Journal selection and submission

Choosing a journal

Submitting a manuscript to an unsuitable journal will result in editors rejecting the manuscript without even sending it for peer review. It wastes both yours and the editors’ time. Choosing a journal that matches your study is therefore very important because it makes it more likely that your manuscript will be accepted.

Some factors to consider when choosing a journal to submit to are:

  • The journal’s target audience. If your study has broad implications that may be of interest to researchers in other fields, a journal that covers a wide range of topics may be best. On the other hand, if only researchers in your field are likely to want to read your study, then a specialized journal would be more appropriate as you will reach your intended audience directly.
  • The topics the journal publishes. The Aims and Scope of the journal should indicate the topic areas the journal is willing to consider. If your research is applied, you should target a journal that publishes applied science; if it is clinical, you should target a clinical journal; if it is basic research, you should target a journal that publishes basic research.

TIP: Have a look at the articles published by the journal already. This should give you an idea of which topics the editors are interested in.

  • The types of articles the journal publishes. For example, if you want to publish a Review Article, find out whether the journal publishes these.
  • Length restrictions. Does the journal limit the number of words or figures in the articles it publishes? Can your manuscript meet its requirements?
  • Reputation of the journal. A journal’s Impact Factor is only one measure of its reputation, and not always the most important. You need to consider the prestige of the authors that publish in the journal and whether the journal is well known in your specific field; sometimes the most highly regarded journals in a field are not those with the highest Impact Factor.

TIP: Although everyone believes their work to be important you must objectively consider how significant your results are for your field and for wider science. You must honestly ask yourself; what are the implications of my results? Are they limited to my field or do they have applications to a broad area of science? Are my results a major breakthrough or an incremental advancement to the field? This will help you evaluate the impact of your research and what journal it is best suited for, otherwise you may find yourself wasting your valuable time submitting to one journal after another.

  • Where the journal is indexed. You want your work to be as discoverable as possible. One way readers find relevant research papers is by using indexing sites and databases such as PubMed, Scopus or Web of Science. If there is a particular database that is used extensively by your peers it may be worth checking if the journal is indexed in it so that your work can be found easily.
  • Compliance with funder mandates. Many funding bodies now mandate that research funded by them is made open access. This can be done in several ways but the most common is depositing your article in a repository or publishing open access. Check that journal policies allow you to comply with your funder requirements.

TIP: RoMEO is a searchable database of publisher policies regarding self-archiving of published work and can be useful to authors by helping them find out if journals allow them to comply with their funder’s policy. RoMEO is run by the Centre for Research Communications, University of Nottingham, UK.

Other factors to consider: Does the journal usually publish articles quickly; is the “time to publication” important for you? What kind of peer review does the journal offer? What financial costs are involved?

A good time to start thinking about what journal is suitable for your work is after you have collected enough results for a publication and have evaluated the level of impact of your research, but before you start writing your manuscript. When looking for suitable journals in which to publish your own results, start with what you have read. You should already be familiar with published studies that are similar to yours. Which journal were those studies published in? The same journals may be appropriate for your manuscript, so make a list of them. If you need more journals to consider, you can do literature searches for other published articles in your field that are similar in scope and impact on the field, and see where they were published.

TIP: references of papers that you have read are also good places to look for suitable journals to publish in that might be interested in your work.

Instructions for authors

When you have a list of potential target journals, visit and read the websites for these journals. Every journal should have a page that provides instructions or guidelines for authors, including information on many of the factors listed above.

Journals on your list that are not a match for your manuscript based on the factors listed above should be eliminated from consideration. Among the remaining journals, it is likely that one or more will stand out as a very good candidate. Consider if any additional experiments will give you a better chance of achieving publication in your top choice. If you are in a hurry to publish, consider which of the remaining journals offers rapid publication; if none do, consider which has the highest publication frequency. If your main goal is to reach as many readers as possible, strongly consider candidate journals that provide an open access option. Open access allows anyone to read your article, free of charge, online, which can make your article more likely to be read and cited.
When you have chosen the journal you think is the best fit for your study and your goals, it is usually a good idea to also identify your second- and third-choice journals. That way, if your paper is rejected from your first-choice journal, you can quickly submit to your second-choice journal.

TIP: Many publishers now offer a service that allows you to transfer manuscripts that have been rejected to another journal in their portfolio. This can save you time as in many cases you will not have to reformat your work; your files are resubmitted automatically and; if the manuscript has been through peer review, you can transfer the reviewer reports too so that it may not have to undergo peer review again. Look out for journals that are part of this transfer scheme and, if appropriate, consider journals which can receive transfers as your second- and third choice journals.