You’ve finished data collection and analysis, and perhaps you’ve presented your results at a conference. Now it’s time to write the paper. When in the writing process do you decide on the journal to which you’ll submit the manuscript? And how do you go about selecting the journal?
With respect to “when”, I recommend choosing the journal for submission after you have completed the analysis and you’ve summarized the data in an abstract, poster, or podium presentation. At this point, you know the story, the study design, its robustness, the simplicity or complexity of the data, how many layers of data to present, and how valuable your study outcomes will be to your research community. Choose the journal first with these factors in mind, and then start writing the manuscript.
In your given field, there may be anywhere from a dozen or so key journals where most researchers publish their results, to over 100 peer-reviewed scientific or medical journals that might be an appropriate fit for your papers. How do you narrow it down?
My clients often rely on me to recommend the journal for submission before I edit their manuscript. I don’t have a strict formula, but I do have a several criteria that I consider.
1/ Key Outcomes and Target Audience
First and foremost, what are the main results of your study? Who is the target audience for this message? Are your results specific to a particular audience, such as cardiac surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons, oncologists, breast cancer specialists, pediatricians? Or are the results specific to a particular disease or methodology, such as molecular biology, histology, imaging, or finite element analysis? Or do you want your message to reach a broader audience?
Once you’ve figured this out, you can look at your journal options. Who reads the journal? Some journals are for a more general audience, others will be directed to a specific sub-group. This leads us to the next consideration – the scope of the journal.
2/ Scope of the Journal
Most journal websites clearly identify the aims, scope, and target audience for the journal right at the top. Ensure that these are in line with the key outcomes and target audience you’ve identified for your manuscript in step 1. Many journals will also specify the types of studies they won’t consider for publication. Review the Tables of Contents for several issues and gauge how well your study fits with recently published studies.
3/ Impact Factor
In academia, journals with a high impact factor are considered more prestigious. The impact factor is a measure of the average annual number of citations to articles published in that journal in the last two years. The impact factor of the journals where your studies are published may be important to hiring and promotion committees.
Check if the journal is indexed in a reputed citation database, such as CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Scopus. Indexing in a database makes it easier for people to find your article, and for the journal and paper to reach a much wider base of readers. Today, with the broad access of Google Scholar, this is not as much of a concern as it once was.
5/ Turnaround Time
I currently see tweets about very long wait times for the peer-review process and to receive a decision on a submitted paper quite regularly. Journal editors are struggling to find reviewers who can complete the review in a timely manner. If your study topic is time sensitive, this can be a problem. Narrow your search to journals that clearly state an average time to decision that is within your needs.
Also check the individual papers in current and recent issues for the time from when the paper was accepted to when it is published, either online ahead of print, or in print. The time to publication can range from a few weeks to several months, or even more than a year for in-print publication.
6/ Peer Review Process
Quality journals tend to have a rigorous review process and provide instructions to reviewers. Details about the process, including how reviewers are selected and the overall timeline (see item 5 above), are usually provided on their website. Lesser quality journals tend not to follow a strict peer-review procedure.
The review process may be blinded (typical for medical and clinical journals) or unblinded. Both are valid approaches, and neither approach should discourage you from submitting your manuscript to a given journal. The journal may ask for recommendations for reviewers. If so, provide names, as this is likely to help substantially with the timeline to a decision.
7/ Instructions for Authors – Limits
Read the Author Guidelines carefully. Many journals set limits on the manuscript, often for word count (with or without the abstract, with or without the references), number of figures (parts a,b,c usually counted separately), tables, and/or pages. Text can usually be edited down, by as much as 40% – I’ve done that often, for many clients. However, such limits may impact the suitability of the journal for your particular paper, especially if it is a complex topic with a lot of nuance, or if it requires many figures.
8/ Costs and Fees
Review the Author Guidelines for information on the costs of manuscript submission (some journals now charge a fee to submit a manuscript for consideration), manuscript publication, costs for colour photos in print, and reprint charges. Many journals now offer to publish your accepted manuscript as an “Open Access” paper, i.e., it is immediately available to all readers at no cost, rather than accessible by paid subscription only for the first 12 months.
Some journals are Open Access only and charge a publication fee accordingly, ranging from around $750 USD to several thousand dollars. In the “old days”, an exclusively Open Access journal was usually considered a “predatory journal” (that’s a topic for another blog). While that is no longer the case, you still need to be careful in reviewing an Open Access journal’s quality to ensure it is a reputable, well-respected publication, rather than a “pay to publish just about anything” journal.
All right, once you’ve decided on the journal for your manuscript, it’s time to write the paper. Not sure how to get started? Check out my tips in a previous blog here.
Does this all seem a bit overwhelming or time-consuming? Worried you won’t pick a suitable journal? Then let me do this step for you. I’ll review the various options and recommend the top 3 journals that fit your research and priorities the best.
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