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Carly Tetley – I’ve Written a Paper – Where Should I Publish It? How I Chose My Target Journals.

This week’s guest post comes from Carly Tetley PhD student and graduate Teaching Assistant at Salford University. Continuing with our series on getting published in journal articles Carly talks about her own journal selection strategy. (You can follow Carly on twitter here)

During our very first meeting, before I had even started my PhD, my supervisor set me a target: to write and publish a review paper before the end of my first year. This exercise has helped me to focus my reading and the resulting paper will be very useful as a base for a chapter of my future thesis. I would definitely recommend this as a worthwhile exercise for new PhD students. Six months on, the paper has been written and my supervisor and I are making a few final adjustments and corrections before we submit it for peer review. So the next question is: which journal should we submit to?

At first, I approached the question of where to publish rather tentatively and the names of a few journals immediately sprang to mind. These were journals that I’m familiar with, have cited articles from, and whose subject area encompasses the topic of the paper. I checked the guidelines for authors for each journal to make sure the paper fell within its aims, scope and word count, and that the journal accepted review articles. I use the word “tentative” above because the journals on my list were quite narrow in scope and had impact factors ranging between 0.695 and 2.890.

A journal’s impact factor gives an indication of how often articles in the journal are cited.  So, generally speaking, articles in a journal with a high impact factor are cited (and read) more often than those published in journals with lower impact factors. Therefore, authors try and publish in journals with impact factors that are as high as possible, which are seen as more prestigious. However, I am of the opinion that the decision of where to publish should not be made on impact factor alone and there are also many caveats to the use of impact factors. Journals with high impact factors can be quite difficult to publish in – for example, in 2009 Nature had an impact factor of 34.480 and only 6.8% of submitted articles were accepted for publication (Nature Publishing Group, 2011). In fact, given that peer review can be a lengthy process and articles can only be submitted to one journal at a time, sometimes a more specialist journal with a lower impact factor may be a more appropriate place to publish. (More information on journal impact factors can be found here.) (Journal Impact Factor will be returned to on PhD2Published in a series of posts coming up in June 2011 Ed.)

My supervisor has an “aim high” philosophy and didn’t seem too impressed with my initial list of suggestions! Review articles are a good way for people outside the immediate subject area to learn about the field. In addition, if the review paper makes recommendations for advancing research in the field, it should be published in the best place for those recommendations to be read. So I went back to the drawing board and looked for other journals, still in my field, but with a slightly broader scope. Some of the journals I added to my list exclusively publish review papers, and some have impact factors that are three times as high as those on my original list. However, my supervisor and I are of the opinion that submitting to these journals would be worthwhile.

I now have a list of six target journals for the paper, ranked in order of impact factor, which has the journal with the highest impact factor of the six at the top. I plan to submit the paper to the top one first and should it be rejected, I’ll submit to the next on the list, and so on. If we need to submit to a different journal, a few revisions will have to be made to the paper, as different journals have different word counts, formatting requirements and referencing standards. And since the paper can only be submitted to one journal at a time, it may be a while before it appears anywhere. Although I do hope that I won’t have to move too far down the list before the paper is accepted!


Nature Publishing Group. 2011. Getting Published in Nature: For Authors and Referees. URL: http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/get_published/index.html. Page accessed 6th May, 2011.

  1. Now, i make no comments on the quality of research or writing here, but I do wonder at this prevailing attitude in academia:

    ‘During our very first meeting, before I had even started my PhD, my supervisor set me a target: to write and publish a review paper before the end of my first year.’

    Academic publication has become a career path rather than a forum for the sharing of research. To decide to publish before having something to publish seems the wrong way around – though utterly wise in the current academic market.

    I was told to concentrate on my thesis, and not confuse the issues by trying to publish early. The result of this was that I was left behind in the publishing game, but what I have published is far superior. I would argue that this strategy is far better for the research published, but obviously bad for my career.

    I suppose the question to ask is whether it’s the research that matters, or the act of publishing.

    As universities read quantity not quality, the answer is plain. It is, however, reducing the quality of research as it increases the quantity. As Bacon wrote way back in 1605:

    ‘the opinion of plentie is amongst the causes of want; and the great quantitie of Bookes maketh a shewe rather of superfluitie than lace, which surcharge neuertheless is not to be remedied by making no more bookes, but by making more good books’

    Still, it may be an imperfect world, but it’s the world we inhabit. Good luck with the paper, and may it be a good ‘un!

  2. Hi Pete, thanks for your comment.

    Even as a first year PhD student I’m aware of the perceived need to publish in quantity, especially for those planning to stay in academia after graduating. I agree that the question is whether the research or the act of publishing is what matters and, rightly or wrongly, it would seem that the number of publications on your CV is becoming increasingly important. However I would argue that perhaps the peer review process acts as some sort of control and improves the quality of what’s published.

    Also, I feel I should clarify that in this case the original emphasis was placed on the writing of the paper, rather than the publishing of it, as an exercise in writing and critical thinking at the beginning of my PhD. If it ends up getting published, that’s fantastic. Even if it isn’t published, I still feel I’ve gained from the exercise and will have received feedback through the review process that will help me to improve my future writing.

  3. I think this is something that will constantly be debated within academia. We are in a ‘publish or perish’ environment and there are good and bad points to this, something we shall debate over the coming weeks. I didnt publish as a PhD student and it is something i regret. I also feel i am now playing catch-up and when looking for jobs it places you at a disadvantage if you do not have those publications, due to the increased importantce placed on citation data for RAE / REF etc.

    Scholarship is important, communicating that is important but we can not deny that there is a need to have a strategy when approaching publications, particularly if you want to carry on in academia.

  4. I hope there’s still a place for quality work – “being published” is not the same as “being read”, after all, and it is still people who make the decisions when interviewing job candidates or assessing grant applications.

    Having your work read (and recognised) by one or two of the “right” readers accrues different career points to being published but widely ignored: if influential members of interview or grant panels recognise your name because of something you’ve written that connected with them, then they’re likely to give your application a second look. (Likewise, if they recognise you as a serial publisher of marginally different pieces of work, they may well skip straight over your application.)

    This isn’t to deny the stress that is placed on unadorned citation data, just to point to another dimension to the debate.

  5. Oh, good heavens – can we please disagree?

    Carly, it’s good that you’re concentrating on the paper rather than the publishing, though I think one ought to do the research first. Naturally, unless one’s PhD is tosh and nothing interesting is uncovered something worth publishing will turn up, it’s just tough to predict at the beginning! As for peer review well yes, theoretically it is a quality control, but patronage is still an issue. Just as having a well-connected patron can help (ok, it’s vital) when applying for a job, so it is when submitting to journals. There are harsh readers and gentle readers …

    Sarah-Louise, again, you’re right. I regret not insisting on publishing when a student (I’ve just published a paper I originally wrote during my MA, and should have pushed my undergraduate dissertation which was potentially publishable), but I do accept that what i have published since is immeasurably better.

    The issue is one of balance. There are a lot of papers which add nothing, or little to the body of knowledge, and are prepared simply to tick the box. It is this which devalues the good research and writing being done.

    Of course, the circle is vicious – no publications, no job … no job, no time to research, no support for publication, no institutional reputation … no job …

  6. Tim,

    “being published” is not the same as “being read”

    I plainly couldn’t put it better. Absolutely correct, and I feel too many pieces are written to be published rather than being read.

    Another dimension indeed.

  7. I agree completely, am also very happy with the amount fo debate this post has sparked as this is exactly why we run this site.

    I am about to send my first paper off and at the moment my concern is on journal selection because my work is interdisciplinary – do i go for highly ranked geography journals or do i look at other subjects where my work could fit – Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies etc how does this impact upon how i will be percieved when i apply for jobs. this is something that we will return to at some point. I am waiting to get an RAE pannelists view on my series of posts.

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