Targeting Journals

March 31, 2010

Finding a good home for research papers is hard, and I don’t mean getting the paper past gatekeeping referees. Just deciding the right journal is critical. Making a mistake on this results in poor fit, rejection of the paper, and consequent delays in getting to final publication.

There are four simple criteria that one may use to determine the best journal to which a paper may be sent. These are:

  1. Fit: The paper must be appropriate for the journal. Appropriateness has two aspects to it, that the subject matter must be that of the journal, and the paper must be accessible to the readership of the journal. There is no use sending an empirical paper to a theory journal, nor is there any point in sending a highly abstract, theoretical paper to a practitioner journal.
  2. TimelinessJ: The subject matter of a paper may be time-sensitive, i.e., the topic is a hot one and a quick publication offers a chance to be first and make an impact simply because early work may end up being seminal, and have a long citation list. Sometimes the paper needs a quick turnaround, because the author’s promotion may depend on it. Lead times in my field have become longer and longer. Hence, a journal with a fast turnaround is preferable to one that is known to be slow.
  3. Impact: This is a key criteria. The objective function is to send the paper to the highest impact journal subject to having a reasonable probability of acceptance. It makes very little sense to send a paper to a high-impact journal if the probability of acceptance is zero.
  4. Feedback: This may be also thought of as the potential for improvement. When the acceptance rate of a journal is low, we may still send it there if the refereeing is of high quality. Then even if the paper is rejected, the comments are likely to be of immense value for the next version. But sending a paper to a journal simply for the quality of refereeing is not useful, such an approach comes at the cost of inordinate delay, and papers that become “stale” are much less likely to maintain the author’s enthusiasm for getting them published. Papers that get good reviewing end up being much better in the end, and will be more cited.

Overall, each of the four criteria: fit, impact, timeliness, and quality feedback must all be present to make one journal a better outlet than others. My personal view is that these are ordered in sequence, from most important to least. Fit is the most important criterion, then impact, etc. But the relative importance of each is determined by the preferences of each individual author.