Graduate students: You no doubt receive advice from your advisor on where to publish your research. You’ve perhaps been disappointed when your professor rejected the idea of submitting to your preferred journal, which has a high readership and high impact factor, in favor of a smaller-scope journal, with a smaller readership and a lower impact factor.
No, the reason is not that your professor doesn’t believe in the quality of your research. Maybe your paper’s topic and scope better matches the smaller journal’s target audience, which increases its chances of getting accepted and published faster. Which is better: to be published in a high-impact-factor journal 2-3 years later, when your research findings are old news, or to be published in a less-renowned journal within a year, when your findings are fresh and more likely to be built on by other researchers?
In fact, impact factor alone is not a good measure of a journal’s relevance in its field. For example, clinical medical journals will have a lower impact factor compared to general-science or applied engineering ones, because the average number of citations per paper is simply lower for clinical medical papers.
Another factor to consider is that post-publication journals like F1000 Research publish huge numbers of papers, both of high merit and low merit, which dilutes their overall impact factor. However, the equally huge readership of these journals means your paper is more likely to get the attention from the specialist audience you want and need to be respected in the field and advance in your career.
In conclusion, trends like open-access and post-publication peer review are lowering the bar to publication and dissemination of research. This increase in volume necessarily means it’s harder to separate good research from the bad; however, the average quality is higher than you might expect, because of the hard work and professional motivation of the members of these communities.
You may find that the real value in working with these innovative journals and services is not the number of papers you can get published, but your exposure to like-minded researchers in your field. There’s no question that your advisor and you know other professionals and laboratories working on the same research problems, and by extension you probably feel you already know who understands your research the best. But don’t forget: the most famous scientific breakthroughs are often those that come from cross-pollination, new voices, and accidental discoveries. By opening up your research to this wider audience with these new paradigms, you invite innovation, discovery, and success.