The third volume in the Short Guides series will be published in January 2019. In Scholarly Publishing I focus on the big picture of publishing for scholarly audiences. After discussing the purpose of publishing for scholarly readers and what is meant by making a contribution to the advancement of knowledge, I look in detail at the main types of scholarly publication: books, peer reviewed journal articles, and various types of work-in-progress publishing (conference papers, working papers, etc). The concluding chapter discusses how you can improve discoverability of your publications. Each chapter has questions to help you apply the information to your own situation.
As with all of the Short Guides, some of the material was previously published on the website. I have edited and expanded it to create a coherent volume with a clear focus. Scholarly Publishing is a companion to the first 2 volumes in the series, The Scholarly Writing Process and Finding Time for your Scholarly Writing. This excerpt is from the middle of the book.
Selecting a journal
When deciding to publish a journal article, deciding between publishing in a journal and accepting an invitation to publish in a special issue or edited book, or deciding whether to publish and edited book or propose a special issue for a journal, the specific journal matters. Begin with your audience. Peer-reviewed journals are primarily read by other scholars. Be specific about which scholars you want to reach and which conversations you are contributing to. Identifying the journals in the field in which those debates are happening should give you a manageable list of options, which you can then rank. Your own reference list is a good place to start.
Journal editors (and publishers) have a strong sense of the purpose and scope of a journal that will encompass the subject matter covered, appropriate methodologies and theoretical frameworks, and style of writing. Although journal articles are often read as stand-alone pieces, with little attention paid to their relationship to other articles in the same issue or the journal as a whole, it is important to consider the journal as a coherent publication. While journal editors recognize that their journal does not have a monopoly on a particular scholarly conversation, they care very much about its collective contribution to particular debates and expect articles they publish to be in conversation with other articles in the journal. This is not just about citation metrics and their own validation processes. It is about the role of the journal as a whole in advancing knowledge in a field.
Titles and general descriptions are appropriate for a first pass at narrowing down your options. Look more closely at those that seem well suited to determine what the important criteria might be for “fit” and decide whether those are things you already do or could reasonably do. Look through a few issues to get a sense of the type of work they publish and the style of writing. Does your research approach feel out of place among the work published over the past several issues? Has any of the work you cite been published in this journal?
Give serious consideration to the probability that other scholars will find your article, read it, and take it seriously. Although most scholars will do a comprehensive database search for relevant material at some point in a project, this is not the only way that scholars find new articles to read. Many will have favourite journals that they routinely look at for new work in their field, which means the reputation and circulation of particular journals can make a difference to reaching your intended audience. Furthermore, some scholars will use journal reputation as a filter for their to-read list as a way to manage both the volume of new publications in their field and the limited time they have available to read.
Once you have a list of journals that will reach your desired readership, consider the specifics of the validation processes that are important to you at this stage of your career. If you know that those evaluating your body of work will use journal impact factors, then find out what those are (no matter how flawed) and include them in your decision-making process. It is also worth considering the relative value of making a significant contribution to a relatively small area (a sub-discipline, or a very specific debate within your field) compared to making a minor contribution to a debate of wider relevance within your discipline. The value of contributing to interdisciplinary debates or debates in a different discipline based on your research should also be carefully considered. Most validation processes will consider your publications collectively in determining the significance of your work, so this may be a matter of your overall publication strategy and how the choice of journal for this particular article fits into it.
Be aware that there is now a recognized problem of journals that take advantage of those who focus on validation issues by charging high fees to publish in journals of questionable quality. The exact definition of a predatory journal is somewhat contested. Publishing with such a journal will achieve neither your communication nor your validation goals. Furthermore, such a publication may actively damage your reputation. Be cautious about unsolicited communications from journals inviting submissions. Remember, unsolicited submissions are the norm. Most journals do not actively solicit contributions outside of special issues. Seek advice from specialist librarians and senior scholars in your field prior to submission.
Consider your own values around copyright and accessibility, as well as any requirements of the research funder. What are the copyright arrangements? Are any of your options open access? Do they have options for making individual papers open access? How do they handle the requirements around institutional repositories?
You may also want to consider how well the journal is managed, especially if you are under pressure to publish within a specific timeframe. Some journals publish information about the average time from first submission to acceptance. Your colleagues may have experience with particular journals as authors, reviewers, or members of the editorial board, and may be willing to give you guidance about how well that process is managed. A group in the Netherlands, scirev.org, manages a database of such information, which you can consult and contribute to. Colleagues may also share their experiences with particular journals.
If you are at an early stage in your scholarly publishing career, aiming to reach an audience you have not published for before, or targeting a journal that feels like a stretch in relation to your previous publishing, it is a good idea to speak with a trusted mentor who is part of the audience you want to reach. They will be able to give you advice about the suitability of the journal and any specific things you need to address. If validation issues are important to you, also check with a mentor who is familiar with the specific processes you are concerned with to ensure you are not misinterpreting how an acceptance by this journal will be viewed.
Your objective is a ranked list of two or three journals. Having a specific journal in reserve in case of rejection makes it easier to deal with the fear of rejection. Prepare your article for the first journal on your ranked list. Final revisions to your article should ensure that your style suits the journal to which you are submitting and engages with relevant work published by that journal. It is very rare for manuscripts to be accepted without revisions. Peer review acts as a form of formal feedback ensuring the high quality of the articles published. You are aiming for a revise and resubmit decision, with useful feedback from the expert reviewers. You need to judge whether your draft is finished enough for submission: is it worthy of the reviewers’ time and goodwill, even if there will be further revisions based on their feedback? Early in your career, and whenever you are publishing for an audience you are less familiar with, it is a good idea to ask for feedback from a more experienced colleague before submission. Accept that outright rejection (even desk rejection by an editor without sending it for review) is a learning experience and will hone your judgements in future.
This excerpt was sent to subscribers of my newsletter in early October. If you’d like to be notified when Scholarly Publishing is available, you can sign up for the newsletter, selecting “books”. I send out one email a month. All Short Guides are available as ebooks from your favourite place to buy ebooks. You can order paperbacks from your favourite bookseller or directly from me.