Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Journal Article Submission Strategy

How do you go about submitting papers to academic journals? As space in journals becomes more restricted, and getting published becomes more competitive, I have developed certain strategies for selecting which journal to submit to.

First, write your paper. During the writing of your paper, you will be citing the relevant literature. By paying careful attention to where the most relevant articles you cite were published, you can then perform step two:

Create a shortlist of journals. You may have a journal in mind before you start work on the paper, as some topics are so specialised that they only fit one publication. This is fairly rare, however, as there are usually more than one journal that deals with a particular topic.

Find the impact factor (IF) of each journal. While you shouldn't base your submission venue solely on IF (many people I have spoken with think it's pretty bogus) funding agencies do unfortunately look at the IF of your publications when evaluating research proposals. You may alter your shortlist based on IF.

Contact the editor of each journal on your shortlist. Send them the title and the current abstract of the paper, and ask them if your paper will fit with their journal. The paper doesn't have to be completely ready at this point, but you do need a very good title and abstract. This is a good argument for writing the abstract before the rest of the paper, rather than leaving it as the last thing that you write.

This step does mean that you have to make a bit of an extra effort before submission, but it can save you a lot of time later on. Consider my experience: last Christmas holiday, I was up until 3am Christmas morning submitting a paper. I was sitting at my parent's kitchen table (in New Zealand), with my laptop, using dial-up Internet to upload the (large) images, cover letter and manuscript of my paper. The following day (Christmas day!) I was very tired, and really didn't have the energy to enjoy playing with my daughter and her cousins (my nephews and niece, who I see at most once a year). A few days later, the editor of the journal I submitted the paper to emailed me saying that the paper didn't really fit the journal and that he had rejected it without sending it to peer review. Although I had submitted to that journal on the advice of my co-authors, all of that time-wasting could have been avoided if I had just contacted the editor first.

Choose a journal to submit to. This choice is based on 1) the strength or enthusiasm of the responses you get from the editors you have contacted, and 2) the impact factor of the journal. When writing the cover letter, be sure to mention that you have contacted the editor and that they responded positively.

Finally, submit the paper. Make sure that you have carefully followed the formatting and submission instructions. Check these before submitting! Journals do sometimes change their formatting requirements, don't get caught out using an old format!

Of course, none of this will help if you have written a bad paper. See my previous post on minimum requirements for a computational intelligence paper for what I look for when reviewing a paper.

This post came out of a discussion I had with two of my colleagues at the University of Adelaide: Dr Thomas Prowse, and Dr Stephen Gregory. Thanks for the great discussion!