Choose the right journal and other tips to get published

Publishing is an integral element of the research process, yet of the seven to nine million researchers in the world, only 20% are repeat authors, according to Victoria Babbit, director of researcher development and outreach at the United Kingdom-based publishing company Taylor and Francis.

Speaking at a webinar on open access publishing hosted by the company on 19 January and designed to help early career researchers with little to no publishing experience in a publishing landscape that is constantly evolving, Babbit said over three million articles were published every year. Growth in both the number of articles and journals was due to an increase in investment in research and development by governments.

“This supports about seven to nine million researchers.” Despite an active publishing landscape, not many researchers publish more than once, she said.

According to figures quoted by Babbit, there are 10,000 academic journal publishers, 5,000 of which are indexed in Scopus (a bibliographic database containing abstracts and citations for academic journal articles). About 33,100 are active English language peer reviewed journals, while just over 9,000 are non-English language peer reviewed journals.

How to choose the right journal

Babbit emphasised to webinar participants the importance of choosing the correct journal.

“Choosing a journal that is not fit for your work could slow down the publishing process. Researchers should be thoughtful about journal choice. Understand your project and the audience you want to reach,” she said.

“Read a lot. Get a sense of publications or journal options. Speak to your peers who may have publishing insights,” she advised. She also suggested that researchers look at work published in their fields in the past three to five years and consider referencing it.

She urged researchers to consider the criteria against which they are assessed in a professional capacity. “Do you need to publish a certain number of articles a year? Are there particular journals you need to publish in? Is there a ranking system for journals? Do researchers need to publish in open access?” she asked.

She suggested that researchers familiarise themselves with the aims and scope of a journal. The Annals of the American Association of Geographers, for example, aims to publish “original, timely and innovative articles that advance geographic knowledge in all facets of the discipline”. On the other hand, Social and Cultural Geography is slightly smaller in scope and is interested in international authorship, while the Eurasian Geography and Economics journal is interested in research on particular geographical areas.

She also suggested researchers review the editorial boards of journals. It is built to reflect the ambitions of the journal. A specialist in an area can act as an ambassador and peer reviewer,” she said. Some journals appoint a person from a particular region if they want contributions from that region, she said. She drew attention to Taylor and Francis’s Journal Suggester Tool which helps a researcher link an abstract to suggested journals.

Why do articles get rejected?

Babbit said in addition to sending an article to the wrong journal, reasons for rejection could include the following:

• It was not a true journal article;

• The article did not follow the author guidelines;

• The article had poor regard for the journal’s conventions or academic writing;

• There was no contribution to the subject; or

• The article displayed a poor theoretical framework.

Outlining the principles of open access publishing, Babbit reminded researchers that traditional journals were not the only option available to them.

A platform to speed up publishing

Referring to the F1000Research publishing platform, launched in 2013 and acquired by Taylor and Francis in 2020, she said it provided a rapid publishing platform as well as researcher accessibility and reproducibility through an open data sharing policy.

“F1000 has an open data principle and researchers can publish in life sciences, medicine and physical sciences. It is dedicated to reducing research waste [by] publishing multiple article types, such as data notes, method articles and study protocols alongside original research,” she said.

For Babbit, F1000 aims to “rethink and evolve” the scholarly communication system, combining the benefits of pre-prints with a transparent open post-public peer review process.

Article submission is as quick as 14 days and all contributions undergo a thorough pre-publication check to ensure the research meets the threshold for requirements. Thereafter it undergoes a robust open peer review process by the F1000 peer review team. All comments and author responses are published on the platform and revisions are published, she said.

Avoid predatory journals

Babbit cautioned participants on being lured by predatory journals, which threatened the credibility of science. While such journals might look similar to respected journals, they contained information that was incorrect or slightly misleading. Some characteristics include hidden or unclear article fees.

“Any information about fees should be clearly stated on the website,” Babbit stressed. “You should not be surprised by an invoice at the end of the publishing process if you had paid attention and done proper research.”

Predatory journals tend to lack peer review by experts and guarantee acceptance and publishing in a week or 48 hours for peer review – which was “pretty unrealistic”, said Babbit.

How to check predatory journals

She recommended that researchers make use of the Think Check Submit cross-industry source that helps researchers to make informed journal choices.

Researchers should also check journals against the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and, an organisation for publishers and service providers working with open access. If a journal is not part of the DOAJ nor Oaspa, “proceed with caution”, she urged, adding that university librarians could help researchers who are suspicious about a journal.

Babbit also pointed researchers to Taylor and Francis’s Author Services site which gives advice on copyright, ethics checklists, choosing a journal, the peer review process and promoting one’s work.

Tips on preparing a manuscript

Below are some tips on preparing a manuscript:

• Write first, edit later. This will help to create a line that will hold all the different parts of the argument together.

• Simplicity is key. Think about length of sentence as well as use of passive voice. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand the argument and evidence. It is important to remember that the role of researcher is that of a storyteller.

• In terms of peer review, editors will carefully read the introduction, then just skim through the rest of the article to decide if it is a good fit for the journal. Therefore, the main argument should not be buried.

• After the first draft, go through it and remove extra words. Share with your colleagues. Participate in conferences where you will have the opportunity to get feedback outside your network.

• The abstract is the first thing the reviewer reads. It is an overview of content. It is difficult to write a decent one without finishing the paper. Revise the abstract every time the paper is revised.