Successfully publishing an academic article requires understanding the landscape of scholarly journals. When you’re writing an academic article, this may not be your priority as you rightfully focus on the substance of your argument, clarity in writing, and effective use of evidence. Yet, even the best of articles can be rejected if submitted to a journal that’s not the right fit. In this blog post, I’m going to teach you how to select a journal for your academic article. Knowing how to do this will increase your chances of successful publication and alleviate stress along the way.
Generalist journals aren’t always general.
Early career researchers face a lot of pressure to submit to the “right” journal. If they’re taught how to select a journal, the advice they receive might focus on impact factor or some other measure of prestige. An early career scholar might also be worried about the turnaround time for a journal, especially if they’re headed to the job market, tenure review, or pre-tenure review. While these factors may be important, neither of them improves your chances of publication.
I have succumbed to these pressures. When I was in graduate school, I decided to submit an article to one of the regional sociology journals. It had a reasonable turnaround time and I was anxious to have a line on my CV before going on the job market. Unfortunately, my rejection was rather swift. Although the reviews were mixed, the editor decided not to go forward with it. I remember one reviewer stating the article wasn’t “sociological enough,” and at the time, I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Nobody had ever taught me how to select a journal for an academic article, so I was rather naive about some of the disciplinary debates between and within journals. Now, after working with hundreds of scholars on journal articles and listening to their accounts of their acceptances and rejections, I have some ideas.
When a reviewer comments that your work isn’t disciplinary enough, it can mean one of several things — two of which I’ll discuss here. First, that they don’t believe your topic or approach is legitimate by the standards of the discipline. Second, you may have not framed your argument to appeal to questions, approaches, or traditions in your discipline. For the purposes of teaching you how to select a journal for your academic article, I’m going to focus on the first. A reviewer who questions the legitimacy of your work may just be a jerk (or a racist, or a misogynist because there’s no surprise about whose work is challenged in such a way). Or, it can be the case that the journal you’ve selected doesn’t really publish on your topic, in which case this journal wouldn’t be the right fit — even if it’s a generalist journal.
Consider the journal’s perspective.
For instance, in Art of the Article, (a course I co-teach with Kel Weinhold where we teach you a step-by-step process for writing journal articles), we feature an interview with an editor of a qualitative methods journal. In our discussion, they explain their goals to cultivate a very clear perspective for the journal by focusing on certain subfields and theoretical approaches in their discipline. Now, one might think that anyone working in the designated methodology of the journal would have a good chance of publishing there, but no! Even though the name of the journal might indicate that it’s relevant to a broad swath of researchers, it’s actually a smaller group of scholars who could successfully submit.
This is why it’s essential to read the journal before you submit to it. Get a sense of the topics and approaches typically published. Think about how your article would fit into the conversation in the journal. Don’t just assume that your work will land well because it’s a generalist journal or it’s based on a topic similar to what you work on.
Given these factors, it’s especially important for interdisciplinary scholars to learn how to select a journal for their academic articles. If you’re submitting to a journal that’s not firmly inside your discipline, you’ll have to take special care to craft your article in such a manner that it’s legible to your reviewers. When I say legible, I mean that reviewers understand it and believe they have something to gain from reading it. Imagine, for instance, you’re an economist who works on gender disparities. You have a manuscript you’d like to submit to a gender studies journal. However, one of your prospective journals rarely publishes quantitative work. What could be some potential outcomes?
First, the journal may not have a pool of reviewers who can competently review your work. Second, it may be an indication that they aren’t interested in publishing quantitative work. Third, it would definitely mean that you’d have to intentionally write your article in such a way that it’s legible to non-economists. That might mean providing context for points or assumptions that might be taken for granted in your field. Rather than briefly citing an established body of literature in your field, for instance, you may have to discuss it across a few paragraphs. You should also plan to explain your models in greater detail than you might otherwise. When you’re working with a stringent word count (as practically all article writers are!), it’s important to take these factors into consideration before you start writing, so you can plan effectively.
In learning how to select a journal for your academic article, remember that fit is a two-way street. While you may be tempted to write the article first (based on prestige or convenience) then find the right journal, it might be in your interest to select a journal first then craft your article accordingly. Or, identify 2-3 prospective journals so you have some options as your argument evolves during the writing process. You might realize that your initial journal isn’t a good fit anymore (which is OK). In the case of a rejection, you’ll have a Plan B ready to go.
Learning how to select a journal is only the first step in preparing your article for submission. You must also write the article! If you’d like to learn more about crafting an article, please check out the Art of the Article. It’s a DIY article-writing course delivered over ten weeks, where you learn everything you need to know about article writing. To learn more about the program click here.