Top five strategies for picking a journal

P&P 2021 EditorsOscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop and Chris Weible

Choosing the right journal for a manuscript might be one of the trickiest choices that all scholars make – particularly those early in their careers. We need publications to earn an invite for an interview or to receive a job offer. Once employed, progression and tenure as well as our professional reputations and fulfilment of our own intellectual missions depend, in part, on journals publishing our work.

The ‘publish or perish’ aphorism lives on as the production of ideas remains the raison d’être of academia. Ironically, so much of our careers depend on academic journals, yet many questions about the publication process remain tacit, unanswered and, sometimes, never asked. How do journals operate? What happens in the black box of the review process? How do I prepare my manuscript for a journal?  How do I pick a journal? To what extent are journals different in their editorial processes? How do I respond to referees’ feedback?

As editors for Policy & Politics, we commit ourselves to support colleagues, particularly early career scholars, understand and work with journals to advance their careers. This blog is the first of several that aims to demystify academic publishing. We start with these top five strategies for picking a journal.

Let us start by assuming you have a decent manuscript that likely meets expectations for publication in several journals.   We know this is a major assumption, and we will address how to prepare a manuscript for publication in a later post.  Given a potentially publishable manuscript in hand, we offer our top five strategies for choosing a journal with illustrations from Policy & Politics.

  1. Read the Editorial Statement. All journals post an editorial statement that describes the goals (what they aim to accomplish), scope (what it covers), and style (how it covers it). You might find the editorial statement on the “About the Journal” page on a journal’s website.  A journal, for example, might position itself to serve scholars that deal with a particular topical area (e.g., the environment) or lean toward particular epistemological, ontological, or methodological orientations (e.g., mainstream or critical).  For Policy & Politics, our editorial statement sees the journal as both being and becoming comprehensive in its scope and inclusive in its coverage.  Our goal is to support the varied communities that research areas related to policy, political and social issues and to foster learning and the generation of new knowledge among them.  We welcome deep dives into your research areas that fall within the broad scope of Policy & Politics, but we also ask that you come back to the surface in communicating your research to a wider audience.
  2. Examine the Editorial Board. One of the clearest signals of a journal’s scope and style is the editorial board. Editorial boards consist of scholars whose research the journal seeks to emulate.  If your manuscript is similar to the research of someone on the editorial board, the journal is likely a good fit for it. For example, we structured the Editorial Advisory Board of Policy & Politics to reflect the diversity of scholars who we would like to publish to meet our vision of a comprehensive and inclusive journal.
  3. Explore the Journal’s Publication History. A good indicator that a journal is right for your manuscript is whether it published similar scholarship in its recent past; this tells you a lot about where the conversation and the audience for your work is located.  In other words, if you cannot find a single article to cite in your manuscript from a journal, it might not be a good fit. However, journals also evolve and change over time, and sometimes the absence of scholarship like your manuscript should not be a deterrent.  Keep in mind the other four strategies we offer here.
  4. Learn about the Editor(s) and Their Decision Processes. Once you submit a manuscript to a journal, the editors (1) decide to “desk reject” (reject without peer review) or send out for review; (2) choose the referees; (3) interpret the referees’ feedback; and (4) decide to reject, return to you for revisions, or accept your manuscript for publication. Editors have some discretion in making all of these decisions. They can strictly follow the referees’ recommendations without much interpretation or they incorporate the referees’ feedback into forming their own decision. For example, we typically use the referees’ feedback to inform our judgment about the manuscript based on our vision for Policy & Politics. Two of us will also review every manuscript to help guard against implicit biases or simply mistakes in our judgments.   If anyone would like to know more about how we operate the editorial process for Policy & Politics, please ask or invite us to a panel virtually or, with time, in person.
  5. Consider the Ranking and Production Processes. We often rank journals based on the Journal Citation Reports’ Impact Factor. The Impact Factor for 2020 is based on this calculation:

P&P IF calculation

Our current Impact Factor for 2019 is 3.069, based on this calculation:

P&P IF calculation 2

Typically, but not always, journals with higher impact factors means there is greater competition to be published in them which leads to higher rejection rates.  Many scholars try to choose a journal with the highest impact factor that is proportionate to the quality of their manuscript – something never easy to gauge.  While the Impact Factor is one indicator of a journal’s quality, ideally we assess journals based on multiple indices and consider a range of factors when choosing a journal.  For example, journals vary in the length of the review process (e.g., how long is the review process?), the time from submission to publication (e.g., how long will an accepted manuscript be “forthcoming” prior to publication), accessibility (e.g., are manuscripts open access?), and acceptance rates (e.g., what percentage of manuscripts submitted are accepted for publication?).  The extent that any of these considerations matter to you depends on your manuscript as well as your values and where you are in your career.

We realise that these five points are not everything you need to consider. Finally, if you still want to know if a journal is right for your work, reach out to the editors. We welcome your questions!

We look forward to seeing your manuscript submitted to P&P in the future.

Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, and Chris Weible
Policy & Politics

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Announcing our expanded and increasingly globally representative editorial board

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