Last updated on January 13, 2023
Once you’ve decided that you want to publish your research in a journal, deciding exactly where to publish it can be a whole new project in and of itself. To help guide you, here are some things to look for:
This means that the journal editor will send a copy of your paper without any identifying information on it to 2-3 experts in the field. You won’t know who they are and they won’t know who you are. The idea is that the paper can be assessed on its merits not on who authored it and who anyone is friends with. This is also the gold standard in terms of whether we can trust the findings in any journal. Generally speaking, blind peer-reviewed articles are worth more on one’s CV in terms of getting a job or going up for tenure and promotion.
Impact Factor Scores
Though controversial, impact factor scores are a number assigned to journals based on what kind of an “impact” they have on the field. These are generally based on how many people read the articles found within the journals’ pages. Importantly, higher impact factor scores do not necessarily mean better or higher quality, although they do tend to be of high quality, there are also high quality journals that just are so specialized, fewer people tend to be interested in the topics. You can find a ranking of journals by impact factor here: https://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php
Generalist vs. Specialized Journals
Like you could probably surmise, generalist journals publish across disciplinary sub-fields whereas specialized journals focus on a particular research area within a field. Generalist journals are sometimes seen as more prestigious and tend to have higher impact scores since they are often affiliated with a professional association (e.g. the Canadian Sociological Association) and so members of those associations often get the journal as part of their membership in their association (e.g. the Canadian Review of Sociology). Because of this, generalist journals tend to get more submissions which means that it can take longer to get your paper reviewed and they have lower rates of acceptance of articles. Specialized journals, however, can be a better option if your topic is more likely to be of interest only to specialists in your field and doesn’t cut across multiple sub-disciplines (e.g. my article on how breastfeeding impacts women’s wages over time was published in the American Sociological Review as it was potentially of interest to those in gender studies, sociology of work, and quantitative methods; my paper on lesbian mothers’ experiences of breastfeeding was published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies since the topic was interesting (if I do say so myself!), but not necessarily likely to be something a lot of people across sociology would cite in their research. Specialist journals can also be useful for how you want to frame yourself as a researcher. If I wanted people to see me as a health scholar, I might have been better putting one of those papers in, for example, Sociology of Health and Illness.
Are you just finishing up your master’s and about to start a Ph.D.? Or are you heading to the job market in a few months? Publishing takes A LOT of time, not just in terms of bringing a paper to press, but in waiting for reviews, editors’ decisions, and if you’re lucking making revisions to a paper that is conditionally accepted to a journal. My ASR paper involved four rounds of revisions, after being sent out for review to various reviewers THREE times. I believe that paper took us two or three years after completing our first “final” draft (which took us probably 2-3 years to do). A paper I published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology was sent out to 2 or 3 reviewers and the revisions were pretty quick to address. I’m currently co-authoring a paper with two former students that we just sent out to a TENTH journal for review because it keeps getting rejected. I believe we started that paper in 2013 and it’s now 2019. Thus, aiming to a more “prestigious” journal with a higher impact score can pay off when you’re on the job market, but it might take longer for acceptance.
Open-Access vs. Subscription Journals
Open-access journals publish papers that anyone with access to the internet can read, whereas subscription journals are only available to those with a (typically very expensive) subscription. Libraries tend to be the ones to foot the bills for the subscription journals, so papers in these journals tend to be read exclusively by other academics or students with access to a university library. Increasingly, subscription journals offer the option of making your article open-access, even if other articles in a particular issue are not. The benefits of publishing an open-access article is that it will be able to be read by the largest audience and is more democratic. The draw-back, however, is cost. Someone’s gotta pay the salaries of the managing editors, the cost of website maintenance, and the various other hidden costs that come with publishing. This means publishing an open-access article can cost thousands of dollars. Universities are increasingly offering subsidies to cover these costs and you can write this into the budget of grant proposals, but if you don’t have access to these resources, subscription journals may be your better bet.
Mega Journals vs. Traditional Journals
A newer option out there, more common in the “hard” or natural sciences, are mega journals like PLOS One. These online journals publish a huge number of articles and, claim, to accept anything that passes their peer-review. Editors of traditional journals will reject articles for lots of reasons which can include their sense that the paper is good but not interesting enough to their readers or doesn’t make a big enough contribution to the field. This is partly a holdover from when journals were published on paper and so there was limited space for any one issue of journal, and partly to help their impact factors. Remember, the more articles people read, the higher the impact factors. Mega journals, however, are entirely online and they don’t care about impact factors. They do care about quality however and do not accept just anything that comes along. I chatted with a former editor of one on Twitter who shared with me that they actually have a somewhat lower acceptance rate than one might think, but reasons for rejection were due to poor research design that made no sense or if the article was pure quackery (e.g. articles seeking to prove the scientific truth of creationism). BE CAREFUL though, not to get these mixed up with predatory journals or vanity presses that do not do real peer review and will take your money. Also, being open access, predatory journals also cost $$$$. If you have a lot of funds and need a quick publication, this could be an option. Although, personally, (partly due to a lack of funds), I’m still shopping my hard to publish paper with traditional journals.
Look at Your Own Reference List
If you’re still not sure where to publish or how to decide how general or specialized your paper is, look to your own works cited. Where did the people you cite publish their research? If you see that most of them are in a few journals, maybe try one of those.
Publish Inside your Discipline
Generally speaking, especially as a newcomer to your discipline, I would recommend staying within the general ballpark of your field. This is especially true if you are getting a degree in an interdisciplinary program but want to get a job within a particular discipline. For example, maybe you’re getting a Ph.D. in women’s studies but you have a BA and an MA in Sociology and your supervisor is a sociologist and so you want to apply for jobs in both Women’s Studies and Sociology. Some hiring committees can be concerned that the person will only be able to teach courses related to their area and not more general intro to sociology, theory, or methods courses. Thus, having publications within the discipline can help show that you are qualified to be considered a “real” sociologist. However, if you want to frame your work as falling across fields (e.g. you’re getting a PhD in sociology but you really consider yourself a political economist), you might seek out more interdisciplinary journals that will establish you as a specialist in the topic. I would discourage going outside the social sciences entirely, however, for three main reasons: (1) people in your discipline are unlikely to read it, so it will be less likely to be cited by others in your field and will not get your research well known; (2) because of that, the publication may not count as much for hiring or tenure/promotion decisions; (3) other disciplines can have radically different formats for research writing. In Sociology, generally a literature review should be 7-10 pages long or so; in health sciences and medical research, lit reviews are between 1-3 paragraphs! (Note, I learned this the hard way). All that send, I just hit submit this very morning for a paper to the International Journal of Public Health, because we got rejected from 3 or 4 sociology of health journals and all of the editors said the paper was a better fit in public health.
Calls for Papers
Sometimes journals decide to focus a particular issue on one particular topic. As long as the journal uses blind peer-review, these can be a great way to increase the chances of getting a publication. Fewer people are likely to be working on a project that can fit the topic, so a well-constructed paper that fits the goals of the journal has a good chance of being published, since you know that the editor is already interested in the topic. Some journals make every issue a special topic, such as a journal I’m on the editorial board for Enfances, Familles, Générations, although they also publish articles outside of the topic if they don’t get enough papers related to the theme of high enough quality. Calls for papers are often advertised in the newsletters of disciplinary websites such as the news page at the Canadian Sociological Association, the announcement section of Footnotes, the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, or the publication opportunities page of the International Sociological Association.
Ask Your Supervisor
As always, ask your supervisor for suggestions if you’re not sure. I’d recommend using these suggestions to come up with maybe 3-5 ideas to bring to your supervisor and then see what they recommend. Supervisors have a lot of experience and tend to have a good sense of how their particular discipline operates and what might work within your particular situation.