their audiences can be found in the following articles:

Reach out to our team of expert editors if you need support or recommendations. We are here to help!

Where to look for journals: Online search resources

There’s a vast number of online search tools you can use to find journals for your research paper. Each of these tools has both advantages and disadvantages. Some are free to use and some are not.

The key factor here is ownership. Be aware that many available online search tools for journal selection are owned by publishing companies. This means that these tools will push you towards journals that are owned and operated by that Publisher.

There’s a relatively small number of neutral tools to choose from that are not owned or operated by a particular publisher.

Where to start

A good starting point is Think Check Submit. This is an unbiased site where you can look for journals that might be a good fit for your next submission.

Other unbiased journal selection tools include Journal Guide and the Edanz Journal Selector. These tools are comprehensive, impartial, and based on detailed datasets of journals. Both build on the recommendations of expert editors, ensuring a good selection after entering your research keywords.

To find OA journals (those that are available to anyone without the payment of a fee), search the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The Committee on Publication Ethics https://publicationethics.org/ also has a list of resources that are worth checking out.

When selecting a journal, indexing is critical. Authors are often expected by their institutions to publish their work in journals in a specific index, such as the SCIE or Scopus. When this is required, the indexes themselves can be searched. Read more about why indexation is important.

Journal Metrics

When selecting a journal, researchers often care about speed, reach, and reputation.

Publication speed can sometimes be found by checking the journal’s website. There you’ll find information about time from submission to publication and average processing. However, many journals don’t publish this information.

If you can’t find the publication speed on the journal’s website, you can check on the top of any paper published in your selected journal: So-called metadata printed on the top of each PDF article will tell you when it was received, peer reviewed, revised, and accepted. Note that the average time for this whole process is usually around 90 days (3 months).

Reach is broadly defined as the number of people who see articles in the journal worldwide each year. Some journals will publish reach metrics such as numbers of downloads, countries of downloads, etc. Social media metrics can also be indicators of reach, such as retweets, Facebook shares, science blog views, etc.

Finally, the reputation of a journal is important. Publishing in a predatory journal can hurt your scientific reputation and your career. There are many metrics for judging the reputation of a journal.

Journals listed in major indexes and journals with higher impact factors are generally reputable. Journals in indexes have been reviewed to ensure they meet certain criteria. Read more about journal indexes and why indexation is important here.

Journals with higher impact factors have rigorous peer-review processes and high citation rates. Clarivate Analytics defines impact factor as “a measure of the frequency with which the “average article” in a journal has been cited in a particular year or period. The annual JCR impact factor is a ratio between citations and recent citable items published.” You can see an example calculation of an impact factor here.

Many researchers want to publish in journals with high impact factors. In general, the higher the impact factor, the lower the acceptance rate. Thus, it is a good idea to also consider journals with lower impact factors.

Graphic explaining how journal impact factors are calculated

Another metric that can indicate the reputation of a journal is the Source-Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) score. According to the Yale Journal Publication Guide, the SNIP score “measures contextual citation impact by weighting citations based on the total number of citations in a given subject field.” This means that a journal with a SNIP score of >1 has a higher than average citation potential.

There are several other metrics that can be used to assess reputation, such as the CiteScore, Scimago Journal and Country Rank (SJR), and Eigenfactor. Impact Factor is the oldest metric and is therefore highly regarded as a good indicator of reputation in the research field.

This paper by Kim and Chung (2018) provides a good overview of the different types of journal metrics.

Publication in Open Access journals

An increasing number of researchers are choosing to publish their research in OA journals. OA simply means that articles, once peer reviewed and published, are available for anyone to download worldwide. OA is a way to broaden your research reach and appeal.

A number of funders and institutions now require the OA publication of research.

To select a good OA journal for your next paper, we recommend searching the DOAJ, as discussed earlier. This database of reputable OA journals can be used to narrow down your list and search on the basis of multiple factors, such as impact factor and cost.

One of the drawbacks of OA publishing from a researcher perspective is the Article Processing Charge (APC) that a publishing company or journal may charge upon acceptance. (See below for a discussion of why you should never pay an APC before your paper has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication.)

This article provides more details on understanding submission and publication fees.

The benefits of publishing OA are significant for readers - they get immediate access to papers without payment - but what about authors?

As a researcher choosing to publish OA, you can:

  • Increase the visibility and readership of your research
  • More easily share your work
  • Have societal impact
  • Comply with funder mandates

OA has changed the publishing industry in recent years. It has increased accessibility to research, especially among those in developing countries who may not be able to afford journal subscription fees.

This AJE Scholar article has more information about OA in general and recent OA mandates, such as Horizon 2020.

If you are still unsure whether OA is a good option for you, read this article on Making the Choice: Open Access vs. Traditional Journals.

Predatory publishers (and journals)

Although the rise of OA journals and publishers has been beneficial for research and accessibility in general, this business model has led to a ‘dark market’ in publishing. Predatory journals (and publishers) are only interested in taking your money, not in the quality of peer reviewed output.

This is an issue to be well aware of and something we have discussed before in our AJE blogs and video content.

Many of us receive emails inviting us to write articles for publication in journals. Often these are from predatory journals that are phishing for content and will ask for APCs before, during, and after publication. It is very important to carefully research a journal before writing any article on request. However, not all predatory journals will approach you. Sometimes these journals can look very official online and may even come up in journal searches. Again, it is very important to research a journal before submitting your paper, especially if it is an OA journal.

Here are some quick and easy ways to spot a likely predatory journal: -Unclear editorial board -Unprofessional website -Very fast turnaround times from submission to publication (indicates limited, or non-existent, peer review) -Very few published papers -Unclear information about journal indexation and other statistics, such as impact factor

What can you do?

First, check Think Check Submit.

Second, write to the editor and/or members of the editorial board to check that they are aware that they are listed on the journal’s website. Predatory publishers and journals often simply make up content for their sites.

Finally, ask colleagues in your field what they know about the journal. If multiple experts in the field have never heard of the journal, there is a good chance it may be predatory.

Concluding statements and where to get assistance

Journal selection is a vital step in the publication process, but researchers often overlook it. When it is done quickly and without a lot of thought you might misrepresent your work’s value by publishing in a lower impact journal, or even a predatory journal.

Ensure that your research reaches the audience it deserves by carefully selecting a target journal before you start to write. If you need help with this, we have experts who can point you in the right direction. Get in touch!

Share with your colleagues

Share your work as a preprint and help move science forward

We invite you to share your research with the community by posting it online as a preprint. Our sister company, Research Square, is a trusted preprint platform that lets you get credit for your unpublished research early, increase your citations, and get feedback from the community.

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