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How to choose a journal

Opinion | Researchers | Research integrity
How to choose a journal

After many months of experimenting and writing, you finally have a manuscript ready for publication. But with thousands of possible journals, which one is right for your paper? This post lists some of the things to take into account when you’re choosing where to submit your work.


Things to consider when choosing a journal

Open Access

Many funders and research institutes are now mandating that researchers’ work must be available as open access articles. Through Plan S, an international coalition of research funders are specifically asking that all publicly funded work should be open access by 2021. This makes it even more important to check whether your journal of choice allows for open access publishing. If it doesn’t, you may also be able to meet funder requirements by archiving your submitted version of the accepted manuscript. You can check different journals’ policies on self-archiving preprints in the SHERPA RoMEO database, and funder policies at SHERPA Juliet

Subject area

Instead of submitting first to journals that cover a wide range of topics, consider whether they are the best venue for your work. If your paper is particularly interesting for people in your own field, it might be a better fit in a subject-specific journal that’s read by people in your discipline, and where it will be surrounded by other articles on similar topics. 

Reputation and editorial board

When you come across a journal that you haven’t heard of before, there are a few steps you can take to check the reputation of the journal. First, check which other journals this publisher manages, and if you are familiar with some of those. You can also check whether people you know have published in this journal, or whether you’re familiar with the editorial board, so that you can ask them for more information about the journal. Finally, you can check whether the journal is included in databases such as Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed or DOAJ.

Special issues

Some journals occasionally publish a special issue, with articles that all cover the same topic. The journal will usually announce such issues many months ahead of time to give people a chance to submit their work. If you have a chance to get your paper in a special issue, it might reach more people who are interested in the subjects you’re studying, but on the other hand, it may take longer for your article to be published. 

Publication and review process

Another important thing to know before you submit to a journal is how the publication and peer review process are handled. Do articles get published online within a reasonable time, or do you have to wait for a print issue to come out? How long does it usually take for the article to be sent out for peer review, and when can you expect a response? Do they allow supplementary data? You’ll be able to find a lot of that information on the journal website, or by looking closely at articles they’ve already published.

Costs associated with publishing

The cost to publish a paper (Article Processing Charge) varies widely, from nothing at all to several thousand dollars per article. Before you let the costs drive you away from a journal you like, check if you really are the one responsible to pay that fee. In many cases, your institute might be able to cover fees associated with open access publishing or other costs. It is also worth checking the publisher website to find out if there is financial support available.   

Additional features

Finally, there are a range of other journal features you might want to consider. For example, does the journal collect article-level metrics (such as views, downloads or media mentions) that help you view how popular your article is? Do they offer to help with press releases or will they provide your article with social media exposure, blog posts or podcasts? 

What about the Impact Factor?

You may have noticed that none of the considerations above mention the impact factor. The impact factor was originally designed for librarians, so that they could compare a group of journals within the same research area and decide what to include in their collection. It is less helpful to help you decide between a subject-specific journal and a general journal. 

As a measure of the average citations across a journal over a few years, the impact factor isn’t a good measure of the quality of individual research articles in a journal, and as such funders, institutes and other organizations are increasingly ignoring the impact factor (or even journal name) when evaluating the publication output of their researchers. Instead, they’re now often looking at article-level metrics. So as long as your article has many readers and citations, the impact of the journal shouldn’t matter as much.

What’s the best journal for your paper?

Because not all research is the same, the best journal for you is not necessarily the best journal for your colleague. Likewise, your current manuscript might not be a good fit for the journal that published your last paper. 

We recommend that the best journal for your manuscript will be one that increases your paper’s visibility to people who are interested in your work. If you keep that in mind, finding a home for your paper doesn’t have to be a challenge.


This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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