How to Choose the Best Journal for Publishing Your Scientific Research

Choose the best journal for your research – Edanz

Selecting an appropriate journal and publication type is critical: get it right and you instantly increase your chances of successful publication and regular citation.

But send your manuscript to a mismatched journal and you might get a quick rejection. Or, if you make it to peer review, you may have to go through extensive revisions to fit the journal’s scope.

There are over 40,000 journals across publishers and disciplines to choose from. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 16,500+ open access journals alone. Science Citation Index Expanded gives you 9,200+ journals candidate journals. Where to start?

You can only submit to one journal at a time—so make sure it’s a good fit. You also probably can’t spend weeks and months trying to decide.

A strategic approach, some good tools, and a bit of expert guidance can make this choice a lot easier for you.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you get your research in front of the right readers.

Overview: The main factors in choosing your journal

Whether your priority is quick publication, wider exposure, geographic scope, or any of a fistful of other choices, you can find a number of good possibilities.

All the following, and more, should be considered when you choose your journal:

  • The journal’s aims and scope
  • The journal’s target audience and recent publication history
  • The significance and broadness of appeal of the findings described in your manuscript
  • The type of study you did
  • How soon you can get published
  • Whether open access is available

After you’ve spent your energy on your research, this may seem overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be. It’s manageable. Trust us.

When to choose your journal

Write your research and find a journal – that’s common sense, right? Well, it’s what’s usually done, but it can actually be better to choose your journal before you start writing.

There are a number of important reasons to do this:

  • Each journal has specific formatting needs related to the manuscript structure, word limits, and reference style
  • Each journal has a specific focus or scope that you need to be familiar with.
    General or interdisciplinary journal: should include more background information in your Introduction so the journal’s broad readership is familiar with the context of your study.
    Specialized journal: carefully read through the aims and scope of that journal and identify any specific topics or key phrases that the journal editor is emphasizing. You should also highlight these same topics and key phrases in your manuscript to emphasize the suitability of your manuscript for their journal.
  • Journal editors will often look at your references to see if you’ve cited articles published in their journal. So, after you’ve chosen a target journal, identify published articles in that journal that are similar to your manuscript and include these articles in your references. This shows the journal editor that your manuscript is building on research that they have already published, again helping to emphasize the suitability of your manuscript for their journal.

So while it’s not a rule to choose your journal before your start writing, it’ll save you and your team a bunch of time. With that in mind…

Evaluate your research with brutal honesty

Be honest as you evaluate your data’s significance. Even if the honestly hurts. How do you evaluate significance?

There are three key aspects to consider: novelty, relevance, and appeal.

Novelty

This refers to how new your findings are compared with those previously published in your field.

Incremental advance

These are findings that only offer a small step forward in what’s already known. This often belongs in journals with low-to-medium impact factors.

Example

You’re studying a disease that’s already known to be genetically based, and you identify a new mutation that is involved in the pathogenesis of the disease

Conceptual advance

These are findings that change the way researchers in your field think about a specific topic. Medium-to-high impact factor journals are suitable here.

Example

You’re studying a disease that is not known to be genetically based, and you identify a mutation that is involved in the pathogenesis of this disease

Relevance

This refers to the applicability of your findings.

Geographical relevance

This refers to the regional applicability of your findings.

For findings with only a regional focus, choose a regional journal.

For findings with worldwide implications, choose an international journal.

Example

If you’re investigating a specific plant species only found in Asia, then a regional Asian journal may be a better choice than an international journal.

But if your findings with this plant species have implications in the study of different plants found in other countries, then an international journal may be suitable. If you go global, be sure to emphasize this point in your cover letter and manuscript.

Disciplinary relevance

This refers to the applicability of your findings to different disciplines.

For findings highly specific for your field, choose a specialized journal.

For findings with implications for researchers in other fields, choose a more general or interdisciplinary journal.

Example

You’ve developed a new material that’s specifically useful for experiments conducted in optical physics. In this case, a specialized optical physics journal would be suitable.

But if this material also has implications in medical imaging, then a journal with a broader focus or an interdisciplinary journal is a good fit.

Appeal

This refers to the topical interest of your study.

Journal editors like manuscripts about current hot topics, such as global warming, nanomaterials, stem cells, and emerging diseases.

They’re also interested in findings that have important real-world applications.

If your study has implications for your field or the general public, you’ll more likely to find your way into a high-IF journal.

Narrow your focus

Consider what the main focus of your manuscript is, and therefore, who you’d expect to want to read it. This should have become clear while writing the manuscript, particularly the discussion section.

Some questions to ask are:

  • Is there a clinical focus or do you describe basic science findings?
  • Are the findings relevant to a broad cross-section of the scientific community or will they only appear to researchers in a specialist field?
  • Are the findings preliminary, with more work needed to make an irrefutable and comprehensive story, or do you have multiple types of complementary data to support your hypothesis
  • Do you need to publish right away, or can you wait while collecting more data and then try for a journal with a higher IF?

These questions, among others, will help you build a picture of the type of journal you should be targeting.

Generate a shortlist

Your own manuscript’s reference list is an immediate source of potential target journals.

Identify similar or related studies and the journals they were published in. Some journals will appear more than once, and these are likely candidates.

Another way to identify candidate journals is performing keyword searches in literature databases such as Medline and PubMed.

Again, journals that appear repeatedly are potentially suitable.

Of course, journals that haven’t previously published in the same area of research might also be interested in your findings.

The best way to identify these is to search or browse your library’s journal shelves, Thomson ISI databases (including the Science Citation Index, or SCI), or the websites of major publishers (see below. But note that these are just a few of many publishers of academic journals).

You should be able to recognize journals that might be appropriate based on your answers to the questions above.

Matching up with the right journal

Now you have a shortlist of possible target journals and a clear picture of the type of journal that matches your work. Next, you need to merge the two to see where they correspond.

Journal websites generally contain an “aims and scope” section and occasionally describe their target audience. Some factors to be considered are:

  • Impact factor: If you need publication in a journal with an impact factor above a certain level, you can instantly rule out any with impact factors. Journals with higher impact factors often have more visibility in the field, which can then increase your article’s visibility as well. Funding agencies and university committees also often use the impact factor of the journals you publish in as a measure of your success as a researcher in your field. So if you can publish in a higher impact factor journal, it may be more advantageous.
  • Publication types: What kind of articles are published? Original research, case studies, reviews?
  • Publication frequency: Check the journal’s table of contents for the number of monthly/weekly articles. Also look at the journal’s OnlineFirst section: How often are articles appearing?
  • Time from acceptance to publication: If you need rapid publication, you should specifically look for journals that offer fast response times and short periods from acceptance to publication.
  • Rejection rates: Some journals are quite candid in publishing this data.
  • Publication charges: If you’re on a tight budget you may need to rule out open access journals or journals that have high publication charges. Some journals have high charges for color figures, but B/W are no charge. Read the guidelines carefully.
  • Aims and scope: be sure that the journal is publishing research similar to that of your manuscript
  • Readership: be sure that the target audience you are trying to reach make up part of the readership of the journal
  • Indexing: to increase the visibility of your article online, be sure that the journal is indexed in the online databases that your target audience will use to find articles
  • Open access: to increase the accessibility of your article, consider publishing in an open access journal. This will ensure that your target audience will have access to your article worldwide.

Once you have a list of potential journals, you can use these additional tips to help identify the most suitable journal:

Identify the interests of the journal editor. Just because your manuscript may be similar in scope to the journal, it does not mean that the journal editor is currently interested in your topic. 

  • Check when similar articles were published in the journal. If similar articles have been published within the last 2‒3 years, this may suggest that the journal editor is likely currently interested in your topic.
  • Look at recently published Editorials, Review Articles, and Special Issues. These are usually about topics the journal editor feels are currently important for the field. If you find that your manuscript is similar in scope to those that have been published by one of your potential journals, this may suggest that the journal editor will likely consider your research topic also important.

Identify the interests of the readers. Your goal is not only to be published, but also to be widely read in your field.

  • Review the “Most Downloaded” or “Most Cited” lists from your potential journals. If you find that your manuscript is similar in scope to articles in this list from one of your potential journals, this may suggest that if you published in this journal, your article may also be widely read as well.

A good match will not only minimize the chances of manuscript rejection, but also maximize the chances that your article is read and cited.

A personal checklist and tools for choosing your journal

With all the above said, here’s a list of considerations, and one valuable tool, to help guide your path to choosing the best journal for your research.

What matters most?

1. What matters to you?

  • Journal reputation
    • Prestige and reader/public trust in the journal
    • International mark of achievement to publish in the journal
  • Audience reach
    • High article visibility and access
    • Reach readers who may talk about, share, and cite your work
    • Reach possible future collaborators
  • Publication speed
    • Do you have a deadline coming up?
    • Do you want to be the first to publish particular findings or ideas?

2. What matters to journals?

  • Journal reputation
    • New knowledge
    • High-quality content and language
    • Ethical practice
    • Peer review and production quality
    • For some: novelty and high/wide potential impact
  • Readership
    • People reading and citing the journal’s contents
    • Can depend on journal type, publication frequency and mode, inclusion in indexes

Edanz Journal Selector: A simple and free tool

One of our most popular features for many years now has been the Edanz Journal Selector. Thousands have benefited from this free, updated tool. It’s a great place to get ideas, and it’s very user-friendly.

Access the Edanz Journal Selector here.

Tips for using the Edanz Journal Selector

1. Type in the secure text box of the Journal Selector to find target journals that match your:

  • Draft title, keywords, notes, outlines, or abstract
  • Field of study
  • Preferred publisher
  • Journal names or ISSNs (international standard serial numbers)

2. Filter your search results by:

3. Find journals with recent articles similar to yours, and make a shortlist:

  • Match your criteria and publishing goals to journal features
  • Note that some journals ask if your manuscript has previously been rejected
  • Ask for advice from a colleague or an Edanz expert

Factors to consider in journal selection

1. Aims and scope

  1. Topics (multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, unidisciplinary, or subdisciplinary)?
  2. Focus (e.g., theory or practice, basic or applied, laboratory or clinical)?
  3. Evidence levels or study types (meta-analyses, prospective studies, retrospective studies, quantitative or qualitative studies)?
  4. Selectivity (% acceptance rate)?
  5. Are novelty and potential impact important?

2. Readership

  • Depends on aims & scope (e.g., generalists or specialists; international, regional, or national?)
  • Researchers, academics, educators, practitioners, or policy-makers?
  • May depend on publication mode (see below)

3. Article type

  • Which article types are accepted (e.g., some journals accept only reviews or methods articles or short communications), and which are not accepted (e.g., some journals do not accept case reports or reviews)?
  • Are there limits on length (word count) or number of illustrations or references?
  • Are supplementary files allowed?
  • Is prior inclusion of a preprint (unsubmitted draft) in a preprint server, such as arXiv or bioRxiv, allowed?

4. Peer review

  • Model of peer review?
    • Before or after publication
    • Closed (single- or double-blind) or open
    • Collaborative (reviewers may discuss with each other, or reviewers/editors may discuss with the authors)
    • Cascading/transferable (manuscript with or without reviews may be passed to another journal in the publishing group or consortium)
    • Portable (a review service organizes peer review before journal submission)
    • Transparent (reviews are published, with or without reviewer names)
  • Speed of peer review?
  • Are requests for fast-track review allowed?
  • Are pre-submission inquiries allowed (thus saving time, and sometimes allowing you to receive advice or journal suggestions from an editorial office)?

5. Production

  • Publication frequency: how many issues per year?
  • Is there continuous online publication?
  • How many articles per issue?
  • Publication speed: time from submission to first/final decision, first online publication, final (online) publication?

6. Publication mode and rights

  • Print only, subscription- or membership-based: who’s the audience and what’s the circulation number?
  • Print plus online version, which may be a longer version, with or without
    • Early view (“early online”, “online first”, or “ahead of print”) version
    • Supplementary materials/media and relevant links
    • Links to supplementary materials in an online repository
    • PDF version
  • Online only: based on pay-per-view, site license, or subscription?
  • Open access:
    • Green open access (free access to pre-print or accepted manuscript [final draft] on personal website, institutional website, or nonprofit repository, with or without a time delay before uploading [embargo])?
    • Gold open access (free access to final published version [version of record])?
  • Hybrid open access (some content is open access and some is subscription-based; can depend on authors’ choice or on journal policy, which may include “delayed open access” after an embargo)?
  • Open access available to authors of manuscripts based on studies whose institution or funder mandates open access?
  • Author or journal or publisher/owner owns copyright?
  • Creative Commons license available?

7. Cost and services

  • Submission fee, production fee (color/page charges), article-processing charge for open access?
  • Editing/illustration service, news release service, marketing, and social media promotion included in publication charge?
  • Post-publication commenting and altmetrics (article-level metrics) tracking provided?
  • Free batch of reprints or online copies, or (limited) free online access to published article for authors?

8. Journal reputation                                 

  • Is the journal/publisher well known?
  • Is the journal affiliated with a professional society?
  • Are the editor/s and editorial board well known?
  • Is the journal recommended by your library/society?
  • Have you or your colleagues read/cited the journal?
  • Have your peers or colleagues published in the journal and say they value its peer review process?
  • Is the journal known for quality content, language, and production?
  • Is the journal included in respected general or specific indexes?
  • Does the journal have a long history and a permanent online archive?
  • What are the journal’s bibliometric scores (e.g., journal impact factor)?

Knowing what factors to look for when selecting your target journal will help you save time and effort when publishing your next article.

We hope you found a winner

That’s a lot to take in. We threw it all out there so you can pick and choose what works for you.

But if you don’t have the time, have some trouble deciding, or just want a second opinion, the Edanz Journal Selection service will help. We assign an expert in your area of research and provide you with a custom report of recommended journals matched to your manuscript and your personal needs. Find out more about Edanz Journal Selection here.

When your shortlist has been reduced to two or three journals based on the above criteria, rank them as first, second, and third choices based on your particular needs. Then you’re ready to write your cover letter and submit your manuscript.

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