Selecting a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field

One of my current projects has taken me outside of my typical academic fields into new territory (early childhood and colouring books). I love reading in this area and really delving into the topic. I don’t have to worry about getting bogged down into reams of literature, or misrepresenting something I read years ago, or getting bored due to over-familiarity. In a way, my lack of knowledge (or my ignorance!) is good for both my motivation and for the writing I will do: I think that I won’t be trying to show off my depth of knowledge and end up with a 20 page literature review, I’ll be happy with focusing on the specifics. Of course, I may end up trying to reinvent the wheel because I’ve missed something vital, or risk upsetting editors and reviewers who are much more grounded in the field than I am. I’ll try to remain aware of that.

Once the research and the resultant paper(s) are ready to make their way to these editors and reviewers, I need to select the journal(s) where I’ll send them. When I first had this thought, I had to stop and think. What on earth would be a good journal? In my own field, I have a fairly good awareness of the range of journals available. I peer review for many of them, and I have a long term publication strategy that is aiming to send my papers to the journals that are right for each paper and that will establish my name in my field. My working knowledge of each journal, and my relationships with editorial staff, mean that choosing a journal in a field I know is not really too difficult. But now I’m encountering a new field (for the meantime anyway – I’m hoping this project will grow and will be guided back into my own fields), a new set of editors, and really just lots of unknowns.

I had to return to the drawing board to think about journals for this new project.

Which journal has the best metrics?

This sprang to mind as the best way to find the “best” journal, initially. I visited the Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR) site and ran a search on journals containing a keyword related to the area my paper is in, “childhood”. For each of the journals this search returned, I made a note of the SJR number (a measure of how many cites the journal receives in a year against how many articles it published in the last three years), the h index (the journal has h papers that have h citations). Then I visited Google Scholar Metrics and ran a similar search; Scholar keeps slightly different metrics including h5-index (the h-index for articles published in the last 5 complete years; it is the largest number h such that h articles published in 2009-2013 have at least h citations each) and h5-median (the median number of citations for the articles that make up its h5-index). I did this to get as full as picture as possible. As well as enabling me to put some sort of ranking on the journals, I was able to see that some journals appear in SJR but not in Scholar. This raised a few questions for me as I wondered whether this would affect how a reference to this journal would be dealt with on my own Scholar page. Would Scholar struggle to find citations to my paper in the future? Would it not include these citations in my own h-index?

For my search, there was a clear “best” journal that had a h index twice as high as the next journal. However, I couldn’t just take that journal as best for my paper. Firstly, I had noticed that a lot of the journals I had found through the SJR searches were only founded in the last 10 years. They had significantly lower metric scores than the more established journals, suggesting to me that metrics (inadvertently or not) favour long-established journals. That makes sense, but doesn’t give us a full picture of the newer journals – what if they are becoming highly regarded? What if they are being highly cited this year (SJR’s most recent data as of 2015 is for 2013)?

So I turned to other ways to find the best journal.

Which journals have I cited in the paper?

This should also be a key factor in choosing the journal, and in my particular search, led to me dismissing some of the higher ranking journals from my SJR and Scholar searches. If you’re trying to publish in a journal whose work you have not engaged with, this will raise questions around why you thought this was a suitable journal. I once heard a journal editor say that one of the first things they do when they receive a submission is look for their journal in your reference list. You need to be engaging in the previous material in the journal in order to show you’re making a contribution to its debates.

On a related point,

Which journal takes topics like yours?

Murray (2005) states that what is acceptable for a journal is, in a way, what’s already been published there – you should be able to meet their conventions but offer something sufficiently new, a clear contribution. The questions you will need to ask yourself include, what do these conventions and new contributions look like for my target journal(s)? What will the audience know about your subject, and if your paper challenges accepted knowledge, what will the audience assume does not need to be questioned?

The clearest place to look is the journal’s aims. There it will outline the remit of the journal and the sort of topics they are interested in. In my case of “childhood” journals, I was looking for key words such as curriculum, representation, social … and steering away from journals that focused on teacher education, policy, cognitive development.

You could then skim recent topics in the journal to see whether your material suits the subject, methodological or theoretical frameworks commonly or recently used (Murray, 2005). This will give more specifics or context to how those journal aims are actually met in practice.

Who are they published by?

Is the journal published by a big publishing house? Does that put you off or encourage you? Have you published through that publisher before and was it a good experience? Do you know whether they promote their new publications, what their website is like for searching and accessing papers? Is the submission site user-friendly? You might personally be encouraged or put off by smaller, or open access, publishers, or online-only journals.

Where do highly regarded people in the field publish?

Check the websites of top-rated departments, or individuals academics you admire, to see where they publish (Murray, 2005). Of course in a new-to-you field you might not know which are the top-rated departments, but if you put any merit on university league tables that filter by department you can find some sort of rankings there.

Who is on the editorial boards?

Among other tips, Becker and Dencolo (2012) suggest looking at the editorial boards for the journals you’re considering – who is there and do you cite any of them? Do you want to work with any of them in the future? You could also drop a line to the editor introducing your paper and ask them whether they think it would be suitable and would welcome your submission.

Get advice from a knowledgeable friend

Talk to a friend or colleague who does work in the chosen field, who could advise on journal prestige (Becker and Denicolo, 2012). They might know more about recently founded journals, those to whom metrics give low scores simply because they are new and haven’t built up years of citations and impact. They might also know which editorial boards and publishers are easy to work with!

Ultimately, I have used a combination of these to help me find the best journal. The decision is not final yet, as there are three journals I’ve short listed. A little more consideration of the journals’ aims, their recent papers, and the take home message from my paper should help. This exercise in examining the journals in this new field has certainly made the way clearer.

I would love to hear your advice for selecting a journal, in comments!

Becker, L. and Denicolo, P. (2012). Publishing journal articles. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2005). Writing for academic journals. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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One thought on “Selecting a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field

  1. […] to select a journal for a publication in a new-to-you field: a great list of criteria to […]

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