Academic Skills

How to select a journal for publication as a PhD student

Selecting a suitable journal to publish your academic work can be overwhelming. However, six concrete strategies can help you to select a suitable journal. Combined, these strategies allow you to identify the perfect journal for your next publication.

Explore a list of journals in your discipline or field

A good first step is to identify key journals in your discipline or field. Most likely, you already know several keywords journals, simply from reading scientific articles.

If you know that soon you will have a manuscript ready to submit to an academic journal, make sure to pay extra attention to the journals in which articles that you are reading are published.

For instance, you can search for ‘global politics’ on Web of Sciences. 21,712 results. Scroll down a bit, and on the left-hand side you see “Publication Titles”. If you click on it, you can see an overview of Publication Titles (e.g. journal names), as well as the number of articles referring to your keyword in each journal:

For instance, you can search for ‘global politics’ on Web of Sciences. 21,712 results. Scroll down a bit, and on the left-hand side you see “Publication Titles”. If you click on it, you can see an overview of Publication Titles (e.g. journal names), as well as the number of articles referring to your keyword in each journal:

Screenshot of Publication Titles for the search query ‘global politics’ on Web of Sciences. Source: webofknowledge.com

Another useful tool is the Journal Rank of the Scimago Lab, which uses data from the search engine Scopus. You can indicate your subject area (such as Medicine, Physics or Social Sciences), as well as your subject category. The latter is closer to your specific research field. If you want, you can also filter according to your region or country, and years.

Screenshot of the Scimago Journal & Country Rank. Source: https://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php

You will end up with a list of journals in your subject area. Scroll through the list, and explore the journals that you are not yet familiar with, by visiting their journal websites.

Examine the scope of journals on the journal websites

To increase the chance of publishing your manuscript in the journal that you select, you must analyse the scope of journals that you have in mind.

Maybe #1 resulted in a list of 10 interesting-sounding journals. The next step is to visit these journal websites. Journal websites tend to provide an explicit explanation of the scope of the journal.

Let’s take the Quarterly Journal of Economics as an example. Visit the journal website. Scroll around a bit and look for the journal’s scope. For the exemplary journal, this information can be found under the section “Instructions to Authors”, and then “Journal Policies”:

Screenshot of ‘Scope of the Journal’ of The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Source: https://academic.oup.com/qje/pages/Policies

As you can see, the scope of this journal is quite broad. So if your manuscript covers empirical or theoretical macroeconomics, the journal should be suitable.

Other journals have a narrower scope. Therefore, always check if your manuscript falls within the scope of a journal. A mismatch between a journal’s scope and a submitted manuscript is the main reason for editors to desk-reject articles!

Check which journals are most cited in your reference list

The chance is quite high that you found several journals that seem interesting and whose scope fit your planned publication. To narrow down your selection, it can be a great exercise to have a look at your reference list.

This is a golden rule: In your reference list, always cite several articles published in the journal that you target!

Your manuscript should contribute to an ongoing academic discussion on a specific topic. Thus, checking which journal published articles which you cite in your manuscript is a smart strategy to find a suitable home for your work.

In case you want to publish in a specific journal, but realise that you do not cite any other articles from that journal, make sure to add some references before submitting your manuscript.

Ask your supervisors and colleagues for journal recommendations

Several other factors should be taken into account when selecting a journal for publication, and talking with supervisors and colleagues with publication experience can usually shed light on these factors.

For example: What were their experiences with submitting a manuscript to specific journals? How long did it take to hear back from the editors? While it is quite common to get a desk reject for a manuscript, it is – for instance – really annoying if the editors let you wait for a year just to inform you that your article was not even accepted for the peer review process.

Furthermore, it can be useful to double-check the scope of a journal with supervisors or colleagues. Do they believe that your planned publication fits well with this journal?

Supervisors and colleagues with publication experience may have a much better feeling about the scope of a journal. They may know your field much better than you do, and they may even know the journal editors in person. Thus, their recommendations can be very valuable.

Consider the impact factor

Most journals have an impact factor, which is an index which showcases how frequently articles published in one journal were cited by others. The more often work is cited, the wider the reach. And hence, at least according to the impact factor, the higher the quality.

The importance and accuracy are debated within academia. Yet, for early career scholars, it still matters in what journals they publish.

The impact factor of a journal can usually be found on the journal website, or in rankings such as the Scimago Journal & Country Rank mentioned in #1.

A good rule of thumb for PhD students is to aim for a higher impact factor first. This requires mental preparation for being rejected, as the chance to publish in a top journal is small.

But hey, rejection is a normal part of academic life. And you may as well try to publish in a top journal! If it does not work out, you can always resubmit your work to a lower-ranking journal.

Consider options to publish open access

In recent years, a major shift toward more open access publishing in academia.

Targeting an open access journal may not just be an ethical consideration when selecting a journal, but the reach of open access journals is often wider as well.

This is not surprising, because open access means that published articles can be downloaded by anyone, without payment and without having an institutional affiliation.

Therefore, it may be smart to consider open access publishing when selecting a journal for your next publication.

Some journals are entirely open access. Others have specific agreements with universities to publish certain articles with open access. Thus, figure out if any agreements exist between journals and your university, and if you have the option to publish open access.

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