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PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to select the right journal for your work

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better – and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

If you are at the point during your PhD trajectory or beyond when you feel ready to start preparing your first journal article, you need to select the right venue to submit your work to.

Editors comment that a lot of desk rejections can be avoided by properly selecting a journal. Today, therefore, we will focus on the topic of selecting the right journal for your work.

When should you select where to submit your work? Ideally, before you start writing your article. As such, you can tailor your article to the audience of the journal, write directly into the right template, and keep the word count limitations of the journal in mind when outlining and preparing your work.

So, what should you consider when you select your target journal? Here are a few elements to consider:

1. Scope
First of all, you should always check the scope and aims of the journal. If your work doesn’t fit the scope of the journal, you’re headed for a straight desk rejection. If you’re not sure if your work would fit the journal, then check a few back issues to see which topics are typically covered by the journal. If you don’t know which journals to check first, start with the journals you read and in which work similar to yours has been published. As such, you’ll get a pointer on where to start.

2. Audience
Another important topic to keep in mind when you select a journal, is the audience. When the journal is printed and managed by a learned society, the audience will be members of this society. For journals in the hands of commercial publishers, the audience may be a bit more difficult to determine. Try to learn who reads the journal: only academics, or practitioners as well? Is it read internationally, or is it oriented towards a specific region? A number of journals in my field are US-oriented, whereas others may be more European or international. When you know the audience, you need to write for your audience. For example, when the audience of the journal includes practitioners, include recommendations for practice.

3. Review timing
Do you need a journal paper in review or accepted as a requirement for graduation? In that case, it may not be a good idea to submit to a journal that has a very slow review process. Some journals take up to a year to return review reports. Check the time to review on the journal website – most journals nowadays display this information on their website. If the information is not available, ask your senior colleagues about their experiences with this journal.

4. Reputation
I don’t subscribe to the idea that publishing in a high impact journal says anything about the quality of your work. Moreover, the impact factors depends on your field of study, so it does not create a level playing field. For example, the impact factor of journals in concrete material engineering tend to be higher than those of structural concrete. Saying that one field is more important or better than the other, of course, is utter nonsense.
However, when I mention reputation here, it is closely related to the audience: who reads the journal? Do people get the journal ever (other) month by mail? Or do people tend to read the articles online, and only the articles of interest?

5. Open access
Are there requirements from your funding body to publish all your work open access? Are there initiatives at your university that support open access publishing? If you have identified an open access journal, what is the APC (article processing charge)? Who pays for it – you, your funder, or your university? If not your funder or your university, can you apply for a waiver with the publisher? Can you do something else to reduce the APC? Some journals give vouchers to reviewers to get a discount on the APC.

6. Beware of predatory or hijacked journals
In the dark underside of academia sit predatory and hijacked journals. Have you ever received an email of a journal that says they want to publish your work? Sometimes even an email from a field completely different to yours, and maybe an email with spelling errors (or comic sans ms as their font)? Red flags to identify a predatory journal. Hijacked journals are even more sneaky – they tend to use a name that is almost the same as the name of reputable journal, and their only goal is to cash in on the APC.

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