|RESEARCH SERIES ARTICLE
|Ahead of print publication
How to select a journal for publication?
Department of Surgical Oncology, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India; Editor, Indian Journal of Surgery
|Date of Submission||02-Mar-2022|
|Date of Decision||01-May-2022|
|Date of Acceptance||01-May-2022|
|Date of Web Publication||14-Jun-2022|
Department of Surgical Oncology, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi - 221 005, Uttar Pradesh
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Medicine is an ever-changing science, and the pace of this change has been rapid in recent years. A researcher in an academic institution is now obliged to publish their research work for career advancement with recognition, access to grants, fellowships, etc., as secondary objectives. Besides, it is paramount for anyone engaging in active clinical practice to remain up to date with recent advances in the field. Hence, it is the author's responsibility to publish authentic data with integrity as it helps modulate opinions on a wide platform globally in today's digital age. While the pressure to publish is immense, it is vital to have a system of checks and balances before publishing and adhere to good research practices because a wrong step may bring lasting discredit to the authors. This article attempts to provide an overview for novice researchers regarding how to select an appropriate journal for publication, evaluate it in view of its reach and relevance, and how to avoid predatory journals. The article also briefly outlines the various databases available, peer-review process, important journal metrics such as impact factor and indexing, and the concept of open access in a simple language to enable young authors to select the best journal for publishing their work.
Keywords: Databases, Embase, impact factor, national library of medicine, open access, predatory journals, Scopus
| Publish or Perish|| |
“Publish or Perish” is a popular axiom emphasizing the constant need to publish, thereby exerting undue pressure on academics to publish their work so as to rise higher in their academic stepladder, get noticed in their field, thereby availing several scholarships/grants/recognitions, and stay in the competition. This pressure may be more pronounced at research universities, especially for postgraduates and younger faculty looking to upgrade their career. This emphasis on “Publish or Perish” often results in low-quality, poorly assembled work submitted routinely to reputed scientific journals that reject them during the initial editorial review stage (also called desk reject). Although some pressure may be necessary, and even desirable, to bring forth the best in anyone, it often results in younger researchers falling for or getting trapped by unscrupulous journals.
There are a plethora of journals available today at the click of a button, thanks to the Internet boom providing access to information for everyone within their comfort zone. The good old days of searching a library manually to look for articles/journals of one's choice are now history. By an estimate, there are over 80,000 active academic, peer-reviewed journals, of which nearly 30,000 belong to the field of medicine and health., According to the Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers report of 2018, the yearly growth rate of articles in journals has been around 4%–5% and, in the past 5–6 years, has increased to 5%–6.5%. However, there has been a decline in the yearly growth rate of journals since 2015, averaging about 2%–3% only. The number of submissions too has constantly been on the rise, with China dominating the field on a global platform. The pandemic year 2020 was remarkable in that the overall submissions shot up by 25%, as per the RightsLink data reported by the Copyright Clearance Center. Publishers got overwhelmed with the sheer volume of submissions that was approximately five times more vis-a-vis the previous year, prompting more desk rejections.
Consequently, one can appreciate that there is a lot more scope for today's editors to reject a manuscript at the slightest pretext simply because there are many more articles to screen and select from. The acceptance rates for manuscripts range from about 5% in top-rated journals to >80% in predatory journals, with an overall average of about 35%–40%. What this essentially implies, from the author's perspective, is that publishing one's work is becoming increasingly competitive and challenging. Hence, it is of utmost importance to realize first that the work one is looking forward to publish is based on sound, honest, ethical, and scientific principles with all the necessary clearances from the Institute's ethical committee, informed consent, clinical trial registration number, etc., as the case may be. The manuscript has to be written in clear, grammatically correct, and concise English with spellchecks to enable the editorial team and reviewers to comprehend the message conveyed in the manuscript.
While there may be various reasons for submitting a research work for publication, journal editors tend to look purely at the academic impact, novelty, and its citability before sending it for peer review [Figure 1]. Assuming that the manuscript draft is ready, the next step is to select the journal most appropriate for publishing the research work.,
Selecting a journal that is in sync with one's area of research is vital as it increases the chances of the manuscript being accepted. While screening the innumerable journals available for possible submission of the manuscript, the author needs to follow a certain mental checklist, which by no means is absolute but certainly helpful in avoiding common mistakes.
Beware of predatory journals
In the haste to get published, young researchers often fall prey to deceptive journals that appear too lucrative, accommodative, and friendly. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) states thus: “A growing number of entities are advertising themselves as “scholarly medical journals” yet do not function as such. These journals (”predatory” or “pseudo-journals”) accept and publish almost all submissions and charge article-processing (or publication) fees, often-informing authors about this after a paper's acceptance for publication. They often claim to perform peer review but do not and may purposefully use names similar to well-established journals.” Often, there are unsolicited emails from unknown journals requesting to submit articles to their journal or join their editorial board. Some even quote the author's previously published articles and profess familiarity. There may be emails or even phone calls inviting to submit an abstract or be a guest speaker or a presenter at some international conference. These are some of the commonly used tactics by these journals to attract novice authors. Such journals have no clear policy of expert peer-review, editing, archiving, indexing, and no retraction policy. Further, they may allow manuscript submission through email and promise instant publication. Thus, authors have a duty to thoroughly analyze and understand the quality of the journal to which they intend to submit their research.
How to begin the search?
Screen topics that the journal publishes
A prospective author would already have an idea about which journals to target for the manuscript once it is prepared. This is because the cited references would reflect the journals that published similar research. It is a common mistake to submit a manuscript on basic research to a clinical journal; it will most likely get rejected. It is critical to understand the nature of the journal (clinical, applied, or basic science). This can be easily discerned by reading the “Aims and Scope” and “Submission Guidelines”/”Instructions for Authors” sections available on every standard journal's website. Some journals clearly state what articles they do not accept, for example, single case reports are not accepted by some journals.
Some journals such as Springer Nature, Elsevier, and Wiley also provide help under author services in finding the journal of interest through their online tools such as “Journal Finder/Suggester.” The author is required to submit the manuscript title, abstract, keywords, subject area, and then hit search. There are options available to further refine the search by entering the impact factor (IF) and other journal metrics, as desired.
Check the journal's target audience and reach
If one's research topic is of interest for researchers in a range of fields, a broad-based journal that covers wide-ranging topics may be suitable. On the other hand, if the topic is more focused and a particular set of readers are likely to read and understand the study, then a niche journal should be selected. For example, there are journals covering all general surgery topics (Indian Journal of Surgery) and surgical oncology topics (Annals of Surgical Oncology and Journal of Surgical Oncology) and those focused on a particular subfield only such as pancreas (pancreas) and liver (Journal of Hepatology). Further, the number of downloads at the country/regional level over the past 5 years is often available on the journal's website.
One should also be aware of journals in allied fields. For instance, research work in fungal infections of the skin may not be very novel for a dermatology journal but may be interesting for infectious diseases/neglected tropical diseases journal or even mycology/microbiology journals. Some of them have very good IFs, maybe even better than the author's core specialty. Depending on the strength of the article and its relevance, one may opt for publishing it in a national or a regional journal depending on its impact and reach.
There are also journals that publish in languages other than English such as Korean, French, Chinese, Italian, and Russian with or without an English version; the latter are called Bilingual journals. Many such journals, especially from areas that conduct higher education in vernacular language, publish articles in the native language. However, most authors prefer journals published in English, as they are likely to better reach and visibility. Bilingual journals have several handicaps such as the need for translators, concerns regarding data accuracy during translation, and obvious associated costs. Journals sometimes circumvent this by publishing only the article abstracts in English or follow a sequential pattern, wherein the vernacular text gets published before the English version of the same.
Evaluate the journal
A lot of background work is done while preparing a manuscript. The author thus has some basic understanding of the likely journals of interest, as he/she must have cited those relevant references in their manuscript. The key is to start screening journals from the list already available in consultation with one's mentors, seniors, and/or colleagues. Below, we briefly expound on certain criteria that will help a researcher to be more informed about the journal that he/she is selecting for publishing their valuable research work.
Scientific strength of the journal
Screen through the publications published by the journal over the past few years to assess its scientific quality and content. A good journal will publish high-quality research including original articles, randomized control trials (RCTs), systematic reviews, and meta-analyses coming from authors from across the world. Tables and figures in a standard journal would be clear and precise with unrepetitive data and proper legends. References would be listed as per the journal's style; they would also be complete, relevant, reproducible, and current.
All journals mandatorily will include plagiarism checks using software such as iThenticate (formerly called CrossCheck) and may mandate that authors submit the appropriate reporting checklist for their research such as Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials for RCTs, Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology for observational studies, etc., to name a few. Transparency in journal practices and policies including data sharing is integral to strengthen trust in the published research. Any standard journal would require authors to declare their conflicts of interest, make financial (related to research funding)/nonfinancial disclosures, submit ethical clearances (human and/or animal as relevant), register trials on clinical trial registries, obtain informed consent, and adhere to standard guidelines for research integrity such as the ICMJE, Committee on Publication Ethics, and the World Association of Medical Editors.
Editorial quality speaks volumes about any journal's quality. A published article with gross spelling mistakes, grammatical/punctuation errors, and disorganized write-up highlights editorial oversight, lack of reviewer allegiance, and does not reflect well on the journal. In addition, one should look out for editorials that the editors and guest editors publish from time to time.
Peer-review process, author rights, and copyright
A transparent, double-blind, peer-review process is a hallmark of a standard journal. Usually, this policy is clearly stated on the journal's website and manuscript submission portal. Some journals also state the approximate time (average number of weeks) from submission to final decision on a manuscript and the time taken to reach other key decision points in the production process.
Journals always have a clear policy as to the author's rights and copyright issues that fundamentally cover the author's rights to patent, use/reuse, publish, share, or modify their work in any way. These details are usually available on the journal's website. These may differ between an open access (OA) versus a subscription-based journal, and it is advisable to get oneself acquainted with the same before submitting the manuscript to any journal.
The editor-in-chief and editorial board members provide valuable information as to the gravity and reach of a journal. Quality journals will have renowned experts in their editorial board from worldwide who have several publications to their credit and are an authority in their own area. Contact details, affiliations, and academic qualifications of editorial team members are often displayed. Any attempt by the journal to conceal information about its editorial board should raise suspicion. Some journals are official publications of reputed societies; for instance, The Indian Journal of Surgery is the official publication of the Association of Surgeons of India, and the Annals of Surgical Oncology is the official publication of the Society of Surgical Oncology, United States of America.
The next thing to check should be the publisher of the journal. Some of the well-known publishers of international repute and good lineage include Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, Wolters Kluwer/Medknow, etc.
Indexing status of the journal
A journal indexed with major bibliographic and citation databases has an edge over those not indexed for two main reasons. First, indexing implies that the said journal has passed the rigorous scientific and editorial selection criteria set forth by the indexing agency that are challenging to meet and sustain. Hence, it has credibility and is akin to a badge of honor, although this is not always the case. Second, it enables wider reach and visibility for articles published in that journal. Every researcher wishes that his/her academic output is easily discoverable and read by others. MEDLINE, Scopus, Embase, Web of Science (WoS), and Cumulative Index for Allied and Health Literature are some examples of indexing agencies. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) manages MEDLINE which is one of the largest medical databases that is completely free to the user. There are several differences between MEDLINE, Embase, WoS, Scopus, and many other databases. Discussing each database is out of the scope of the present article; those interested may access the following link for more information: https://med. mercer.edu/library/database-differences.htm.
Elsevier maintains Scopus and Embase. Directory of Research Journal Indexing, Directory of Open Access Journals, Google Scholar, and WebMD central support OA journals. PubMed Central and Biomed Central (BMC) also provide free access to full-text articles. EBSCO, ProQuest, Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, and Genamics JournalSeek are large databases that libraries or institutions can own through subscription to enable its users to access full texts of articles. The Cochrane Library, published by Wiley, is a collection of different databases of high quality in medicine and health care. It also includes frequently accessed Cochrane Reviews, a database of systematic reviews, and meta-analyses. IndMed is a bibliographic database of various peer-reviewed biomedical journals from India and is managed by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
With many new journals surfacing each year, checking the veracity of these journals becomes paramount before submitting any research work. Authors can directly verify the indexing status of a journal using the database search option and must not rely only on the said journal's website in case of any doubt.
[Figure 2] and [Figure 3] are snapshots taken while searching a journal in the NLM catalog to confirm its MEDLINE indexation status. The catalog can be accessed at the following URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nlmcatalog/journals. One only needs to type the name of the journal in the search box; for example, in [Figure 3], we have used “Annals of Surgical Oncology.” This will display a full summary of the journal including its indexation status.
|Figure 2: Searching any journal on NLM. NLM: National Library of Medicine|
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|Figure 3: Finding details of any journal on NLM. NLM: National Library of Medicine|
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Impact factor of the journal
Eugene Garfield introduced the concept of IF in the 1960s, and he is also credited for founding the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). This IF essentially serves as a marker of citations that an average article published in the journal has attracted over a period of time. It may not, however, be a good proxy for the quality of the journal. Hence, there may be journals that are indexed with certain databases but do not have an IF and vice versa. IF calculations formally started for journals tracked by the ISI database in Journal Citation Reports Journal (JCR), which is now known as the WoS, managed by Clarivate Analytics. New citation IF have been introduced of late and include the Eigenfactor (2008); this metric gives weightage not just to citations but also to the journals contributing to these citations. Another related score is the CiteScore (2016) that is calculated for journals indexed in the Scopus database.
Libraries often use IF score as a tool for journal listing and acquisitions. It is also important from the author's point of view, as getting published in an “indexed” journal with “high IF” is considered prestigious. It boosts the author's resume and adds value to the author's institution.
JCR IF is calculated as follows: the 2-year IF of a journal is based on the total number of citations received by the journal in that year and total publications (citable items) in that journal in the preceding 2 years.
There is also a JCR 5-year IF, which is similarly calculated as the ratio between the number of citations received by a journal in a given year and the number of publications in that journal in the preceding 5 years. Journal IF's are summarized in the JCR that are updated every year; IF's mentioned by any journal from unreliable sources should alert the author.
Journal archiving, digital object identifier, international standard serial number
Authors should examine journal archival practices for articles. Most use platforms such as PORTICO (https://www.portico.org/) or JSTOR (https://www.jstor.org/). In addition, other items to be checked should include whether the article published by the journal carries a digital object identifier and if the journal has an International Standard Serial Number. One must also look into the journal's publication schedule, the number of issues published per year, special issues (if any), whether the journal is purely online or print or both, author assistance services offered (English language editing, guidance templates, etc.), and the overall record.
Open access/hybrid/subscription journal
OA journals charge an article-processing charge from the author generally after the acceptance of the manuscript for publication. However, few OA journals, such as Sociological Science, charge at the time of submission to cover its editorial and peer-review process (submission fees) and then again charge a postacceptance fee in case the article gets accepted. There may be additional charges for color photographs/images., This, at times, can be overwhelming for researchers from low-and middle-income countries with limited access to research funding. OA has several advantages in being author-friendly, allowing quick publication, wider visibility, and access to full-text articles with liberal author archival policies. Since OA articles are downloadable and free of cost, they are likely to be read and cited more often than articles in subscription-based journals where the article is behind a paywall. Therefore, OA journals are advantageous to authors. Moreover, in general, the author retains the copyright of the article. OA journals have, at times, been under the scanner for accommodating below-par articles to remain financially solvent. Nevertheless, several publishers started as OA-only publishers and have earned a good reputation for themselves over the years. Some of these include the Public Library of Science, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, and BMC. A hybrid OA journal, on the other hand, is a subscription journal in which some of the articles are OA. Those who wish to avail OA in such a hybrid journal are free to do so following all principles of OA, while full access of other articles in the same journal would require subscription. This is a wide topic altogether, but a summary of the key points is presented in [Figure 4].
Finally, it is also worthwhile to check if similar work has been recently published in the journal one has selected, as it may increase the chances of rejection.
| Conclusion|| |
As a young researcher, it is obligatory to have at least some knowledge of the various databases available from where the author may search and access relevant articles, significance of journal metrics, and the impact publications have on author's metrics. Even more important is the technical know-how of preparing a manuscript. It pays to be realistic about the standard of the article vis-a-vis the standard of the journal shortlisted by the author for publication, for very high-impact journals have a rejection rate of over 90%–95%, and most get rejected at the initial editorial review itself. Nevertheless, rejections should never demoralize the author whose endeavor must be to improve the manuscript. Happy publishing!
Some of the texts are taken/quoted from websites and articles, and the access links have been duly cited in the references as well as in the text.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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[Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]