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Picking an appropriate journal for your research: advice from a mentor

By AuthorAID Team | Jan. 27, 2017  | Research writing Research skills

Blog post by Dr Siân Harris, Publications and Engagement Manager, INASP. As a former research chemist and editor, Siân serves as an AuthorAID mentor. She is also one of the INASP representatives on the Think. Check. Submit. committee.


In my role as an AuthorAID mentor, I was recently asked to recommend a journal for a mentee’s paper.

This was an interesting question as, although we were both chemists, my mentee’s area of research was not quite the same as mine and I have not been a practising researcher for some years. Nonetheless, I realised that I had quite a bit of advice to give from many years of working in and with the scholarly publishing industry and with researchers. I also realised that this advice may be useful to other researchers struggling with the same question about where to publish.

My first recommendation in thinking about where to publish is to check carefully any journals that you are interested in. A good starting point is to use the checklist from the Think. Check. Submit. campaign, which INASP is a founder member of. Some researchers fall into the trap of submitting to journals that only want to take researchers' money and don't have good publishing practices. Be careful about those types of journals because nobody will want to cite research published in them and they can be very damaging to a researcher’s career.

Before you go through the checklist, however, you need a starting point for which journals to look at. My suggestion to my mentee was to start with the journals that they referenced in their paper. This is a good guide to the kind of journals that publish papers in your field. However, be aware that a journal publishing relevant and interesting research is not in itself an indication of the quality of the journal. (As an aside, you should check any journals you reference using the Think. Check. Submit. checklist too.)

My mentee’s paper drew quite heavily on one particular reference because it was a continuation of research discussed in the previous paper. I was not familiar with the journal itself but I noticed that it is on the African Journals Online (AJOL), a platform that was set up by INASP, which is the same organization that set up AuthorAID. Journals are evaluated before they can be included in AJOL so you can have greater confidence in journals that are on AJOL. The same applies to the other Southern Journals Online platforms that INASP has set up (in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka  Central America and Mongolia).

I also recommended to my mentee that, as their research is in quite a specialist area and they want it read by researchers in a similar field, they look for quite a specialist publication in their sector rather than a general chemistry journal.

I didn’t mention in my advice about the Journal Impact Factor. However, this is, inevitably, a criterion that researchers use to judge journals and it is a good criterion. However, do be aware that it is not the only criterion that should be considered. It has particular limitations in being very biased towards Northern-published journals (if you are interested to know more, I recommend reading this article that two of my INASP colleagues wrote and this article by another INASP colleague). There are also many misleading metrics around. Just like the dubious journals that I mentioned earlier, there are some fake metrics around that are deliberately intended to be mistaken for official Clarivate (previously Thomson Reuters) impact factors. Therefore, do be on your guard and don’t believe numbers just because they are prominently displayed on a journal website.

My final bit of advice to my mentee was: “if you find some journals that look appropriate and you want me to take a look at them to see what I think then please feel free to send me their web links.” This is a great thing about having an AuthorAID mentoring relationship; mentors are very happy to help check things and help ensure that our mentees get their research published in a good and appropriate place. If you don’t have a mentor, I recommend finding one through the AuthorAID database or asking the AuthorAID discussion list about experiences of particular journals.

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