Academic Writing

How to Select a Target Journal

Selecting a peer-review journal for your manuscript is an important decision that should be considered thoughtfully. There is much more to selecting a target journal than simply choosing the journal with the highest readership or impact factor. Selecting the right target journal for your manuscript really depends on finding a journal whose scope fits your field of research and whose publishing characteristics meet your needs. Taking time to think about your publishing goals will help you base your selection on what you really hope to accomplish with each manuscript. Ideally, you should choose a target journal before writing your manuscript, so you can best tailor the format and content to match the types of articles the journal publishes. Many journals provide a manuscript template either through their website or through Endnote.

Draft a catalog entry for your article from your abstract and keywords.

  1. Databases like PubMed are where it is most likely other researchers will find your work.
    1. Optimizing your article’s database entry raises its visibility.
  2. What is your prospective title and abstract?
    • Review your prospective Title/Abstract to ensure they include terms that will make your article easy to find in online resources such as PubMed.
  3. What are your keywords and index terms?
    • Reuse the search terms used for your literature review from the EMTREE thesaurus.
    • Utilize the MeSH thesaurus to find any additional MeSH terms for the subject of your article.

Identify journals read by your target audience.

  1. Enter your prospective title and abstract into online journal matching resources.
    • Try out the “Journal/Author Name Estimator” (JANE), an online tool that generates a list of possible target journals based on an uploaded abstract or list of keywords.
    • Elsevier Journal Finder will suggest Elsevier journals that might be right for your article and includes information regarding acceptance rate, open access policy, impact, and more.
    • Springer Journal Suggester will recommend a match from Springer titles and allows users to filter by open access and impact factor.
    • Endnote Match is available through Endnote online. Features data from Journal Citation Reports, the leading source for scientific bibliometrics.
  2. Draw up a prioritized list of 3-5 target journals and do a cursory evaluation.
    1. Look up the journals in the NLM catalog.
      • Combine the journal title with your keywords in a PubMed search to evaluate the recency and frequency of publications on your topic in that specific journal.
      • Visit the web presence of the journal.
        • What types of articles (original research, essay, opinion piece) does the journal accept? Does your manuscript fit within one of them?
        • What is the required word count for your type of article?
      • Changes brought on by the digitization of academic publishing have opened the door to profiteering and unethical practices in Publisher/Author relations. A basic smell test of a journal’s webpage is often enough to avoid bad actors, as serious publishers keep typos and grammatical errors to a minimum. Learn more about integrity in scholarly publishing from COPE and if you choose to go the open-access route, see if the journal is included in the DOAJ.  

Narrow down target journal to the primary and the backup.

  1. Which journal has the highest possible impact factor?
    • A journal’s impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year. Essentially, the higher the impact factor—the better the journal. Most journals list their impact factor on their website.
  2. Which journal has the largest possible audience?
    • Many researchers use PubMed or other MEDLINE searches to find new articles in their fields, so publishing your work in an indexed journal will increase its chances of being read by other researchers in your field. This is why it is important to have a strong, accurate abstract.
    • Journals are increasingly advertising their “Altmetrics” as well. This is a measure of their non-traditional public reach, including engagement on social media.
  3. Which journal has the highest prestige?
    • While most people in life sciences now use online databases to find the latest research, following the output of specific journals remains popular as well. Many journals publish their subscription rates and other reader statistics on their website. Publishing in journals with a larger readership may mean that your work will be seen and cited by more researchers.
  4. Does the journal offer open access or partial open access?
    • Open access means that any readers who want to read your manuscript can access it free of charge, regardless of whether they subscribe to the journal. This may increase the visibility of your article, particularly among researchers at institutions that do not subscribe to every journal.
  5. What is the manuscript turnaround time? Acceptance/rejection rates? Quality of reviewer comments? Editors characteristics?
    • Many journals publish an expected review turnaround time on their website. If you have a deadline or goal expectation, be sure to balance your desire for a highly prestigious journal with your preferred timeline to publish. Also, review your proposed target journal to ensure there are no scientific or personal conflicts with editorial board members.
  6. What do your colleagues and mentors recommend? Who has previous experience with publishing in the journal?
    • Turn to your mentors and colleagues for advice about where to submit before you choose your target journal. Do a search on Web-of-Science within your target journal for your institution colleagues who might have published in that journal previously. Ask them for insights on their experience with the journal.
  7. Does the journal charge an article processing charge (APC) or publication fee?
    • An article-processing charge (APC), also known as a publication fee, is a fee that is sometimes charged to authors to make a work available open access in either an open access journal or hybrid journal. This fee may be paid by the author, the author’s institution, or their research funder.
  8. Does the journal offer pre-submission inquiries?
    • Take advantage of the pre-submission inquiry process by sending a cover letter and abstract for the editor to read and consider whether the journal is interested in reviewing your manuscript. If you are still unsure if the article fits into the journal’s scope, consider writing a brief, yet specific, email to the editor to ask whether the manuscript is something they would consider.

Further Reading

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