1. Topical fit

If the topic of your manuscript does not match with the aims and scope of the journal you are planning to submit to, you risk a desk rejection (after a quick examination by an editorial member, without review).

According to Walsh and Mommsen, good questions to ask yourself in this regard are:

  • Do papers like yours appear in the journal?
  • Have you cited papers that have appeared in the journal or similar journals?

You can use a journal selector tool. These tools provide an overview of eligible journals based on the title and abstract of your manuscript. Examples are:

Enago is specifically meant to find Open Access journals, while the Open Access Journal browser shows you in which hybrid journals you can publish Open Access with reduced or no Article Processing Charges (APC).

The journal coverage of each of the tools differs considerably. A complete tool does not exist. As long as you are aware of the limitations and options of the tools, they could be of help in your journal choice. They might not only point to unfamiliar journals with a good topical fit, but they also often provide additional information on factors such as speed of publication and review times, which might influence your journal choice as well.

2. Funder requirements

The range of journals to choose from can be restricted based on funder requirements.

Funding organisations increasingly require peer-reviewed research outputs to be made freely available to the public immediately after publication. This can be achieved by publishing in a compliant Open Access journal, or by archiving publications in an Open Access repository. Open Access journals and hybrid journals may require an additional payment to the publisher for the article to be made Open Access immediately on the date of publication.

Funding organisations are also increasingly requiring grantees to deposit their research data in appropriate public archives or storers to validate results and further work by other researchers. Because it can take some time to write up results after work has been completed, policies may allow a reasonable period of grace during which the original researchers have exclusive access to the data before it has to be deposited in a public archive. The lengths of such periods vary by subject discipline.

SHERPA Juliet is a searchable database of up-to-date information concerning funders’ policies and the open access, publication and data archive requirements.

3. Copyright

By signing a Copyright Transfer Agreement, you (partially) transfer your copyright to a publisher; a transfer is definitive. The agreement is a contract between you and the publisher to reproduce, distribute and sell your work for a fee.

The standard contract used by your publisher is not binding as long as you do not agree. Amendments can be made if you resist the pressure from the publisher and negotiate the terms of the contract.

We strongly advise you to avoid the transfer of all your rights. The ‘All rights clause’ might restrict the reuse of your paper on your personal website, in educational materials, or in any book or thesis.

You do not need to transfer all your rights. Copyright is a bundle of rights, which can be split up. Parts of your copyright can be licensed separately. A license agreement is preferable, because it provides more options for reuse.

4. Open Access

Open Access (OA) means that your publication is freely available online to view, download and reuse.

Gold OA means that the published version of the article is immediately available. Most often, publishers charge an Article Processing Charge (APC) for this form of OA publishing. As a result of licenses between the library and publishers, UM/MUMC+ scholars receive discounts on APC up to 100%. An APC discount for your journal of choice can be checked in the OA Journal Browser. In terms of copyright, most OA publications are Creative Commons-licensed, promoting access and re-use of the research.

Green OA means that an author archives and shares a permitted version of the articles in an OA archive or repository. For more information on this, see the section Pre- and post-prints below.

5. Versions of the article

SHERPA RoMEO is an online source that aggregates and analyses publisher Open Access policies worldwide and provides summaries of self-archiving permissions and conditions of rights given to authors on a journal-by-journal basis.

On the website, you can search on journal or publisher level what conditions and restrictions are for submitting selected versions of your article – submitted version (preprint), accepted version (post-print), or published version (version of record) – to a repository.

The submitted version (or preprint) is the version of the paper before peer-review. The accepted version (or post-print) is the version after peer-review, with revisions having been made. This means that in terms of content, the accepted version is equal to the published article. However, in terms of appearance, this might not be the same as the published article. The version of record (VoR) is the published article.

Typically, this means that the author cannot use the publisher-generated .pdf file (VoR) but must make their own .pdf version for submission to a repository. Yet, some publishers insist that authors use the publisher-generated .pdf.

6. Ingelfinger Rule

Some journals refuse to publish papers from which the results have already been published elsewhere (e.g. preprints, datasets). This is called the Ingelfinger Rule, named after a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. It bars scientists from publishing the same paper in more than one journal. Those who break the rule risk exclusion from further publication within a journal. The rule is a major cause of re-submitting delays.

7. Author guidelines

After checking all the above requirements and restrictions, it is also important to check which requirements are described in the author guidelines of the journal you are considering. Author guidelines often include restrictions regarding types of research, length of abstract and/or manuscript, text formatting, formatting of figures and tables, number of figures and tables, and formatting of references. Checking these guidelines before you start writing will save you a lot of time later on.

8. Prestige / reputation

The Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is often considered an important indicator of a journal’s prestige/ reputation. However, choosing a target journal solely based on its JIF is a mistake. The distribution of citations in a journal is highly skewed. The JIF is an arithmetic mean, which is not a useful central tendency statistic for such a skewed distribution. It is therefore statistically indefensible to use the JIF as an indicator of journal prestige. Each article has an ideal target journal, but the impact factor won’t tell you what it is. The most it can do is to help choose journals that seem equally suitable.

Topical fit, review quality, target audience & other factors are more important to get your article published.

Some Open Access journals have a questionable reputation. These so-called predatory journals charge publication fees to authors without checking articles for quality and legitimacy without providing the other editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide.

If you doubt the reputation of a journal, you can follow the steps of Think-Check-Submit.

9. Acceptance / rejection

Most journals refrain from publishing acceptance rates. For those that do, you should be aware that acceptance rates are influenced by specialization and by the ratio between the number of submissions, articles per issue, and available reviewers.

The methods of calculating acceptance rates vary. Some journals use all manuscripts submitted, and some use only those sent to reviewers. Moreover, editors reject papers for various reasons, and they may not maintain accurate records and provide only a rough estimate of the acceptance rate.

You may be tempted to choose a journal with a high acceptance rate, as that will increase the probability of your manuscript being accepted. However, a low acceptance rate can also be a quality mark.

10. Peer review quality

Journals can differ in peer-review methods.

  • Single-blind peer-review
    The author does not know who reviewed the manuscript, but the reviewer does know the author’s name.
  • Double-blind peer-review
    The author and the reviewer do not know each other’s names. This eliminates ad hominem biases, such as those based on gender, seniority, reputation and affiliation.
  • Open peer review
    Authors and reviewers are known to each other. This may promote a less critical attitude from young reviewers, fearful of possible repercussions when they critique the work of senior colleagues.

You can find information or indicators about the quality of the peer-review process of a journal:

Workshop “What journal to publish in”

In this regular 1.5 hour workshop, criteria are discussed which influence an author’s journal choice, and some tools that could be of help. There is plenty of time to deal with individual questions and/or problems.

More information and registration