The Journal Selection ‘Path to Publication’ Journey





When I was a PhD student, my supervisor – an eminent paleontologist – used to always say: “Aim high with your papers”, “Try to get them into the best journals possible”. “You’ll get rejected, of course”, he used to say, “but recycle, and try for the next one down the list”.

I also remember another of my mentors, one of the paleontology curators at the American Museum of Natural History saying “I publish all my papers in either Nature or the American Museum Novitates”. Which was kind of true at the time: Feathered dinosaurs were being discovered week after week in China in the early 2000s and so this was a golden time for this field of paleontology. I was never anywhere near that level of publication success, but again the message is clear: Aim for selected journals with your research. It’s very often the case that successful publishing researchers aim for just a handful of journals with their work: The trick for publishers is understanding how researchers make these decisions.

Let’s step back because two very good pieces of advice for young researchers are contained in the statements above: “Aim high” and “recycle”. I was taught at an early stage in my research career to try – at least to try – to always aim to submit my articles into the best journals possible while at the same time developing a pipeline for my rejections. For me, after much trial and error and many setbacks, this meant that many initial submissions of my shorter papers (ca. 1,500 – 2,500 words or so) would first be sent to the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B (if we did not consider them worth a shot at Nature or Science – my list of rejection letters from these two journals is huge …) and then, if not accepted there, to the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. I ended up choosing the latter because it has article and length formatting requirements very similar to Proceedings and its Impact Factor was similar, just a little lower.


Aiming High and Saving Time with Article Re-working and Re-formatting

Successfully completing a research project and getting it published in a leading international journal has three parts: Researching, writing, and publishing.

Researchers tend to focus on the first two of these. However, publishing is arguably the most important step. Publishing in an indexed journal can boost your reputation, funding and career.


The Thorny Issue of Journal Selection: Aim High, but Choose Appropriately


One of the trickiest issues in academic publishing is selecting a suitable journal for your research. Sadly, in my experience, this step is all too often left until the very end of the process: the work is done, field data collected (perhaps), experiments conducted (perhaps), analysis performed and the research is all written up for publication. 

Where to Send your Paper?

A number of tools are available that aid with journal selection, but these are often specific to particular companies. A given publisher, for example, will have a tool on their website that allows you, the author, to select a target journal from across their family of publications. What about all the other possible journals available? What’s the most important issue to you as an author? Impact Factor? Open Access? No publication fee?

Here’s a useful tip for selecting a target journal for your research: Do it before you start to write the paper. Most journals have different target audiences and therefore different style guidelines; papers need to be written in specific ways, depending on the audience, the people who will end up reading your work. Articles for local, or subject-specific journals will be quite different from articles intended for Nature of Science. Most of the academics I know never start to write their scientific papers until they have decided on a target journal, appropriate for the research just completed.

With this in mind then, another useful trick I picked up when I was a PhD student is to create a list of 10 journals in your field within which articles relevant to your particular subject have recently appeared. Rank these from top-to-bottom in terms of impact factor and then use this list to inform your decisions about where to submit your next completed work. One of the most important considerations for almost all active researchers is Impact: aim to maximize both the impact of your research publications and therefore your own research as an academic. Aim to get your papers into the best journals possible, those with the highest impact factors and widest circulations.