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Academic Coaching & Writing

VII. Maintaining Flexibility in Deciding Journal Fit

Jun 13, 2019 by Dr Sally

This final blog post examines the timing of determining whether a journal fits with your work and your intended audience and goals. While there is no specific rule as to when to tackle this, you will be presented with advantages and drawbacks of engaging in this activity in the early stages compared to the later stages of your article draft.

Interestingly, you will receive a variety of opinions on this topic. Some will say that this step should come later, once you have a piece already almost completely written. Others will recommend that this step be one of the first you take in your publishing endeavors. And yet others may say that you should work on this as you are in the middle of writing your article. So, which is it? The answer is that all these options are probably correct.

Selecting a Journal During Early Planning

There are advantages to start thinking about a potential journal early on as you are planning the article. First, it will allow you to create a plan for writing your article since you will know exactly what the journal is looking for in terms of not only topic but also length requirements, formatting, and so on. Second, you can use an article or two already published in this journal as models for conceptualizing your own article. Third, you can ensure that the journal you select aligns with your goals for this specific publication. The only potential drawback to doing this at this stage is that your work is likely to shift slightly as you compile the data and write the project. If this is the case, it is entirely possible that another journal may turn out to be a better fit for your final manuscript. Looking at the journal selection once in this early stage may not be enough.

Revisiting the Selection During the Writing Stage

Why look at the journal you selected throughout the writing process? First of all, this is a great reminder of length, style, and format. Second, it allows you to see if another article has been published in your area, and, if so, you may then want to include it in your own article. Third, it will remind you of the original intentions behind your publication and why you are presenting your work the way you are (i.e., to fit that particular journal you selected). Often during the writing process your ideas evolve, as you continue to think through the problem at hand. Looking at the journal throughout the writing process may prompt you to reconsider the journal you selected, especially if it no longer fits with your goals for your article. This would save time later on as you would be able to repeat the journal selection steps prior to having completed the writing, thus allowing you to adjust to any length and other formatting requirements in a timely way.

Selecting a Journal When the Article is Written

You could decide to wait until your article is written to select a journal for publication. The advantage is that you know exactly what you have to publish. However, there may be some drawbacks to waiting until then. Indeed, you may encounter a few challenges that may cost you some precious time. For example, let’s say that you have written a 15,000-word article with six tables and three figures. As you find a journal that aligns neatly with your intended audience, with your topic and with your larger goals for this publication, you may realize that the requirements are to keep articles between 8,000 and 10,000 words with no more than five tables and five figures. This would require cutting a lot of text and eliminating one table to meet the journal’s requirements, and presumably this could be time-consuming. If you had approached the journal selection step earlier in the process, you would have avoided these revisions by planning your writing according to the specific requirements of that journal.

As you can see, this process of determining a good journal match for your article may occur at different stages of your writing process for various reasons, which may explain why you may have heard different pieces of advice for when to tackle this step. However, it may be a good idea to begin to think about a potential journal early on to help guide your writing process and save some time later on. Indeed, you would then be able to tackle your writing with a specific plan targeted toward publication in the journal of your choice.

If, after you’ve examined a journal, you’re still uncertain as to whether your article fits that journal, you should feel free to reach out to the editor and ask whether the journal has interest in a piece like the one you’re working on. As you do so, you may want to send not only the title of your paper but also the abstract to provide as much information as possible without sending the entire paper. The editor will most certainly be able to respond based on your title and abstract. Of course, this does not guarantee acceptance of your paper with that journal; however, the editor will indicate whether your paper would fit in their journal in terms of its content. And if the editor responds that your article isn’t a great fit, they may point you to another journal. If not, you could ask for a recommendation of another journal that could be a better match for your article.

Concluding the Series

As noted throughout this blog series and within this post, many factors may influence your journal selections and cause you to revisit and reevaluate your decisions as you write your journal article. We hope that the guidance and activities provided in this blog series have been and will continue to be helpful to you during this iterative process. No doubt you may consider the same journals again when you write another article so you may want to save these activites for future use.

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