It is generally good practice to have some understanding of the publication process, such as how journals determine their Impact Factors (see ‘How are journals ranked?’). These metrics provide valuable information on publication success for authors, including acceptance rates of papers and decision times for reviewing and accepting papers. Because turnaround times on making a decision on your submitted paper can be quite lengthy (up to 3 months), this information can influence whether or how often you as an author choose to submit to certain journals. Another useful statistic to help you choose a target journal is knowing the most highly cited papers within your field for any given year. This tells you which journals are performing well in terms of citation rates and what type of research papers are more commonly cited.
Practical example for Life Sciences
Within the life sciences, knowing the acceptance rate and decision times for accepting papers is valuable information to help you not only choose the right journal for your work, but also budget your time to become more efficient at writing and publishing papers. For example, knowing which journals have notoriously long turnaround times can help you project your intended research output. This is important when your work is particularly topical and you wish to publish it as quickly as possible to keep up with current trends in the field. Journals attempt to retain consistent and quick turnaround times (typically 6 weeks). However, this isn’t always possible and delays are often common, sometimes reaching 6 months. Therefore, using existing knowledge on turnaround times comes down to personal and colleague experience. The type of paper you submit is linked to turnaround times. For example, reviews are longer and more intensive papers than commentary pieces. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume the review paper will take longer to peer review. Turnaround times also vary with the time of year, with end of year holiday periods naturally linked to slightly longer decision times. Top tier journals, such as Nature and Science, receive the bulk of paper submissions. Therefore, they claim to have a quick turnaround times on papers, especially with outright rejections (only 3% of papers are accepted). The best course of action in projecting your expected turnaround time is conferring with mentors and colleagues on journals that have treated their previous papers favourably and who can provide personal insight on potential journals to target and avoid.