There is no official count of academic journals. Current estimates are at least 30,000. Wading into this sea of options may tempt you to give up and flip a coin. But a structured search process can prevent such desperate measures.
Above all, seek respected journals in your topical area. Journals that deserve their status publish important scholarship and provide insightful feedback to improve submitted papers. Their endorsement and careful reviews elevate both you and your writing. Find these journals by noting the sources of articles you cite and asking peers and advisors for recommendations. Impact factors are imperfect but indicate whether a journal publishes highly cited papers. But be careful about over-reach—a marginal manuscript may be rejected by a prestigious journal, causing extra work and delay.
Compare journals’ scopes with your intended readership. Journals vary in focusing on theoretical versus applied topics. Some journals focus on a single discipline or problem, while others are broad. Which model aligns with your intended readers? Check how often each candidate journal is publishing papers with similar topics or methods as your work.
Assess your medium-term portfolio of work in addition to your current manuscript. Aim to spread your next few papers among several journals to broaden your audience. If your work will cross disciplines or blend academic and practical contributions, think about how you can allocate your collective set of papers to reach each target audience. Publishing in multiple places also shows future employers that a wide audience values your scholarship.
Scrutinize the publishers of the surviving journal candidates. Most fields have excellent journals published by professional societies. These societies have knowledge dissemination as a core value, and their journals are often cheaper and easier to access. Other journals are published by for-profit companies—Elsevier being the most notorious. They charge ever-escalating subscription fees, and it is hard for readers outside of well-resourced universities to access their papers. Your paper is fuel for this publishing machinery, so submit to places that prioritize research dissemination. You can often do this with little or no sacrifice in journal prestige.
Finally, consider practicalities. Do the journals have length limits? Do they have permissive policies on posting preprints and accepted manuscripts? Do they have special formatting requirements? Eliminate candidates incompatible with your needs. For example, I write papers in Latex, so I avoid the few remaining journals that require Word-formatted submissions.
If you narrow your search to a few compelling options and can’t make a final cut, pick one and move on. The magic ingredient for impactful work is an interesting paper, not a hair-splitting choice between comparable journals.
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