Choosing the right peer-reviewed journal for your manuscript is critical. The number one reason of rejection is the mismatch of manuscript and journal aim and scope.
Once you and your co-authors have decided on the focus of a manuscript and the research question you want to answer, you need to search for journals as your potential target journals.
While some people select their target journals after their papers are done, I prefer choosing my target journal early because knowing which journal I will submit my manuscript to gives me a better idea on how to write and format the paper accordingly.
Here are two key steps that you need to go through to find a target journal:
1. Journal Search
There are numerous peer-reviewed journals, so first you need to identify a list of journals relevant to your research area and might be interested in the article you are developing. You can search for journal articles using keywords in your study in online databases. It is desirable to look at articles published within the past five years. Here are some frequently used journal databases (not exclusive):
- Google Scholar
- Genamics JournalSeek
- Directory of Open Access Journals
- Taylor & Francis
If you only find a few articles using a particular keyword, it may be because the keyword is too specific. Modify the keyword or use alternative keywords to find more articles. On the other hand, if there are too many results showing up, you need to further specify the search by putting a more specific search term or adding a stricter criterion such as articles published within the past three years.
The purpose of the search is to get ideas on where articles on a relevant topic were published. This step can also help you search for appropriate references for your article.
If you’ve already written some literature review on the topic of your manuscript, you may also look at the most relevant articles in your citation list to check where they were published.
If you are already very familiar with the journals in your topic area, it is OK to skip the first step. Even so, I still suggest you do a quick search to see whether there are unexpected opportunities. For example, some journals are multi-disciplinary. Even though they do not fall into a traditional subject category, they may have a broader readership.
2. Journal Selection
After the first step, you should have a list of relevant journals. You need to further shorten the list by looking at journal details. That information is usually available on the journal’s webpage, particularly their instruction to authors. There are several important factors to consider:
Types of articles published
You learn about what types of articles they publish in terms of content, methodology, and style. Have a quick review of journal aim and scope to decide whether your article is a good fit for the theme of the journal.
Who is the target audience of the journal? Take public health as an example. If you think researchers in many areas of public health will be interested in your study, a journal that covers a broad range of topics may be best—such as American Journal of Public Health or Public Health Report. On the other hand, if only researchers in your field are likely to want to read your study, a field-specific journal would be better.
Journal Impact Factor is arguably the standard method to evaluate the quality and reputation of a journal. A higher impact factor usually means that articles in the journal are more likely to be noted and cited. It may also indicate higher competition and lower acceptance rate.
Some journals are not indexed in major databases, which means it may be hard to find articles in those journals. You would like your article to be published in a journal listed in a widely used database to increase its chance of being noticed.
Some open-access journals require publication fees. If you do not have any funds to cover the cost and you are not willing to pay it yourself, don’t select those journals.
Other factors (acceptance rates, number of issues published in a year, etc.)
There are other factors that you may want to take into account, such as acceptance rates, the number of issues published each year, and call for special issues on specific topics.
At the end of the journal selection, you should have one target journal and a few backups. The protocol is to submit your article to one journal at a time, but you need to have at least two or three other journals as the backup in case your first choice does not work out.
Check out how I selected the target journal for one of my manuscripts.