Choosing the Right Journal — A Comprehensive Guide for Early-career Researchers
Journals Peer Review

Choosing the Right Journal — A Comprehensive Guide for Early-career Researchers

Monali Ghosh
Monali Ghosh
Choosing-the-right-journal_Typeset-Resources

Put together six months to one year long wait times of journals with crazy high rejection rates and you will know why it is so crucial for you to think through your decision of choosing the right journal.

As early-career researchers, where you choose to publish your work will impact your career advancement, funding opportunities and professional reputation for years to come. Getting this wrong can be a huge setback for your career. It is thus important that you analyze each aspect of journal submission instead of relying on one resource as your holy grail, be it word-of-mouth, journal finder tools, or other resources available.

In this extensive guide, we provide you with everything you need to analyze the quality, credibility, author experience and the overall reputation of journals — all in one place. So let’s get started.

THE PREDATORY PUBLISHERS

Pubishing in a good peer-reviewed journal is the ultimate goal for most research projects. Over 34,000 scholarly journals fall into this category and choosing the best journal for your work is like finding the needle in a haystack already. But before we get to that, nowadays even a bigger problem looms over our head: “what if the journal you are submitting to is not legit?” It’s a genuine concern, considering the amount of predatory publishers that have come up as an aftermath of the Open Access movement.

Predatory publishers often game Google Scholar and Academia.edu systems to get access to recently published papers and their authors. Many also set up seeming-legit websites and then send general ‘call for papers’ emails. Or sometimes they also send flattering and highly personalized emails to authors specifically mentioning about one of their published works and how that’s exactly the kind of thing their journal or conference is looking for.

It is also common to receive unsolicited emails from such publishers to turn a paper into a complete book, or to draw from your recently published journal article to present as a keynote at some obscure conference. Most experienced authors understand the way the industry works way too well to fall for such scams. But first-time authors are under a lot of pressure to start publishing soon and are also unfamiliar with the esteemed journals in their discipline. They are the ones who fall prey to such emails. The promise of getting published within 4–6 weeks seems too tempting when you’ve heard others say that it can take between six months and a year to get your paper published, which sounds ridiculous to any new researcher.

Earlier these emails were still easy to spot, but now scammers would even go to the extent of hacking a legit journal (which is often in print and doesn’t have an online presence), creating its counterfeit website, and setting up an email account to send spam emails and pocket more money.

Red Flags to Spot Predatory Publishers

When in doubt, check Jeffrey Beall’s lists to spot scammers — God bless Jeffrey Beall for creating this popular list of predatory publishers and journals and the list of hijacked journals to make our lives a little less complicated.

No standard identifiers, like ISSNs or DOIs — Publishers whose sole purpose is to scam people to make more money do not have standard identifiers, like DOIs or ISSNs. Some who actually do, often do not know how to use them properly.Spend some time googling the ISSN or journal title for a few minutes and carefully read through the results. You should be able to spot a scam pretty quickly. Sometimes a quick google check of the email ID from which you received the message can also help find posts on forums where others have already mentioned about the scammer.

The scope of the journal is too wide — Scholarly peer-reviewed journals often focus on a particular niche under a broad discipline. For example, Mediterranean Politics published by Taylor and Francis focuses on research related to international relations and contemporary politics in the Mediterranean Sea and areas surrounding it.

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But if the ‘Aims and scope’ and ‘About this journal’ pages of a journal suggest you can publish everything about education or politics; or if the journal published by a publisher mentions a combination of two or more unrelated fields together (for example — International Journal of Science, Humanities and Business), run in the opposite direction.

No transparency about article processing charges or APS — Many international journals now charge APS, especially when it is an open access journal. But mostly the fee is payable when the journal has already gone through the entire process of getting your paper peer reviewed, copyedited, and typeset for free, and have been accepted for publication.An important distinction to make here is that all reputed journals, even if they charge APS, will reveal the chargeable amount beforehand on their website. With predatory publishers however, even if they mention about APS beforehand, they mostly do not reveal the exact amount upfront.Another malignant practice is for such publishers to charge APS and still require authors to transfer and retain the copyrights of their work to the journal. Some even ask for it at the time of submission of manuscripts.

Poor online presence — Dead links, gruesome grammatical errors, unlicensed images, too many ads and misspellings are all indicators of a non-credible publisher website. If their brand image is not important to them, imagine what you can expect from them for your paper?

The journal is not well-indexed — Reputed journals are well-indexed and have widespread coverage in the databases of library holdings, like Google Scholar searches, EBSCOHost and Ingenta and others, since they are recommended by peer groups and are recognized for their good standing.SCOPUS, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), ISI (Web of Science), the Norwegian List, SSherpa-Romeo, WorldCAT, and ciELO (in South Africa) are all well-known indexes.While a library or Google Scholar is not counted as a database, you can always check DOAJ. Some journals might list DOAJ index, but you must check the DOAJ list for the journal’s name to confirm if their claim is true.

Officials of the journal use email addresses of a free email supplier like Gmail — Take this one with a pinch of salt. Only because an editor mailed you from a Gmail ID doesn’t mean it is a bogus journal. Sometimes good journals hire independent editors or the journal itself might not be housed under one university. In such cases, email providers, like Gmail or Yahoo prove to be a good alternative as you can avail great cloud storage at no cost.Unless you notice some other red flags along with this one, use your discretion in how you want to proceed. A publisher with no online submission platform and only a gmail address to send submissions is another warning sign.If you still have any doubts that the offer you received in your inbox is a hoax, check out this list for more details.

SELECTING THE RIGHT JOURNAL — FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Submitting a manuscript to a wrong journal is one of the most common mistakes made by both early-career and experienced researchers. Novice researchers exploring broader research subjects are sometimes unfamiliar with reputed journals in their field. Experienced researchers, on the other hand, become too comfortable with publishing in the same journals over and again even when they can now find better publication opportunities and reach a wider audience through open-access or electronic-only journals.

Hence, regardless the stage of your career, you will be revisiting the question of choosing the right journal multiple times during your career. The parameters you need to consider might change over a period of time with the advancement in technology changing the way journals operate, but for now, you can stick to these key points in 2017:

Aims & scope

Even remarkable, high-impact work can face rejection when the research topic doesn’t align with the scope of the journal. This can lead to unnecessary loss of time and motivation that could very well be avoided in the first place if authors take some time to study the aims & scope of the journal.

This information is often easily available on journal’s website. Reading through “About the journal,” “Aims & scope” or similar sections can help you understand if the journal is a good match to submit your manuscript. For example — Nature Reviews Immunology website indicates that they accept in-depth coverage of all areas of immunology, from fundamental mechanisms to applied aspects. Sometimes journals might also mention certain research types that are not accepted, for example, Food Research International doesn’t accept studies that focus on optimizing the yield of the production process.

If you still have any doubt after reading aims & scope of a journal, go ahead and skim through abstracts, table of contents, or even read some full articles (if you have the access) by the journal. This will give you the confidence to know if this journal is the right choice for you.

Authors guidelines

This section will give you specific instructions on things like the journal’s preferred layout, word limit (including and excluding bibliographic information), referencing style and more. Submitting to journal that doesn’t accept your article type is a guaranteed way of getting your paper rejected. For example — British Journal of Surgery doesn’t accept case reports. If the journal charges any submission fee or article processing charges, you will find it under this section as well.Poorly presented or proofread papers often make reviewers and editors assume that their research is also poor and are thus not worth publishing. It is important that the research is also well-written. So authors whose first language is not English are especially recommended to seek help from professional academic editing services, like Editage to make sure that their manuscript meets the global standards of publication.

While most researchers shortlist journals after they have finished writing their manuscript, you can probably now see why it might not be the best approach. Imagine cutting down 4000 words of research paper to 2000, or reducing references from 65 to 40 because that’s the limit imposed by your target journal! Reformatting the whole paper after you have finished writing is no fun. Keeping specifications of a journal in mind while writing will save you a lot of time and unnecessary trouble towards the end. Besides, having a target journal in mind will increase your chances of acceptance as you will now have more clarity about the target audience, purpose and context of what you are writing.

Time to publish

In an ideal world, journals should be as accountable to authors as authors are to journals. But the real world operates differently. Many of us have heard about that one friend who is completely clueless about the status of his manuscript that he submitted over a year ago. Unfortunately, the tales of loss of time due to submitting manuscripts to inadequate journals are as old as time. Any mistakes made in the journal selection process can slow down the progression of your career.

Good journals take a minimum of four months to come back to you with a response if your paper has been sent for a peer review. If your paper has been rejected, you should hear about it within 4–6 weeks after submission.

Reputed journals work hard to publish papers within 9–12 months of submission. But high profile journals do have longer wait times, mostly because of the volume of submissions they receive, and their rejection rates are also higher.

Having said that, you must look into how many issues are published by a journal annually. The more they publish, the lesser would be the time taken by them to publish your paper. Keep an eye out if they have a ‘call for papers’ for any special edition, where your paper might be a good fit. Special editions get lesser submissions relatively and makes it easier for your paper to be considered and published, if it fits the criteria.

As early-career researchers, you might have freaked out when you got to know that it can take six month to a year to get a manuscript published. But it is mostly the lack of understanding of how journals operate that makes it difficult to imagine how publishing a paper can take so much time. So, let’s take a deeper look into how this works.

When you submit a paper, it is usually read by an initial editor, who then assigns an associate editor who is knowledgeable in your field of research. This editor is responsible for finding at least two peer reviewers who agree to offer feedback for your paper in the stipulated time frame, which takes 30 to 60 days. In many cases, reviewers are unable to get back to the journal in time, which delays the process.

After receiving the reviews on your paper, the associate editor then has to take a decision about your paper. If your paper is rejected, you will need to start finding another journal. Otherwise, the editor might send back the paper with recommended revisions, which can take another three months. Once you submit the paper with changes, it will again be sent to the editor for re-review. This takes a couple of more weeks. The paper is then copyedited, sent back to you for author checking, and typeset before it is published, either online or in print. Any journal that claims it can publish your paper in six weeks is a scam.

Journal Impact Factor (JIF)

Journal Impact Factor (JIF) basically shows the number of citations received by journal articles in proportion to the number of citation articles it published in the past 2–5 years. It has become the default metric to assess the reputation and quality of a journal and is held in high regard by authors, institutions and employers alike. Getting jobs, grants etc. is all a whole lot easier when you are a published author in a high IF journal. To know about IF in more detail, you can check out this quick video by Clarivate Analytics.

Should you go for a journal that attracts a more appropriate target audience for your paper, or the one that has better JIF? This is a common debate in the scientific community with mixed opinions. Some researchers strongly recommend that you prefer your audience regardless of the impact factor of the journal as it significantly increases the chances of your paper being evaluated by appropriate reviewers. Also, when your research is read by the right audience, your paper gets cited more often which increases your H-Index.

Many researchers, however, question the recognition enjoyed by JIF in the community. The common argument is that since IF doesn’t reflect the quality of the research, it is not an appropriate determining factor for an individual’s work. For example — Einstein’s work, “The Electrodynamic Moving Body” did not get many citations when it was published, but it now gets around 1000 citations every year.

Some publishing practices by high IF journals add more to this debate. Review articles, for example, are known to get higher citations than research articles. As a result, many journals publish more review articles that help them maintain a higher JIF for years, without having to publish any solid research articles for a long time.

In fact, it is important to note that in some core subjects, where the number of researchers are also low, JIF will also be low. You must do a relative analysis of JIF in your particular field when choosing a journal. In such cases, it is also recommended that you prefer journals that attract your target audience rather than JIF.

Thus choosing a journal solely based on its JIF is not the best strategy. For new authors, it is recommended to take a balanced approach in choosing the best journal. Few researchers do this trade off by sending the data they want to publish fast to journals with average IF but the right target audience, and the most important data is sent to journals with high IF. But you can always find your own way.

This debate, fortunately, has made the scientific community more aware. As a result, H-Index has now started to see more popularity in some countries to determine the quality of research contributed by an individual, not a journal. Sweden is one country that has made the switch to adding more weightage to H-Index over IF to get grants and jobs in the academia.

It might seem tempting to go for the journal with the highest IF, but you must evaluate your paper objectively to determine if it truly has the potential to get published in a top-tier journal. This is especially important because since publication ethics demand that you send your manuscript to only one journal at a time, submitting to a journal that has lower probability of acceptance is a risky proposition. You might lose a lot of valuable time in waiting for a response, and resubmitting it to other journals in different formats might take even more time.

Besides JIF and asking senior researchers for recommendations, you can also check the editorial board members or the sponsorship of a journal to evaluate its credibility and reputation. Prestigious journals often have eminent researchers of their field as their editorial board members. If the editors of the journal do not have any tie ups with the kind of work you are working on, perhaps think twice before submitting your paper. At the end of the day, editors will be choosing peer reviewers for your work. It is best to go for a journal where at least one editor has some knowledge of your field of work. Many times, good journals are also sponsored or owned by prestigious societies of the field, which is again a good credibility indicator for the journal.

Peer-review process

The whole idea of a peer review process is to validate the written investigative findings from an author group that are further assessed by a group of industry experts (referees) for relevance, novelty, and accuracy. These experts usually do not belong to the editorial staff of a journal and are normally not even paid for their opinion. Any misleading or unproven findings are thus removed during this process.

A quality peer review process makes your papers more robust by pointing out gaps in your findings that might need additional explanation. Reviewers offer feedback to make your paper easier to read and also how you can make it more useful to add to the findings that are already published in your field.

The end goal of a peer review process is to decide if the findings of a manuscript are worth publishing. The end responsibility of this process is born by the journal’s editor who may choose to agree or disagree with the feedback of the reviewers. It is due to this stringent publishing process that peer reviewed journals enjoy great respect in academia and should be one of the most important things you should consider when choosing a journal.

To understand all about Peer-review read Publishing A Paper?
Here are 7 Types Of Peer Review Processes You Should Know

Well-indexed

Databases that index journals take into account several factors like the regularity of publication, review process, quality of papers published, journal’s reputation, and more. Well-indexed journals are thus thought to be more prestigious, as we mentioned in the previous chapter as well. For example — academic biomedical journals of the world can be found listed in the bibliographic database, NLM (Medline of the US National Library of Medicine). You can search the database through PubMed. So you need to check, is your target journal indexed in Web of Science by ISI or Scopus? Is it indexed in the reputed databases of your field? Indexed journals greatly improves the visibility of your research and consequently also the citation count of your article.

In today’s day and age, publishing in print-only journals can seriously confine the visibility of your work. So be sure to check that your target journal does have a reputed online presence as well.

Acceptance rate

As it might seem obvious, journals with lower acceptance rates are considered to be more prestigious and meritorious. Up to 90% rejection rates is not unheard of for top-tier journals. For others, around 50% rejection rate is the norm. Finding out acceptance rates of individual journals however is not easy.

There is no industry-wide accepted standard of calculating a journal’s acceptance rate. As a result, every journal follows the approach they see fit. While some journals take the total number of manuscripts received by them as the base, others consider the manuscripts they sent for peer-review as the base for calculating the acceptance rate. There are also journals that do not maintain accurate data records for this and only offer a rough estimate.

Moreover, for highly-specialised fields, if the number of researchers contributing to the area are pretty low, the acceptance rates of journals tend to be higher. Sometimes acceptance rates of a journal might also vary depending on the types of manuscripts. Case reports, for example, might get host of rejections, whereas acceptance rates for research articles might be pretty good. Many journals or publishers mention their acceptance rates on their website. Elsevier’s acceptance rate data is a great example here.

TOOLS TO FIND THE RIGHT JOURNAL

With umpteen number of journal choices, the number of tools available to find the right journal has also multiplied over the years. While some tools help with initial shortlisting of the journal choices in your category, there are others that will provide you with more granular information or data points you would need to consider to pick a journal, like acceptance rates, quality of the peer review process, etc. — the information that might not be readily available otherwise.

If you are a student, be sure to check if your university’s library has any tie ups to any of these tools to gain no fee / discounted access.

Scimago Journal Rank (SJR) — Perfect for finding journals under a specific category, SJR measures the scientific impact of scholarly journals based on both the number of citations a journal receives and the prestige of journals from where they got the citations. H-index, number of documents published by a journal, citations per article, and total citations per journal are some of the factors considered to calculate SJR.

Cabell’s Directory of Publishing Opportunities — Cabell’s information database help researchers find the journal that matches the content and style of their manuscripts. You can find all the hard-to-find information you need to choose the right journal, like details about the review process, acceptance rates of journals, and much more. It primarily covers areas related to Accounting, Psychology, Management, Education, Library Science, Marketing, and Economics & Finance.

Elsevier’s Journal Finder — Although a pretty reliable resource to find journals, this popular tool proves useful only if you are looking to submit your work with one of Elsevier’s journals. Add the title and the abstract of your article to see a list of proposed journals that might suit your needs. The results also provide details on journal metrics, like impact factor, acceptance rate, acceptance time, and more.

UlrichsWeb Global Serials Directory — Find detailed information of more than 300,000 journals listed here. Evaluate the quality of journals by reading reviews, descriptions, table of contents, abstracting, circulation counts, indexing databases and if it is listed by JCR. You might even find some information related to acceptance rates.

Journal Citation Reports (JCR) lists the rankings of more than 8400 journals. You can use it to check JIF, which is calculated by dividing the total number of articles by their annual number of citations. The immediacy index shows the average citations in the first year of publication, which gives an idea about the popularity of a particular field.

Google Scholar Metrics — This free alternative to Scopus and JCR ranks top 100 journals of different categories. You can browse through the highly cited articles for each journal. It uses H-Index as its primary metric which increases the likeliness of finding influential papers, as opposed to finding journals where few highly cited papers skew the data.

Is there anything that we left out? Help us add more value to the scientific community and make this the go-to document for anyone looking to choose the right journal. Feel free to email your comments and feedback to smriti [at] typeset.io

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