Choosing the right journal for a manuscript can be a challenging exercise, and many factors are likely to influence the final decision. Factors involved include the visibility of the journal, the focus of the journal and how well it matches the topic of the manuscript, the impact factor of the journal, the timeliness of the editorial office process and whether feedback is constructive, journal accessibility, author costs, and the governance of the journal. Among these, the impact factor plays a particularly significant role in choosing a journal, and yet it is also one of the more controversial areas in terms of the way it is utilized. Having a set of guidelines to assess which journals will suit your manuscript best is invaluable and may make a significant difference to your publication success.It is important to be clear about what is motivating the decision to publish and to have a set of criteria by which the merits of a journal can be assessed, thus maximizing the chance that the author’s expectations will be met. Finally, a system or checklist to actually help choose the best journal for one’s manuscript can be invaluable.
Positive features of a good journal
The factors that contribute to a journal being successful and being valued are many and varied, and there is also a complex interplay between authors, editorial office, publisher, sponsoring organizations, and citation rates and, if working positively, will create a perpetual cycle that enhances the reputation of the journal (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Interactions that influence a successful publication and can create a perpetual cycling.
If a journal is well known and readily recognized by one’s peer group or target audience, then the published material is likely to be seen, read, and acted on by the same groups. What characterizes such a journal? It is usually highly valued by the author’s peers and mentors (and so is mentioned in conversation and at scientific presentations), and it is usually readily accessible. There will often be a
built-in readership, such as the members of a sponsoring Society. It will need to be listed in Medline and in other search engines and be present in libraries and on institutional electronic access systems. Not infrequently, such journals will have access to good public relations services, and so the published data will often be visible in the popular press. There are probably other elements that provide populist appeal but are hard to define and may reflect the mix of publications and the general ethos and philosophy of the journal in question.
Citation and Impact Factor
Citations and impact factor play a major role in how journals are perceived by authors and by external agencies such as granting bodies and universities. The impact factor was devised by Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information, now part of Thomson Scientific, a large, worldwide, US-based publisher. Impact factors are calculated each year by the Institute for Scientific Information for the journals it indexes, and the factors and indexes are published in Journal Citation Reports. The validity of the impact factor is controversial because many extraneous factors that are not necessarily directly linked to the quality of the publications of a journal can influence the rating achieved. Nevertheless, it remains the default method for assessing the publishing success of a journal. The impact factor is calculated by dividing the number of citations to publications in the previous 2 years by the number of articles published. The impact factor reflects the citation rate of the average article in a journal and not a specific article. Published critical appraisal of the impact factor is limited. There appears to be a weak relationship between the impact factor of a journal and the subsequent citation rate of a given article. In recent times, many new journals have had an increase in their impact factor, while many journals with long standing reputations have not, and in some cases their impact factor has fallen. Journals with an increasing impact factor cite active recruitment of better articles from researchers, offering better author services, boosting the journals media profile, and more careful article selection. Editors frequently report mixed feelings about using the impact factor to evaluate journals. There is limited information on how scientific information is distributed among journals. Only a few journals out of many have contributed significantly to a specific topic or area, and not surprisingly these are mainly journals that are topic based rather than being general. Recent citation analyses in the sciences have revealed that 150 journals account for 25% of publications and 50% of citations, while 2,000 journals account for 85% of publications and 95% of citations However the core group of significant journals is not static, and its composition is changing constantly. There is a proliferation of new journals and the Institute for Scientific Information reviews 2,000 new journal titles annually but selects only 10 to 12% or longer-term impact factor evaluation. Other methods of assessing journals and their publications exist, such as overall citation rate, citation half-life, and immediacy factor, but these have not gained much traction as yet. Within any one journal, the percentage of articles being cited can vary. One study has reported that approximately 17% of articles accrued 50% of the total citations for the journals studied. These authors have also argued strongly for quoting the non-citation rate of a journal because it is independent of the total number of citations. Despite diversity of opinion on the merits of the impact factor, it remains an important variable in choosing the journal in which to publish. Furthermore, it is sensible to try to assess which journals are on the ascent with respect to impact factor and which are not.
Checklist for choosing a suitable journal for your research work
- Will the journal meet the author’s aspirations in terms of publishing his or her work?
- Is the impact factor and the prestige factor of the journal sufficient for the authors?
- Is the focus of the journal similar to the main theme of the manuscript?
- Is the review process supportive, both in terms of timeliness and in providing constructive and useful criticism?
- Is their some rapport with the journal staff?
- Is there a desire to support the organization that sponsors the journal?
- Is cost or rapidity of publication an issue?
Publishing and Distribution Factors
In the final analysis, how a manuscript is presented by the journal will have a significant impact on readership, and therefore the quality of the layout, the typeface and paper quality, and the way figures and tables are handled are important. Communication between the authors and the publisher with respect to galley proofs is important, as well as whether free print or portable document format (PDF) copies are available, or if there is the freedom to post articles on one’s own Web site. As with the editorial office process, timeliness in publishing is important, with the increasing use of electronic prepublication being fundamental in ensuring that readers have timely access to an accepted manuscript. How readily available the journal is will influence its visibility and accessibility; journals should be available in print format and electronically, in libraries, and in prepublication systems. Copyrighting and grant body demands are an area of some conflict, but this is slowly being resolved. Some journals are more active than others in dealing with this.
Principles and advice for choosing the most appropriate journal
- Is the manuscript basic science or clinical, and is it of a general nature or very specific?
- Aim for the highest possible journal in terms of visibility and quality
- Balance the use of top-quality journals with the need for rapid publication in possibly lesser journals
- Read instructions to authors and ensure they meet your requirements
- Look at recent issues of the journal and make sure you understand journal style
- Consult your peers and mentors for advice
- Be cautious about new journals; will they survive?
Governance and Funding of the Journal
This can subtly influence submission decision making. Will the manuscript be treated in a fair and equitable manner? The stature of the editorial board may provide some reassurance as to the standard of the journal both in terms of governance and journal stature. The processes in place for managing publishing ethics may influence some authors and certainly can reflect on the overall way the journal is managed. How the editor is appointed and who monitors the editor’s performance are other less visible factors that sometimes can become an issue. For journals that are new or not well known, the financial security of the journal may be important in terms of its longevity, and those journals supported by organizations with a strong financial support base are more likely to survive long term.