Go back

Scientific writing: Choosing a journal

This is an excerpt from a freshly updated science writing manual for agricultural researchers produced by the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation. The full report can be downloaded for free on CTA’s website.

So much research is published today that there is a whole science based on impact assessment and citation analysis. Information analysts keep careful note of which papers are being cited and who is writing them. Careers depend on it, as do the success and prestige of journals, and the reputations of university departments and research institutions. So you need to target your writing and publishing to maximise the chances of someone reading it and making use of your findings.

Before you start planning your article, you need to decide in which journal you want to publish. The choice of journal will influence the format and style of your article, and how you prepare it. For example, many of the biggest journals these days accept only online submissions.

Most journals today receive many more papers than they can possibly publish. The best journals have a very high standard for papers they accept, and a very high rejection rate. Ask yourself if your paper is really good enough to send to the very best journal. It may be better that you select a less important journal, to stand a better chance of acceptance.

There are a number of factors to consider. Study published copies of different journals and look at their websites. Many journals have a lot of information available to help you understand their requirements and to prepare a paper for submission.

What is the scientific level of the journal?

Look at past issues of the journal and ask yourself the question: is my work as good as, or better than, the material the journal is publishing? Who is the editor? Who is on the editorial board? Which authors publish in the journal? Does the journal have an international audience? Does the journal want complete research projects, or will it accept accounts of work in progress and preliminary papers?

What are the aims and scope of the journal?

These are often printed on the inside cover of the journal and published on the journal’s website. Read their “Aims and scope” statements to find out exactly which area of your discipline the journal is interested in. It is no use sending a research paper to a journal that only publishes reviews, and it is no use sending a theoretical paper to a journal that publishes only practical research.

How often is the journal published?

Scientific publishing is usually a slow process, and a journal that is published twice a year will have a much longer potential publication time than one that appears once every 2 weeks. You have to ask yourself “Will a 15-month publication time affect the relevance of my article?”. If the paper should be published quickly, then you can send it to a fast-publication journal, but if rapid publication is not essential, then the editors of such a journal will probably reject your paper immediately, just because of that, not because of its scientific quality.

What types of article does the journal publish?

Will yours fit this pattern? Many journals have a specific format for the articles they publish. If your article does not fit this pattern, the paper may be rejected. If your paper is going to be 20 printed pages long and the journal only publishes papers up to five pages, this will mean that yours will be rejected – not because of the scientific content, but just because of the format of the paper.

Are there any conditions to submitting to the journal?

For some journals, one of the authors must be a member of the society that publishes the journal. Sometimes there are certain types of statistical analysis that must be used, and the experiments must have been repeated a certain number of times. Many journals have page charges, where you have to pay the journal to publish your paper. The charges are based on the number of pages in the final published paper. These charges can be extremely high. Page charges are widely used throughout the scientific publishing community, and are widely accepted. For example, most US government agencies recognise the payment of page charges as a legitimate part of the cost of performing research and development work under government contracts. You should look for these conditions carefully in the journal, and consider whether you have enough money in your budget. However, some journals will not charge authors from certain countries.

CTA’s report

Two more excerpts from CTA’s report—on English language tips and on communicating research to the public—will be published in the next couple of issues of Research Africa.