General considerations

Within academia, publishing journal papers is a currency to estimate individual research output, collaborative power, and diversity of skills and expertise. There are four main factors of the journal influencing the status of your paper that translate to the status of your research profile: impact factor, scope of the journal, accessibility (e.g. open access), and collegiality, such as relationship with members on the journal editorial board.

Factor influencing academic careerDescription
Impact factorIs your paper influential, impactful, or rigorous enough to meet the high scientific standards of publishing in high impact journals? Impact factors are publication and readership metrics that ranks journals within their field of research based on how often papers from that journal are cited per year. Impact factors allow the scientific community to rank the importance and impact of a journal in advancing research in its field. Publishing in high impact factor journals, i.e. top-tier journals, shows your research is scientifically sound, novel, and influential. Therefore, papers associated with these journals improve your research profile and enhance your professional acumen. Examples of top-tier journals include Nature, Science, and Cell.
Scope of the journalHow suited is your paper to the scope of the journal? Does the message of your paper align with the scope of your target journal? Journals will only consider accepting papers that are suited to their scope and readership. This is an important criterion for both author and journal: for the author, it ensures the author knows the type of audience the paper aims to reach and thus whether the paper will be relevant; for the journal, having a transparent and accessible scope ensures submitted content is relevant and that the journal’s audience receives relevant material, which also minimises the administrative costs of processing the large number of submissions.
AccessibilityIs the journal you aim to target subscription or open access? Do you want your research to be publicly available to reach a wider audience? Publishing papers in open access journals not only disseminates scientific knowledge more widely, but the broadens the readership of your paper by allowing unrestricted access. More broadly read papers have a high chance of being cited. Therefore, making your papers more accessible by publishing in open access journals can improve your research profile.
CollegialityAre you or is your research well-known or well-cited within your research community? Collaborating widely and enhancing your collegiality will further expose your research. Highly collaborative researchers are generally more trusted in the research community and thus can be well-known among members of the Editorial Board for journals. Journal editors that are familiar with well-cited researchers are more likely to trust the soundness of their research and expect reliable results. Therefore, improving your research network and publishing solid research can improve your chances of journal acceptance in later stages of your career.

Practical example for Life Sciences

Within the life sciences, publishing in top-tier journals with high impact factors contributes to improving your research profile and enhancing your professional acumen. There are many journal options for authors. Choosing a suitable journal for your research will depend on the soundness of your research, its acceptance by the research community, and the audience you aim to target. Advancing ecology research can be limited by the time required to collect data, i.e. field or lab work. Publishing research papers can depend on these time constraints, together with the time constraints of journal turnaround times. Therefore, aligning the message of your paper with the scope of the journal is important for publishing and thus advancing your research career more efficiently. See the ‘How many different journals should I publish in?’ section for further discussion on the trade-offs in quality and quantity when publishing research papers.

Practical example for Social Sciences

For the social sciences, the effect that your selection of journal will have on your career depends on whether you are working towards pursuing a clinical career, e.g., as a clinical neuropsychologist, or a research careers e.g., as a cognitive neuroscience researcher. For the former clinically-focussed careers, the focus is often on publishing highly-regarded but smaller (and with an associated smaller impact factor) journals that are aimed towards other clinicians. For the latter research-focussed careers, greater importance is placed on publishing in the highest impact journals possible. This will often require making a judgement call on the quality (and particularly the novelty) of the research and aiming to submit to the highest journal that you believe you have a shot at being published in. For example, for very novel methodologically sound work you may aim to submit to Current Biology or Nature, whereas for less novel but still methodologically sound work you might select a journal like Psychological Science as the first port of call. Often you must work your way down a ranked list of ideal journals in the case of rejection. This can be a time-consuming process as it may involve submitting to three or more journals, and reformatting the publication accordingly, numerous times before the manuscript is eventually accepted.

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