How to get published
WHERE should I publish my research?
Journal selection matters. Why? Because there is frequently a mismatch between your ambitions and the editorial policy of your target journal. To get published you will likely have to compromise. Here are some points to consider.
There are well-known journals on broad topics (e.g. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), subject-oriented journals (e.g. British Journal of Surgery), and narrow “niche” journals (e.g. Dental Materials). Often, the scope of the journal is less important for the reader searching for a specific article. However, the scope is important for editors, their choice of peer-reviewers and the journal ‘brand’. Bottom line: The scope should fit your topic of research and methodology.
- If you decide to send your article to a “niche” journal, it is less likely that your article will get exposure beyond your field.
- If the journal has published similar work by you or your peers, the likelihood of acceptance is higher.
- There are various online tools to narrow your choice of journals e.g. Cofactor Journal Selector, Springer Journal Suggester and JournalFinder.
Impact factor and other citation metrics are much criticised but are still widely quoted. You may dream of an article in Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine. However, the chances are slim, even if your study is novel and exceptional. Prestige is not only determined by impact factor. Well-established society journals (e.g. Journal of the American Chemical Society) have obtained a high reputation. Avoid predatory journals that are careless about research quality and have no credible peer-review. They flourish by luring desperate scientists who need publications. Bottom line: Be realistic regarding the potential of your paper. If you are aware that there are weaknesses, don’t waste your time with The Lancet.
- The higher the journal’s prestige is, the more rigorous the review process (that is if they get as far as sending out your manuscript for a review).
- Knowing or being known by members of the editorial board should not be a factor but may help.
- The better your academic record or personal prestige (or those of your co-authors), the greater is the chance of acceptance.
- Develop a hard skin. Many journals are overwhelmed with submissions and have to say ‘No’. They may soften the blow by suggesting a sister publication.
- Check Beall’s list (now rather dated) or Cabell’s blacklist for predatory journals.
Longitudinal multi-cohort studies or studies involving elaborate experiments and cutting-edge technology are uncommon. You will get published if the work is scientifically sound. Usually a few carefully conducted experiments or interventions with a clear conclusion are enough for most moderate-ranking journals. Should your methodology be so novel or findings so challenging of current knowledge, be prepared for critique. Bottom line: Experimental rigour is noticeable at first glance.
- Search for similar publications in your journal of choice and use these as a guide. If none can be found, look for other more suitable journals.
- If there are weaknesses or limitations in your research which cannot be rectified, highlight and discuss these in your text. It is better to be honest upfront rather than be ‘found out’ by a diligent reviewer.
- Write a good letter to the editor summarising what you have done, your findings, why they matter and provide justification for inclusion of your manuscript.
How soon would you like to publish? Is your manuscript part of a publication plan or linked to an upcoming congress or drug launch? Alternatively, you may wish to publish an early follow-up study. The speed of the initial editorial decision, average duration of peer review and time to final decision are usually published in the ‘Instructions to authors’ section. Often this bears no relation to the prestige of the journal. Bottom line: Select a journal likely to publish your work which matches your timing.
- If information regarding timing is unclear or the timing and coordination with other activities are important, write or call the editorial office.
In contrast to subscription-based journals, open access journals have no paywall. Typically, they exist online. Today, nearly half of all biomedical and healthcare journals offer full or partial open access services. The advantage is greater reader accessibility, whereas the disadvantage is the need for the author to pay a higher article processing fee. Open access does not guarantee more citations (unlike prestige). Bottom line: The popularity of open access is increasing and likely to become the norm.
- Your institution (or the one of your co-authors) may have an arrangement with the publisher, so you may be able to avoid paying any fees.
- Research grants increasingly include a sum towards writing and publication costs.
Plan and execute a good piece of research. Write a good manuscript. Highlight and discuss any failings. Send it to the appropriate journal. Excite the editor’s interest with a good letter.
In general, your paper will be published where it deserves to be. If your article is important and your selected journal is widely indexed, it will be found by interested readers.