August 2013

Choosing the right journal for your work

Senior scientists offer advice for young investigators

Getting published is one of the most important aspects of science. You and your lab members have done a lot of work and have produced the results. You have a good story to tell, and you want to publish it. But to which journal should you submit your manuscript? One with a high impact factor? One with editors you know? One you like to read? One in your field? One that is new?
Young investigators sometimes just let their principal investigators decide without understanding how they came to the decision. However, the time will come when those young investigators will be the PIs and will have to decide for themselves.
A young investigator myself, I took advantage of being part of the Rutgers Center for Lipid Research and asked a number of PIs for their advice on how to choose a journal.
Do your homework
George Carman, whose lab investigates phospholipid metabolism and signaling in yeast, made it clear that the decision is “based on the research you want to publish and the scope of research published by the journals.” He insisted that “you must read the scope and instructions to authors for all the journals you are considering.”
He offered this example: “You wouldn’t send a vitamin A paper to the Journal of Alligator Studies, unless, of course, your work on vitamin A impacts alligator physiology. All kidding aside, if your work deals with vitamin A metabolism, you might consider a journal with a broad scope dealing with biochemistry, metabolism, physiology or nutrition.”
In addition, he said, consider whether your work has mechanistic data or describes an effect of something.
Judith Storch, who investigates lipid traffic in cells with particular emphasis on long-chain fatty acids, monoacylglycerols and cholesterol, added that “for your work to be seen, you want it published in the journal that the major players in your field would be reading.”
So the journals under consideration need to be of good quality, but does a high impact factor verify the quality of a journal?
Storch said she has seen how things have changed over time. “With keyword searching, you would think that where you publish should have become less important. However, it has become more important to some people because of the impact-factor craze. But what should be important is what journal has the right information or the best science.”
Constructive criticism
Many people are afraid of reviewers’ critiques. However, I was encouraged when Storch suggested submitting to journals where you will “get the best quality review possible.” This provides you with “great questions and suggestions from reviewers” that you may not have thought of. This, in turn, will assist you in amending the paper so that it is more concise and could provide input for the following paper or study.

Sara Campbell pull-out quote

Sara Campbell, an assistant professor who investigates exercise, obesity and gut, said it’s OK to ask for recommendations from your peers and even editors of other journals. Editors know what is needed for publication and will provide useful advice that you may not have considered before, she explained.
Furthermore, Campbell says, “Don’t sell your work short. Ask yourself, ‘What is the crux of my article? And where are similar articles being published?’” she said. This is important, because you want your work to be seen by people in your field. But “don’t be afraid to branch out to a journal you have not tried.” Your work may have something novel that other journals might find interesting and relevant to their scope, she said.

On a related note

Evaluating impact: 

  • • The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is one of the many organizations that have signed on to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which, broadly put, urges institutional administrators making hiring, promotion and tenure decisions to consider a broad spectrum of indicators of researchers’ contributions to the scientific enterprise. Click here for more information about the declaration.

Other viewpoints: 

So where should I publish my next manuscript? There is no strict protocol to follow. However, I do know that in my area of study a majority of manuscripts are published in certain journals. Therefore, I will make a list of journals in my field and perhaps ones that cover a broad range of topics.
I will make sure I understand the scope of the journal and decide whether my manuscript fits within that scope. In addition, I will be sure to study the instructions for authors.
I don’t want to waste my time and submit to a journal that does not find my work relevant. Although it would be nice for my manuscript to get accepted during the first round (we all wish this), I will read the reviewers’ comments and use that information to fill in the gaps in the manuscript to make it more complete and appropriate for the journal’s audience.
Then, if my first-choice journal does not accept it, I’ll reassess the crux of my story, revisit the candidate journals’ scopes and try to find a better match.

Lesley WassefLesley Wassef ( is a research associate in the Food Science and Rutgers Center for Lipid Research at Rutgers University.

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