Where to Submit Your Manuscript to academic journals

1. WHY DECIDE EARLY, WHY DECIDE WELL

Too often, authors write scientific papers and then consider where to publish them. The decision, however, is best made early, before the writing begins. That way, the paper can be geared appropriately to the audience (for example, read­ers of a general scientific journal, a journal in your discipline as a whole, or a journal in your specialized research field). Also, thus you can initially prepare your manuscript in keeping with the journal’s requirements, rather than having to revise it accordingly. Of course, if your first-choice journal does not accept your paper, you might need to revise your manuscript to suit another journal. But at least you will have avoided a round of revision.

In addition to deciding early on your first-choice journal, decide well. Choos­ing a journal carefully helps you to reach the most suitable audience, gain appropriate recognition, and avoid needless difficulties with publication. The decision where to submit the manuscript is important. Because of poor choices, some papers are delayed in publication, fail to receive sound review and revi­sion, or lie buried in inappropriate journals. If you submit your manuscript to a poor choice of journal, one of three things can happen—all bad.

First, your manuscript may simply be returned to you, with the comment that your work “is not suitable for this journal.” Often, however, this judgment is not made until after review of the manuscript. A “not suitable” notice after weeks or months of delay is not likely to make you happy.

Second, if the journal is borderline in relation to your work, your manu­script may receive a poor or unfair review because the reviewers (and editors) of that journal may be only vaguely familiar with your specialty area. You may be subjected to the trauma of rejection even though the manuscript would be acceptable to the right journal. Or you could end up with a hassle over sug­gested revisions that you do not agree with and that do not improve your manu­script. And, if your manuscript really does have deficiencies, you would not be able to benefit from the sound criticism that would come from the editors of the right journal.

Third, even if your paper is accepted and published, your glee will be short­lived if you later find that your work is virtually unknown because it is buried in a publication that few in your intended audience read. Talking with colleagues can help prevent this situation.

Think about the appropriate readership. If, for example, you are report­ing a fundamental study in physics, of course you should try to get your paper published in a prestigious international journal. On the other hand, suppose that your study relates to management of a disease found only in Latin Amer­ica. In that situation, publication in Nature will not reach your audience—the audience that needs and can use your information. You should publish in an appropriate Latin American journal, probably in Spanish.

To start identifying journals to consider, recall what journals have published work similar to yours. The journals publishing the papers that you will cite are often journals to consider. Perhaps ask colleagues to suggest potential publica­tion sites. To help determine whether a journal indeed seems to be a possibility, look in the journal or at its website for statements describing its purpose and scope. Look at some recent issues of the journal to see whether the journal publishes research such as yours and whether the papers are of the type you envision writing.

2. PRESTIGE AND IMPACT

If several journals seem suitable, does it matter which one you choose? Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, but it does. There is the matter of prestige. It may be that progress in your career (job offers, promotions, grants, etc.) will be determined largely by the number of papers you publish. But not necessarily. It may well be that a wise old bird sitting on the faculty committee or the grant review panel will recognize and appreciate quality factors. A paper published in a “garbage” journal simply does not equal a paper published in a prestigious journal. In fact, the wise old bird (and there are quite a few of these in science) may be more impressed by the candidate with one or two solid publications in presti­gious journals than by the candidate with 10 or more publications in second- or third-rate journals.

How do you tell the difference? It isn’t easy, and of course there are many gradations. In general, however, you can form reasonable judgments by just a bit of bibliographic research. You will certainly know the important papers that have recently been published in your field. Make it your business to determine where they were published. If most of the real contributions in your field were published in Journal A, Journal B, and Journal C, you should probably limit your choices to those three journals. If Journals D, E, and F, upon inspection, contain only the lightweight papers, each could be eliminated as your first choice, even though the scope is right.

You may then choose among Journals A, B, and C. Suppose that Journal A is an attractive new journal published by a commercial publisher as a com­mercial venture, with no sponsorship by a society or other organization; Journal B is an old, well-known small journal published by a famous university, hospi­tal, or museum; and Journal C is a large journal published by the principal scientific society in your field. In general (although there are many exceptions), Journal C (the society journal) is probably the most prestigious. It will also have the largest circulation (partly because of quality factors, and partly because society journals are less expensive than others, at least to society members). By publication in such a journal, your paper may have its best chance to make an impact on the community of scholars at whom you are aiming. Journal B might have almost equal prestige, but it might have a very limited circulation, which would be a minus; it might also be very difficult to get into, if most of its space is reserved for in-house material. Journal A (the commercial journal) might well have the disadvantage of low circulation (because of its comparatively high price, which is the result of both the profit aspect of the publisher and the lack of backing by a society or institution with a built-in subscription list). Publi­cation in such a journal may result in a somewhat restricted distribution of your paper.

Be wary of new journals, especially those not sponsored by a society. (In par­ticular, avoid predatory journals, which are discussed later in this chapter.) The circulation may be minuscule, and the journal might fail before it, and your paper, become known to the scientific world. Be wary of publishing in journals that are solely electronic unless you know that those evaluating your work for purposes such as promotion consider those journals as prestigious as journals with printed versions. On the other hand, be wary of publishing in the increas­ingly few journals that appear only in print, as scientists today expect important scientific literature to be accessible online.

One tool for estimating the relative prestige of journals in a given field is the electronic resource Journal Citation Reports, commonly available through academic libraries. With this resource, you can determine which journals have recently been cited most frequently, both in total and in terms of average num­ber of citations per article published, or impact factor (Garfield 1999). Although not all good journals have impact factors computed, impact factor can be worth considering in judging the prominence of journals. If, in a given field, the aver­age paper in Journal A is cited twice as frequently as the average paper in Journal B, it is likely that researchers find Journal A the more important jour­nal. In some countries and institutions, impact factors of journals in which papers appear are among criteria considered when candidates are evaluated for promotion. However, limitations of the impact factor also should be noted. The impact factor indicates how much the papers in a journal are cited on average— not how much your paper will be cited if it appears in the journal. It does not indicate how much impact other than on citation the papers in a journal have— for example, how much they influence policy or clinical practice. And because different scientific fields have different citation practices, impact factors should not be used to compare importance of journals in different fields. For instance, in biochemistry and molecular biology, in which papers tend to cite many recent papers, the impact factor of the top-cited journal was 32.2 in the year 2014, but in geology it was 4.9. In short, although knowing a journal’s impact-factor rank­ing in its field can help you assess the scientific importance of a journal, the impact factor does not say everything about the journal’s quality and its suitabil­ity for your work. In journal selection as in much else in life, a multidimensional concept cannot validly be reduced to a single number.

Increasingly, experts have emphasized the need to include indicators other than impact factor when assessing the importance of a person’s research. For example, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (2012), com­monly called DORA, calls for using more varied approaches in evaluating research output. These approaches include—in addition to, most importantly, evaluating the scientific content of the article—using multiple journal-based metrics (rather than only impact factor) and looking at article-level metrics. Examples of the latter include how many times an article has been viewed, downloaded, or bookmarked; how much attention it has received in social media and mass media; and how many times and where it has been cited (Tananbaum 2013). Noticing which journals’ articles in your field tend to receive such atten­tion can aid in identifying suitable journals for your papers.

3. ACCESS

Other items to consider when choosing journals can include open access—that is, the provision of articles online free of charge to all who may be interested. One consideration is whether to choose a journal (termed an open-access journal) that immediately provides open access to all its content. At such journals, which do not have subscriptions and so lack this source of income, the costs typically are defrayed at least in part by fees charged to authors. In some countries, these fees commonly are paid from grant funds; it can be wise to consider expected publication costs when preparing the budget for a grant. When authors, such as those in developing countries, cannot afford to pay the fees, the journal may waive or reduce them; if you cannot afford the normal publication fee for an open-access journal in which you hope to publish, contact the journal.

Access-related considerations for publishing in traditional journals can include whether to seek a journal for which the electronic version, initially avail­able only to subscribers, becomes openly accessible relatively fast, for example, in a few months. Also, some journals give authors the option of making their articles freely accessible upon publication in return for paying a fee. Another consideration when publishing in a traditional journal is whether the journal allows rapid posting of articles on authors’ or their institutions’ websites. The website SHERPA/RoMEO (www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/) provides information about journals’ policies in such regards.

4. AVOIDING PREDATORY JOURNALS

As noted, open-access journals typically charge authors fees as these journals lack income from subscriptions. Some dishonest people take advantage of this model by claiming to publish valid journals while instead just trying to get authors’ money. These publishers of predatory journals may, for example, post all the papers that they receive, without peer review or editing. Or they might take authors’ money and publish nothing. Submitting papers to such journals advances neither science nor one’s career.

Such journals often market themselves vigorously, filling researchers’ email with invitations to submit papers. How can you recognize, and thus avoid, pred­atory journals? Clues that a journal might be predatory include promises that seem too good to be true (for example, a guarantee to publish all submissions within a week), a website with many typographical and other errors, inclusion of what seem to be fake metrics (such as “impact index”), and lack of good articles (or any articles at all) on the journal’s website. On the other hand, indi­cations that a journal is likely to be valid include publication of good articles that you already have seen and inclusion of the journal in major bibliographic databases. If you think that a journal might be predatory, consider consulting Beall’s List (scholarlyoa.com/publishers/), compiled by academic librarian Jeffrey Beall. This list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers” can aid in evaluating one’s suspicions.

Especially if you are inexperienced in publishing, perhaps consult a mentor or senior colleague if you think a journal that you are considering might be predatory. In fact, in any case, such consultation can be wise before finalizing one’s choice of a journal.

5. OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

In choosing a journal, other factors also can merit consideration. One such factor is speed of publication. Increasingly, journals have been publishing papers online before they appear in print or are included in an online issue. You may find it worthwhile to check whether a journal publishes individual articles online first and, if so, how quickly it does so.

The time from acceptance to publication in a journal issue generally reflects the frequency of the journal. For example, the publication lag of a monthly jour­nal is almost always shorter than that ofa quarterly journal. Assuming equivalent review times, the additional delay of the quarterly will range up to 2 or 3 months. Since the publication lag, including the time of editorial review, of many (prob­ably most) monthlies ranges between 4 and 7 months, the lag of the quarterly is likely to run up to 10 months. Remember, also, that many journals, whether monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly, have backlogs. It sometimes helps to ask col­leagues what their experience has been with the journal(s) you are considering. If the journal publishes “received for publication” dates, you can figure out for yourself the average lag time.

Even in this electronic age, quality of printing can be a consideration. In biol­ogy, the journals published by the American Society for Microbiology and by the Rockefeller University Press traditionally have been especially noted for their high standards in this respect. Whatever your field, look at the reproduction quality of the journal if it will be important to you.

Finally, consider likelihood of acceptance. Clearly, not every paper is important enough and of broad enough interest to appear in Science or Nature. Rather, most papers belong in journals in their disciplines or subdisciplines.

Even within specific fields, some papers are of great enough importance for publication in first-line journals, whereas many others can better find homes elsewhere. In initially submitting your paper, aim high, generally for the broad­est and most prestigious journal in which your paper seems to have a realistic chance of publication. To decide on this journal, perhaps look again at candi­date journals and consult colleagues. Choosing a journal that is appropriate with regard to subject matter, audience, prestige, access, selectivity, and other factors can help ensure that your paper will be published without undue delay—and that it will be read and recognized by those it should reach.

6. USING INSTRUCTIONS TO AUTHORS

In considering where to submit your paper, you might have looked at some journals’ instructions to authors to learn more about the journals’ scopes, audiences, or requirements. If you have not yet obtained the instructions for the journal you chose, do so before starting to write. Typically, these instruc­tions appear on the website of the journal. In addition, instructions from more than 6,000 biomedical journals can be accessed through the website Instruc­tions to Authors in the Health Sciences, mulford.utoledo.edu/instr. This site also includes links to sets of guidelines that many medical journals follow.

If you do not find instructions to authors immediately, keep looking. Some­times their location on the journal website is not initially apparent. Also, instruc­tions to authors can have a variety of other names, such as information for authors, guide for authors, and submission instructions. If, after careful search­ing, you still do not find the instructions, consider asking a more experienced researcher or a librarian for help or contacting the office of the journal. Also, a lack of instructions can be a clue that a journal is predatory rather than legitimate.

Read the instructions for authors thoroughly before starting to prepare your paper. Among questions these instructions may answer are the following:

  • Does the journal include more than one category of research article? If so, in what category would yours fit?
  • What is the maximum length of articles? What is the maximum length of abstracts?
  • Does the journal have a template for articles? If so, how can it be accessed?
  • Does the journal post supplementary material online, if applicable? If so, how should this material be provided?
  • What sections should the article include? What guidelines should be fol­lowed for each?
  • What guidelines should be followed regarding writing style?
  • How many figures and tables are allowed? What requirements does the journal have for figures and tables?
  • In what format should references appear? Is there a maximum number of references?
  • In what electronic format should the paper be prepared? Should figures and tables be inserted within the text, or should they appear at the end or be submitted as separate files? Is there an online submission system to use?

Underline, highlight, or otherwise note key points to remember. Then consult the instructions to authors as you prepare the paper. Following the instruc­tions from the outset will save time overall.

Also look carefully at some recent issues of the journal. Pay particular atten­tion to those aspects of editorial style that tend to vary widely from journal to journal. These aspects include the style of literature citation, the use of head­ings and subheadings, and the design of tables and figures.

Shortly before submitting your manuscript, check the instructions to authors again, and ensure they have been followed. If the instructions include a check­list, use it. By following the instructions carefully, you will facilitate publication of your manuscript from the time you begin to draft it.

Source: Gastel Barbara, Day Robert A. (2016), How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, Greenwood; 8th edition.

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