How to choose the right journal for your paper

Expert’s top tips for picking the best place to be published, from reading your target title to taking rejection on the chin. Plus the latest higher education appointments

October 23, 2014

Source: Getty

Tailor to fit: successful publication often relies on reading journals carefully and offering papers selectively

It might seem like obvious good advice to read a journal before submitting a paper to it. But, according to Karen Smith, it is surprising how often researchers fail to do so.

According to Smith, senior lecturer in educational development at the University of Greenwich, this is one reason why so many papers – particularly from early career researchers – are rejected by journals. They hit the buffers not because of their inherent flaws, but because they simply do not fit the journal’s aims and scope.

“Sometimes people get overwhelmed when there are so many journals out there; it is not always clear where they need to channel their energy,” she says.

Smith – who is co-running a seminar on article publishing at the Society for Research in Higher Education in London on 12 November – also advises researchers to take heed of where the papers they cite in their literature reviews have been published. This is all the more important because a journal’s own statement about its remit can be very inexact.

The problem of poor fit can be exacerbated by the fact that “some journals are so popular and over-subscribed that they are trying to really nail down what their focus is. But it doesn’t matter what they say [about that]. People will always want to publish in them.”

The pressure to publish in top journals extends nowadays even to doctoral students, but since it bears on them less heavily than on established academics, early career researchers are ideally placed to endure the long process of repeated application and rejection that aiming for the top can entail.

Not that they should assume they will be rejected: “If somebody had said to me that there is a 90 per cent rejection rate at some of the journals I have published in, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to put the papers in. But I did and they got published,” Smith says.

But it is also important to learn to take rejection on the chin and not to be put off from submitting a manuscript to another journal.

“You have to take heed of reviewers’ comments, but you also have to have some confidence in your research. We all know many examples of rejected papers that go on to be published in another really good journal,” she says.

Smith dismisses any suggestion that a journal that has previously published a scholar’s work will look more sympathetically upon subsequent submissions.

“In my experience it doesn’t work like that,” she says. “But by having previously published in a journal you know more about how their review process works. Certain ones are slower, or give more or less feedback.”

Speed of publication can be particularly important in the run-up to a research excellence framework, but Smith says that the rise of online-first publishing has softened the impact of the typical delays of a year or more before papers appear in print.

One other factor to be aware of, she says, is a journal’s circulation and visibility on social media.

“When I was starting as a researcher, everything was finished when you had published your paper,” Smith says. “But now you have got to get people to read it. You have to really advertise and publicise it. So if you are choosing a journal, you need to look into whether it is read, who reads it and where it is talked about.”


Linda Drew, deputy director and director of academic development at the Glasgow School of Art, is to become the new director and chief executive of Ravensbourne. She will take up the post in January, and succeeds Robin Baker as leader of the London institution.

Canterbury Christ Church University has named Helen James to the roles of pro vice-chancellor (education and student experience) and professor of higher education policy and practice. Professor James joins Canterbury Christ Church from Glyndwr University, where she was pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching.

Two City University London academics have been appointed to prestigious posts. Kenneth Grattan, George Daniels professor of scientific instrumentation and dean of the City Graduate School, has been elected president of the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO). Robin Bloomfield, professor of software and system dependability in the university’s Centre for Software Reliability, has been elected one of 59 new fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Glasgow Caledonian University has announced the appointment of Hazel Brooke as its new chair of court, with effect from 6 February 2015.

Rob Webster, the chief executive of NHS Confederation, has been appointed visiting professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University. He has already spent a number of years working with the faculty.

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