How much time do you have?
Depending on where you are in your career, there may be an intense sense of urgency motivating you to publish. If you are a graduate student, for instance, you might want an article in print before you go on the job market. The same can be said if you are going up for tenure – your tenure committee may require that you have published a set number or articles. No matter what your timeline, you should know the average turnaround time for a journal you are selecting. That turnaround time includes: the time it takes to hear back from the editor, the amount of time the peer review process takes, the amount of time the editor is willing to give you for revisions, and the amount of time from acceptance of your article to print (what publishers call the production process).
There are several ways you can get a sense of how long the process will take. First, you can ask colleagues who have published in the journal you are considering. Second, you can see if the journal releases any information about the process. The American Sociological Association, for instance, releases the editorial activity of its journals in its Annual Report. Included is information how long it takes (on average) for both the editorial and production processes.
What is your topic?
Your topic will play a role in determining what journal you publish in. There are specialized journals that might be a good fit for your article, and you should investigate those journals. One way to see if your topic is a good fit for a particular journal is by looking at your own literature review. If you cite multiple articles from a particular journal, then it might be the case that you should seriously consider that journal.
Who is your audience?
Related to your topic is your audience. Do you want your article to be read by a more generalist audience? Or, would you rather write for readers whose interests are more closely aligned with yours? If your answer to the first question is “yes,” then don’t pick a specialized journal, because you will not have the readers you desire.
Do you like the journal?
Think about the articles that you read and where those articles are published. Are there certain journals you turn to? Where do people in your field that you respect publish? A word of caution: don’t try to publish somewhere because you think the process will be easy or conversely, because the journal is the most prestigious. This is an issue that tends to plague graduate students especially, and is generally a result about feeling pressured to publish. In either case you will waste your time and be unhappy with the outcome.
What types of articles does the journal regularly publish?
Suppose you have selected a journal, and you believe it’s a great fit for your article. Before you commit to submitting, take a look at what has been published there under the current editorial board. You may notice trends that indicate the journal is or isn’t for you. For instance, does the journal publish articles that use the research methodology you use? Have any articles been recently published that are very similar to yours? Keep in mind that journals change with editors. So if you see that a lot of research on a particular topic was published by the journal in 2013, for instance, and there is now a new editor, you should keep in mind that the priorities of the editor – and in turn the journal – may have changed.
What is the journal’s reputation and impact factor?
Think seriously and strategically. Are you a junior faculty member in a department that places a strong emphasis on a journal’s reputation and impact factor? Will a publication in a top tier journal have more weight than, say, two publications in mid-range journals? Can you afford to publish in a relatively new journal that does not yet even have an impact factor? You may answer this question differently based on the stage you are at in your career.
For all the questions above, you should seek out answers from friends, colleagues and mentors. Think about approaching people who have strong publication records or who have published in journals that you are interested in. Also, consider talking to people you know who have worked with journals. You might have a colleague who has served on an editorial board, or know a graduate student working as a managing editor. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for information. The more information you have, the more easily you’ll be able to trust yourself to make an informed decision.