How do you Choose a Journal to Publish in?

I have been thinking about the decision-making process of authors when it comes to publishing a scientific paper. Where will I submit the manuscript? Why? What factors influence me as an author? Certainly, impact factor is important. But when I was a faculty member, what did I say to my Department Head, or the Promotion and Tenure team, if they asked about my other publications? As a Department Head, what did I value? How did I convey that to my faculty? Now that I work in industry again, what would I say to my boss? Reflecting on my peer-reviewed publications, there were multiple factors influencing my decision.

As a graduate student, journals were selected by emulation. I chose to submit papers to the same places my peers and graduate supervisor, Peter Van Soest, published. Peter had funding from the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) to understand the impact of various chemical treatments on feed quality. Many OECD-funded scientists published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, and I did too.  

Impact factor became an increasingly important factor as I matured. Within the field of nutrition and dietetics research journals, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) has the highest impact factor. AJCN was a top choice for me, except that it does not publish experimental work in animals or in vitro studies. Much of my research used these models, so IAJCN was not an option. Thus, I found the Journal of Nutrition, British Journal of Nutrition, the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, and others.

Timeliness cannot be overlooked. Impact factor gets discounted if the review process seems slow and one can anticipate an arduous series of revisions before final publication. Addressing reviewers comments is painful, especially if the paper is not accepted until every minor typographical issue is approved. And sometimes timing is critical. It may be important to have a paper accepted and/or in press for an annual performance review, a research grant submission, or a job interview. Under these circumstances, a rapid review process might outweigh impact factor.

The journal’s audience is another factor. I have selected journals because my research would be seen by specific groups, gastroenterologists, health professionals working in diabetes, clinical nutrition, dietitians, etc. During my career, my target audience changed. Leading to an eclectic publication record.

Ultimately, the process distills to citations. Every researcher aspires to produce top-cited papers and to achieve fame for their dazzling insights to the field. Ultimately, research value is measured by scientists, and administrators, in citation indices. Citation potential (expectation) is the primary driver for choice of journal. By publishing in the most prestigious journals read by the most influential researchers, we hope to increase the number of references to our research. Citations are the ‘monetizing’ of scientific reputation – the brand name recognition associated with past (and future) scientific contributions of individual researchers, the institutions where the research is conducted, and even subscription rates for scientific publications.

Some believe that public access or open access journals enhance citation rates. There is little research to determine fact from myth. Having worked in both academic and industry jobs, I can assure you it is much more difficult to access new studies from industry. Academic scientists are fortunate because they have immediate, free access to most institutional subscriptions online – regardless of whether it is a subscription-only- , public-, or open-access journal.

Although not commonly discussed, I wonder about the impact of page charges, or other costs to authors, on journal selection. I don’t recall making any personal decisions based on cost, but it could be important, especially when funding is constricted and budgets are tight.

I would love to hear from you on any of these questions below:

  1. Where did you submit your last paper? Why this journal?
  2. Are citation indices used in your performance evaluation? How do you feel about this?
  3. Does the type of access (subscription, open, public) allowed by a journal matter to you? Why?
  4. Any other reactions arising from this piece you wish to share?

About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition scientist with broad interests, including social media and the impact of open access journals on science publishing | Self-employed freelancer
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