Choosing the Right Journal

relevance

There are a lot of reasons to be picky when approaching a journal with your work.

  • Your article is probably an entry into an existing scholarly conversation, which is probably taking place among a few journals only. Your contribution will be most valuable if you stay in that group.
  • Related to that, editorial review boards assess not only the quality of your article, but also its relevance for their particular journal. So, you have a better chance of getting published if they see it as a good match.
  • Another reason to be picky has to do with time. Sending a piece to a marginally relevant journal can be a gamble of time, months in fact. It is very customary to submit your article to one journal at a time. If you (unfortunately) receive a rejection from a journal, only then should you send the article to another one. Since the review-to-acceptance process is often protracted, it would be a shame to waste several months waiting on a journal that is not an obvious fit for your topic.
The best way to find the best match is the take a look at what you're reading. Think about the articles that you quote in your own writing. What journals published them? Most likely you regularly work with (or even subscribe to) a few periodicals that are fairly important in your area. Another good practice is to browse the bibliographies of articles that your piece is "responding to" and see where its sources were published. As always, ask the experts around you. Your professors and faculty mentors will doubtlessly have valuable suggestions.

established and respected journals

There are many different types of journals, but getting published in the more prestigious ones can be advantageous.

  • Scholarship: The most respected journals have a broader readership, which means that ideas published therein get the best possible circulation. Your important additions to the field reach a bigger audience. In other words, it is easier to really change an academic conversation if you enter it from the "top."
  • Fame: Getting published in an elite journal "puts you on the map" in your discipline. The more you publish in the central journals, the more you will be recognized as a scholar in the field, and one day you'll find yourself on the editorial boards of those journals!
  • Jobs and Grants: You may be interested in applying for academic jobs as a professor or grants for research funding. The committees that review applications tend to look for (and highly regard) publications in the "top-notch" journals. Elite publications are one of the ways to position yourself well in the academic marketplace.

How do I know if it's any good?
There are several ways to determine the standing of a journal. This is not a science and, of course, opinions differ on the value of a given journal in each field. However, there are some pretty reliable ways to assess the respectability of a periodical.

  1. Is it peer reviewed? This is one of the most important questions you need to ask of a journal. Peer review is a process in which every paper submitted for publication gets reviewed by a number of respected scholars in the field. Publications that do not function by peer review are generally not considered rigorous or competitive.
  2. If it is, who's on the board? Another way to learn more about a journal is to read the editorial board and review board member lists. If you've been in your field for a while, chances are that you'll recognize some names, if the journal is a big one. If you're new to your area, just do a little bit of quick research. Google the names of the editors (and/or reviewers) to get a sense of how they have contributed to the field.
  3. Is it associated with a national or international scholarly organization or think tank? For example, the Academy of International Business sponsors the Journal of International Business Studies.
  4. If there is an online edition, is there also a print copy available for subscription? This question is complicated and a bit controversial, warranting its own subtopic: online versus print.
  5. Have you heard of it? In your studies so far (at Capella and other schools), you have doubtlessly read a lot of journal articles, not to mention books that are comprised of articles originally published in journals. Take a look in the bibliography of your textbooks and you'll probably see a few popular periodicals.
The most respected journals will probably become obvious to you after minimal research. Also, as you shop around you'll find a lot of publishing opportunities; some might be second tier but may seem right for you. Don't be afraid to shoot for the top, but you can always wend your way to that status over time.

ignoring status

After all of this talk of prestige, there is a lot to be said for the lesser-known outfits. Fledgling journals, or even long-running renegade journals, can be a great forum for interesting, critical thought. It is often the case that these journals take bigger risks and make room for more innovative thinking. In fact, a lot of scholars actively choose to publish both in esteemed and unknown journals. You may choose an esoteric or new journal because you like the work being published there. However, it is important to be aware that a limited number of journals carry that special cache.

Online vs. Print
One would think that in this day of mega-computing, all things online would be regarded as equal to their off-line counterparts. Unfortunately, in the area of academic publishing, both the publishers and many readers out there are living in the dark ages.

More respect for print
There is a clear bias against online-only publications (journals that do not publish in hardcopy). Some academics believe that publishing anything online is not legitimate and, therefore, reading online publications is beneath them as well. Thankfully, this group of people is small and dwindling. However, the general tenor toward online publishing, across the academy, is one of trepidation.

Why? Tradition.
The Internet has presented a challenge to tradition. Most of us now read texts online that we may have subscribed to in the past. The print industry has not met its demise by any means, but most periodicals are cutting down their print circulation due to increases in online subscriptions. Academic journals are not big money makers, but their main source of profit (even today!) is individual subscriptions. As those slip, or even remain steady, academic publishers get nervous. Academic publishers are run by professors who, naturally, are suspicious of this significant change to the way scholarship has worked for ages.

Why else? Elitism
However, for some academics, the problem lies in an assumption that online journals are, a) not attached to any "official" academic organizations and/or, b) they don't practice the peer review selection process. People tend to rely on what they know: the established journals with the good old reliable editorial board and review process. As you look around, however, you'll see that this is not always true. There are many online-only journals that function traditionally and are worthy of your scholarship. As you search for the right journal, apply the same criteria that you would take to a print journal to any online journal. Because of the bias, it might be wise to apply a little extra scrutiny to the latter.

On the web, anybody can be a journal editor. With the rise of blogs and even simple websites, thousands of individuals have created online journals of their own. Just type "online journal" into Google and you'll get 328,000,000 links (as of 12/12/05). The "anybody can publish" model has changed the academic publishing landscape tremendously. This can be good, as it means more publishing opportunities and a more diverse array of topics. There are reasons to consider these opportunities despite the bias.

It might be worth your while to give daring online journals a shot. You might find more bold and creative academic conversations taking place in the lesser known journals. Just know that your online publication might not "count" the same way that it would in an established journal.

Note: As you know from your research, many established journals are now available online through library-based publishing forums, such as Ebsco-Host. This method of online publishing is generally considered legitimate because the works are accessible through libraries and are viewed as scans of print journals.

Resources:
Academic publishing in the digital realm: an interview with Clifford Lynch
Scholarly electronic publishing bibliography
Cyberspace as an academic publishing medium: observations and proposals