How to Choose the Right Journal for Your Work | Lex Academic Blog


Sometimes you write a paper and a journal presents itself as a perfect match. There is no better place for your article on reindeer herding patterns, for instance, than Rangifer: Research, Management and Husbandry of Reindeer and other Northern Ungulates. But, for most of us, most of the time, we’re presented with a dizzying array of possibilities. And it isn’t just a case of choosing a suitable subject area. Different types of journals are suitable for different stages of your career. Some scholars might value impact factors above all else; others care little for such metrics – in some fields, impact factor hardly registers. Top-class journals can have long turnaround times. Maybe the journal you choose looks good at first, but focuses on developing new methodologies when your contribution is a theoretical one. An article can also be rejected from a journal even if it’s well written and the perfect fit: perhaps they’ve just published an article on a similar topic, or they may simply be swamped with submissions and/or understaffed. The best protection from any of these frustrating rejections is to choose a journal early, and to choose it well.

When do I choose a journal for my article?

Ideally, you’ll pick a journal and get some positive interest from them before you start to write. Scholars work in different ways, though, and you can very easily find yourself choosing your journal at another point. Perhaps you’re revising an existing piece of work; maybe you’re a junior scholar transforming a PhD chapter into an article, or a more seasoned scholar revising an article rejected from another journal. Either way, the process of choosing a journal can’t easily be done once the article is written. This is still the case if you’re in the position of revising a manuscript. You must be prepared to revise everything about it, from structure to content to tone, so that it’s suitable for its new home. Like a transplanted kidney, you have to attach your article carefully to its new site, which involves a lot of detailed work, carefully connecting vessels and ducts. As a rule of thumb, then, you should start looking for journals once you’re able to articulate your article’s argument or thesis.

Choosing a journal early is important not only because it means that you can sidestep many of the most common issues for rejection, but also because it makes your publication journey shorter. You can submit to only one journal at a time, so it’s important to do your research before submitting. It could be months before you get another shot. Our Journal Suitability Reporting provides detailed and reasoned recommendations on where to submit your paper. This service helps you to publish your work in the most suitable journal for it, with fewer rounds of revisions (and with even fewer run-ins with Reviewer #2).

Where to find the right journals

Start with your own work. What do you cite? It’s likely that, if you cite a journal and refer to debates that are taking place within it, that journal is probably an option for you. Beware, though, that if a journal has recently covered the same topic, this might be cited as a reason to reject you out-of-hand. Your work must be clearly distinct.

Other options for finding suitable journals would be to browse journal databases at your university library, and to look through electronic archives such as JSTOR, or even Google Scholar. If you’re a postgraduate student, asking your supervisor is also a good bet.

What constitutes the best journal for me?

In some fields, the advice is traditionally to look at the impact factor as the more-or-less sole indicator of a journal’s worth – to ‘publish in the best journal’. If you publish in a journal with a low impact factor, the logic seems to go, this is a reflection of your worth as a scholar. This isn’t the case. Impact factor refers to the frequency with which articles in a given journal are cited, and supposedly that is a marker of a journal’s quality. If people discuss the articles in a journal and cite them, after all, it means that ideas are circulating. If you’re a mid-career or established academic, you’re more likely to have a stable position affording you the time to produce high-impact papers and publish in a big-hitter. A new scholar, on the other hand, might require a couple of publications in appropriate journals to make a job search viable. All scholars, but especially PhD candidates and early-career researchers, must balance a journal’s citation metrics with other considerations.

When choosing a journal, then, aim for a shortlist – say, three journals to which you will consider submitting. To help you decide on your shortlist, you should try to balance prestige with the stiffness of competition. We wouldn’t advise shooting straight for Nature, in other words, unless your case is exceptional – it may have a phenomenal reach, but it’s incredibly competitive. In her excellent Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks, Wendy Laura Belcher suggests that field journals (e.g. Feminist Studies, Chaucer Review) are a good place for a junior scholar to start. They’re highly specialised, and can still be prestigious. You’ll be publishing within your discipline, which is important for hiring committees, and you should be competitive if you can find such a journal that is relevant to your thesis. As a back-up option, she suggests, a new scholar might consider a regional journal (e.g. Western American Literature, Scandinavian Political Studies). They typically have a narrow focus and a smaller readership, but can be less competitive (while still being prestigious). Other options include big, discipline-specific journals (e.g. American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Theory), but these might be a poor choice for new scholars. They’re usually prestigious, but sometimes hostile to new or interdisciplinary ideas, and often very competitive. Interdisciplinary journals (e.g. Configurations, Philosophy and Literature), on the other hand, generally contain more exciting work and can be easier to publish in, but they can, rather unfairly, be considered less prestigious. To complicate matters, this rather nebulous concept of ‘prestige’ is more important in some fields than others.

You might also weigh up considerations like whether you want to pay for Open Access publishing (you’ll reach a wider audience, but you or your department will have to pay for it), and whether or not the journal has a good circulation.

Approach editors before submitting your work

The next step is to make contact with all your shortlisted journals, so that you can properly decide where best to place your time and effort. To make an informed decision, for example, it would be good to know how many submissions the journal receives, and their success rate. How long does it take to get a decision from the journal? Do they have a backlog of articles that would result in a delay to your getting a decision and/or publication? If any of this isn’t clear on a journal’s website, you can email the managing editor (addressing them by name, of course) and ask them directly.

You might also contact the editor-in-chief (also by name), aiming to ascertain the suitability of your subject and approach. You should mention why readers of their journal would be interested in your article. Will it fill a gap in understanding? Does it fit with their theme? Perhaps they have a special issue coming up. How does it fit with the articles they’ve already published, and what makes your work distinct? If you’re able to, you should give your article a tentative title and have a stab at an abstract.

Even if it’s clear that your subject is a perfect fit, the journal is prestigious, its turnaround times are fine, and you’re confident publishing in that particular journal will get you the citations you need, it’s still recommended that you get in touch with them first. One of the most often cited reasons for a rejection is that the article didn’t meet a particular journal’s requirements, so choosing the right journal early and writing your article expressly for them will give your article the best chance of success.