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Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the obvious goal of most research projects. It is through publication that your research reaches others in the field, advancing knowledge and encouraging communication between groups with similar research goals. Although peer review can be a lengthy and often exhausting process, the ultimate publication of your manuscript effectively validates your work and can help to advance your career, attract bright students and experienced staff, and garner funding for future studies. One of the most important—and possibly the least well understood—aspects of the publication process is the choice of a suitable journal that is likely to accept your work.
Submitting a manuscript to an unsuitable journal is one of the most common mistakes made by authors, and both novice and seasoned researchers are capable of making this error. First-time authors or those who are branching out into broader research territories may be unfamiliar with the journals in the field. Meanwhile, experienced authors may be tempted to publish in the same journals as always, despite the fact that new publication opportunities are constantly arising in the form of electronic-only journals and open access publications. Even rigorous, high-impact work can be rejected when the topic of the research does not match the scope of the journal, and making this mistake wastes time, money, and motivation.
Below are some of the most important criteria to keep in mind when choosing a journal that is a good match for your research.
1) What are the aims and scope of the journal?
This information is usually readily available on the journal’s homepage. Look for a section titled “About the Journal,” “Full Aims and Scope,” or something similar. Browsing through this page will provide you with key information about whether your research might be a good match for the journal. For example, the Clinical Cancer Research website indicates that the journal prioritizes laboratory and animal studies of new drugs and molecular targeted agents with the potential to lead to clinical trials. Other journals may have more broad criteria, and some indicate that they favor research that is of interest to a wide audience. For example, The Plant Cell indicates that the primary criterion for publication is “a new insight that is of broad interest to all plant biologists, not only specialists.” A journal such as PLOS ONE casts an even broader net, accepting reports of original research from all disciplines within science and medicine. Note that some journals will even specify the types of research that they do not publish. For example, Food Research International does not publish optimization studies aiming to increase the yield of a production process.
2) Has the journal published articles that are similar to yours?
Once you have identified a few journals that might be likely to publish your manuscript based on their broad aims and scope, consider performing a search with the keywords (or title) of your manuscript to determine whether the journal has published work that is similar to yours. Aim to identify 3-5 papers published within the last 5 years and try to determine whether these papers are similar to yours in quality and scope. For example, if you performed a clinical study that included 50 patients and you notice that the journal only publishes clinical studies including 300 patients or more, then this particular journal might be unlikely to consider your research favorably. Identifying previously published papers in your specific subject area is excellent evidence that your research topic is of interest to the audience of a particular journal, which will increase your chances of review.
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3) What are the journal’s restrictions?
Submission to a journal that does not accept the type of article you’ve written is a surefire way to be rejected immediately. For example, some journals, such as the British Journal of Surgery, do not publish case reports. Thus, it is essential to check the “Information for Authors” section of your target journal to determine the journal’s restrictions. It is also important to note restrictions related to word count. For example, if your manuscript is 7,000 words and the journal accepts papers no longer than 4000 words, a substantial revision will obviously be required. The cost of publication can also be viewed as a restriction, as some journals charge very high article processing fees. Fees can also charged for open access, additional pages beyond a certain limit, or color figures.
4) What is the journal’s Impact Factor?
The validity of the Journal Impact Factor as a metric for journal quality is controversial due to the many factors that can influence the rating achieved and the fact that not all of these factors are directly related to the quality of the publications within the journal. Nevertheless, the Impact Factor remains the default method for determining the quality and reputation of a journal. Although it is tempting to submit a manuscript to the journal with the highest impact factor, it is important to objectively evaluate your research and determine whether it is truly suitable for a top-tier journal. Otherwise, you will risk valuable time and effort resubmitting (and reformatting) your manuscript multiple times for multiple journals.
After all of the hard work that goes into performing successful research, the final crucial step is choosing the right journal in which to publish. With over 9,500 journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals alone, choosing the best journal can be daunting, even for seasoned researchers, and making the wrong decision can cost valuable time, money, and effort. Keeping in mind the aims and scope of the journal, identifying papers that are similar in quality and scope, determining the journal’s restrictions, and considering the impact factor and potential reach will ensure a smooth path to publication.