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Academic Coaching & Writing

III. Identify the Journal(s) to Target for Your Submission

May 10, 2016 by Kathryn Betts Adams

There are vast numbers of academic and practice journals in the world and it can seem overwhelming trying to wade through them. Several broad criteria can help you to narrow your search and get to the journal you want to target. There are two ways to begin. The first way is to find some articles or citations closely related to your study or that you will be likely to cite and to begin searching the sites of those journals individually, searching online for each by name. The second way is to go to the Thomson Reuters Web of Science master journal list. As of this writing, this is a free database that is quite easy to use. You can search among various fields and subfields for journal titles and other information about the journals in your field of interest.

Journal Purpose and Instructions for Authors

The main areas to consult on a journal’s website will be the summary of the purpose of the journal and the instructions for authors. With these, you should get an idea of the focus and perspective of the journal, the types of articles the journal is looking for, the page limit(s) for these, and any additional instructions about submitting a manuscript. Some journals will disclose their acceptance rate and include a disclaimer about not being able to publish many of the articles they receive. In social gerontology, the area in which I have the most publishing experience, some of the “better” journals are quite specific about the “N” they look for in a study. These differ, of course, for a quantitative and a qualitative study. Other journals implicitly look for more complex multivariate statistics or longitudinal studies. This means they are effectively rejecting smaller pilot work or studies submitted from independently collected data. If you cannot tell whether a journal is a good fit from the website’s general information and the instructions to authors, look closely at published articles in that journal from the past few years. Do they all seem to be based on huge datasets and have many authors? This may be a sign that your single- or dual-authored paper might not be as appropriate. If you have a mentor or a successful peer, ask for an opinion on the range of journals where your planned study might find a home.

Impact Factors

A journal’s website will usually reveal the journal’s impact factor, a number from around .3 (low) to 5.5 or so. Impact factors are available for many journals in social science, medicine, and applied fields like social work. An impact factor is a number tabulated by a service such as Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge that is based on the average number of citations in published articles and books for the articles in this journal. An impact factor, thus, is a measure that places a value on continued publication as the representation of ideas in the wider world. However, some fields and some topics may receive attention from practitioners or from blogs, popular press, or news sources, none of which count as part of the impact factor, so the impact factor is only one way of determining the importance of a journal’s contents.

Impact factors tend to be highest in the physical and biological sciences, where publication is fast and multi-authored; next in medicine or nursing; and lowest in “academic” subjects such as anthropology. Fields like Business and Education are somewhere in between, depending on their specific focus. New journals and smaller journals that only publish four times per year may not have impact factors at all, but the pressure is on for every journal to get them. And these measures are important in some academic fields for tenure or promotion, i.e., to demonstrate that one’s published work is being disseminated in relatively high-impact journals—or “top journals” in the field.

Journal Perspective

Finally, journals have a perspective that reflects their general field and more specific subareas of that field. In gerontology and geriatrics, my example again, there are psychiatric and mental health journals, medical journals, sociological journals, social work journals, and general health practitioner journals, just to name a few. The same distinctions exist to some extent in medical journals, social science, business, and education journals. These perspectives affect the journal editors’ expectations for manuscript submission in a few important ways. First, different journals have differing levels of emphasis on theoretical background. Some journals, particularly in medicine or other practice-oriented fields, tend to minimize theory and want to see only brief overviews of prior studies in the literature. The more “academic” the journal, the more theory and justification will be expected in your manuscript. Furthermore, it may go without saying, but if a journal specifically aims at a certain professional group, such as nurses or K-12 school teachers, it is important to include reference to that group in the introduction, discussion and implications sections.  

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