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Publishing Your Scholarly Output: How to choose a journal

Resources and support for scholars who have an article to publish.

Peer Review, Editorial Review, and no review

When you're considering a journal to publish in, Google to find the journal's homepage. Look for an About section and Submission Guidelines. 

The Review Process

What sort of review and revision process does this journal use? In some disciplines, double blind peer review is the standard. In this process, experts in the field review submissions on a volunteer basis. The author is not told who the reviewers are, and the reviewers are not told who the author is.  In others, single blind or no blind peer review are accepted. In still others, there is a board of editors employed by the journal that review submissions. Find out what is standard for your discipline by asking a colleague with extensive publishing experience. Do not publish an academic article in magazines or newsletters that don't have a review process, because it will be looked over by its potential audience.

Submission Criteria

Most journals have restrictions and qualifications on the kinds of articles that they accept as submissions. These can include easily changed factors like:

  • Length
  • Style guide - formatting and language details
  • Citation Style (if you use a citation tool like Zotero or Mendeley, this will be easy to switch around)

They can also have restrictions on things that will be difficult to change by the time your paper is written:

Which Journal is best for my article?

Is there a list of journals in which you need to try to publish for tenure or promotion? 

If so, then look at those journals first. 

Criteria for choosing a journal

  • Check the journal's website for its information for authors and submission guidelines. Is your article the kind of thing they're looking for? 
  • Did you already publish in a certain journal, especially if it was research that leads up to what you're currently trying to publish? As long as you're satisfied with that journal so far, try to publish that in the same journal, because your readers will be looking for it. 
  • The members of the editorial board - the journal's website will list the members of the editorial board. Ascertain that they are real, living people who actually work at the institutions they're claimed to work at. If there is doubt, it is sometimes necessary to email one or two of them to ask whether they're actually on the editorial board (sometimes unscrupulous journals just make up a nice-sounding group of real people who never accepted such a position.) 
  • Does the organization that sponsors the journal have a good history? And is it clear how they make the money that keeps them functioning? It is common for Open Access journals to be funded by author fees, which is ethical as long as the fees are proportionate to the quality of service. Other things to consider are whether the journal publishes issues on a regular schedule without interruptions, and whether there is consistent access to the whole run of older issues. You may also want to look into whether the articles are assigned a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which is sign of long-term thinking and a higher level of service. 
  • Is this journal indexed in the databases that are in common use in your discipline, and available through your institution? (You can look up the journals the Empire State College Library has full-text access to (and whether or not there's an embargo or access delay) using the E-Journals A-Z utility on our library homepage. 
  • Rigor - review a selection of articles from the past few years, looking at their significance and relevance to your discipline, their research design and methods, data analysis, etc. Even small details like proper labeling and legibility of charts and graphs matter. 
  • Ethics - the journal's website should discuss its ethics. Also review a selection of articles from the past few years and consider whether the research in question is something you'd approve if you were on an Institutional Review Board, or whether your professional association would consider it acceptable. Any history of plagiarism or scandal  (try googling "scandal" "journal name") is a bad sign. 
  • Quality of the peer/editorial review process - check the journal's website to find out about their process. Whether they use double-blind, single-blind, or no-blind, peer review or editorial review, make sure that it's in keeping with the best practices in your discipline. Also note anything about how they handle conflicts of interest.  
  • What are the authorial rights that you would retain? Does the journal want to have the copyright of your work? If so, what are you allowed to do with the article? Can you retain copyright for a fee? Or does the journal want you to keep your copyright? 
  • Impact factor or other citation metrics - these metrics are used to compare journals in terms of how heavily articles in them are cited. A free tool that is easy to use is Google Scholar Metrics
  • They don't seem desperate - quality journals know that authors will come to them; soliciting content is not a good sign. The exception is if you're famous enough that students at other universities far and wide have your last name peppered throughout their lecture notes. You will probably know it if you're that prominent. 

Broad topic journal or narrow topic journal? 

Should you publish in the Journal of Widgets or the Journal of Right-handed Aluminum Widgets in the Subtropics

  • Pick the one that's more reputable and high quality according to the criteria in the section above.
  • In an established subject area, pick the one where similar articles are already published - that's where your readership will be. 
  • In a newer subject area, or if you can't find similar articles anywhere, and they're equivalent in quality and reputability, pick the more general one. Unless it's very new, it will probably have more readers, so your article will have a bigger potential audience.

What if I'm not sure my article would be accepted by my first choice journal?

Does it meet the easily defined criteria? Is it in scope and the right length? If it's a journal of qualitative research, is your article a qualitative research study? If it's a journal of Marxist-Feminist analysis, is your article written from a Marxist-Feminist perspective? Have you had someone (a colleague or a paid service) proofread it? Have you read it aloud to make sure it makes sense and sounds right? Is everything formatted according to the style guide? Is this your best work? 

If so, there's not much to lose in submitting it to your first choice journal. Sure, if it's rejected, then you will have to submit it again and it will be longer before it gets published. But if it meets all the criteria and it is work that you're proud of, then you should take the chance to publish your article in the journal that will give it the biggest audience and the most reputable name. Only choose the less favored "sure thing" if it's crucial to get the article published as soon as possible. 

 

Beware of Fraudulent Journals!

Open Access journals have made a great contribution to the diversity of publications and weakened dangerous publishing monopolies. Most Open Access journals are valid and respected, and some are top of their field. However, there are Open Access journals that exist as nothing but money-makers. There are also Open Access as well as for-profit journals that only exist to publish content that could never make it past the quality control standards of reputable journals. We call those "fraudulent" or "scam" journals. Their titles are often impressive, or very close to the titles of reputable journals. 

Be suspicious if:

  • You're not famous, but you're being invited to contribute.
  • Quality control on the journal's website is poor - typos, grammatical mistakes, broken links, error messages.
  • Googling the journal's name brings up complaints. 
  • Sadly, the tip-off is often that you submit your content and you wait and wait... and wait... By then they already have the right of first publication and other, better journals will not want your article. 

Before you consider a journal for publication, you should read a selection of its recent articles anyway, and this may provide the clue that the journal is bad. Quality control may be poor; the topics may not be significant; the research methods or statistics might seem sketchy, or the content might be based on rejected theories. 

If your article doesn't have the rigorous research or statistical analysis to be published by a legitimate journal, it is better not to publish it than to publish in a scam journal. Don't get your name associated with them. 

You may want to use our Legitimate Journals check-list if you're not sure.