Composing / Reaching out

Publishing your work – how to choose a journal

At the start of your research career, you may have more questions than answers about how and where to publish. We wrote recently about publishing your first paper, but choosing the right journal might not always be a straightforward process.  Here Georgina Collins, Warwick PhD graduate, shares her experience of the concepts and measures that will help you find a high-quality publication with an appropriate audience.

Impact Factors and Citations

One measure of the quality of a journal is its Journal Impact Factor (JIF). This is determined by Web of Knowledge’s Journal Citation Reports. It ranks journals according to how often their content is cited by other authors – an indication of the global impact and influence of a publication. The SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) indicator is a similar measure of a journal’s impact.

A high impact factor is a good indication that a journal is contributing to a research agenda or body of knowledge. At the very least, it shows that the journal has an audience of peers engaged in active research – an audience who finds the contribution of the journal important.

As with all measures of quality, JIFs are not without their limitations. They vary in use, value and acceptance from one discipline to the next. They are not static and can rise and fall over time, and a single highly cited article can boost the JIF of a title. Moreover, journal editors and authors are well aware of the importance of citation and so may self-cite more than necessary or prioritise articles they believe will boost impact factors. Finally, JIFs are not available for journals until two years after indexing, which may discourage submissions to new and innovative publications.

Alternative sources of journal information

Article citations are just one way to assess the impact of a particular author or journal – other sources offer useful measures of quality and suitability as well.

Ulrich’s periodicals directory is a place to find journals by title. Look to see if there is a referee’s shirt symbol next to the title you are interested in. This indicates that the journal is peer reviewed. If there is no shirt, it is best to go directly to the journal’s home page for further information.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) worked with research communities to rank the quality ratings of over 20,000 journal titles. An A* journal is one of the best in its field, with field leaders on the editorial board. All articles within it will be of a very high quality and are important in shaping the field. (The ARC also provides a ranked list of conferences using similar quality ratings.)

Other measures of journal information

Journal distribution figures and readership rates show you the potential size of your audience.  Measures of this include whether a journal offers open access and whether it is included in indexing and abstracting services such as JSTOR.

Also consider the more practical reasons for choosing a particular journal. Look at the submission process for each journal – does it give clear instructions? What is the typical time from acceptance to publication? Ask friends or colleagues if they have written or peer-reviewed for this journal. Use your informal contacts to find out if the journal’s editorial team is supportive of those at the start of their publication career.

Starting to publish: 5 Do’s and Don’ts from Georgina

  • Do look at the types of journals that appear in your own bibliography. Chances are if you are citing from them, you will be writing something of equal interest to other readers of the journal.
  • Do check the mission statements of suitable journals – these will give you an overview of the journal’s scope and the expectations of its audience. Journal guidelines on preparing your article will help you tailor your writing to match the style and language of other published pieces.
  • Do send your article first to friends and peers for informal review – it’s better to have your friends point out your article’s weaknesses than an editorial board of field experts.
  • Don’t let rejection knock your confidence – learn from the peer review process and revise your article in light of it.
  • Don’t underestimate the length of time it takes – take advantage of fast track ways to publish such as calls for rapid responses. You can also choose online publications, which may have a faster turnaround time.


Any advice on finding the Holy Grail of journals? Share your thoughts in the comments section.🙂

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