Evaluate journal suitability and impact

After you have identified a few promising possibilities, go to the library or Internet and scan some recent issues. Check the table of contents. Look inside the front or back cover. Nearly all will have two items of special interest - a statement of the journal's scope, and a variably titled set of editorial guidelines we've chosen to call Instructions to Authors or ITAs. Do they seem appropriate for the topic and type of paper you will be preparing?

Generally, if a journal is regularly publishing a number of papers on topics similar to yours, you stand a better chance of acceptance than if very few papers related to your topic have appeared. However, stay open to considering journals outside your field. Editors today increasingly seem to be accepting papers on the basis of their importance to the journal's audience, rather than on the basis of narrowly defined academic fields. If you feel your topic would be of more than peripheral interest to the journal's audience, it is quite appropriate to query the editor.

Will your colleagues still see your paper if you publish it here? One way to determine whether scientists in your field are reading this journal is to examine journal citation reports through various databases such as ISI Web of Knowledge (see Table 1.1). These reports indicate how many of a given journal's papers appeared in citations in other journals during a calendar year.

There is little doubt that the scientific community views journals as having various degrees of "prestige." Like beauty, much of this may lie in the eye of the beholder because, despite repeated efforts, this has been a difficult matter to assess reliably. It certainly is not simply a matter of circulation - some journals with a high reputation in the scientific community have relatively small circulation. Journal citation reports rank journals by their relative "impact factors." Comparing the impact factors for two or more journals in a particular field can give a sort of "reality check" in the form of a quantitative clue as to their relative intellectual influence.

A caveat is in order here: Most of us would like to think that the best choice for each of our publications would be a prestigious large-circulation journal. We pretty well know which these are, and we would love to build our reputation by publishing in them. This is natural. However, remember that the match of topic, journal, and audience is the critical issue. Because high profile journals often receive thousands of typescripts per year, their rejection rates can run as high as 90%. Subjecting a paper to these lottery-like odds means a fairly sizable risk of living in limbo for weeks (and probably months), before ultimately receiving a rejection notice.

If, after conscientiously going through all of these steps, you still feel unsure whether you have picked the right journal and the right format, it is acceptable to email, write, or call the editor and raise the question. Frame your query diplomatically. Don't ask, "Will you publish my . . . ?" or "Will you publish a review of the diagnosis and treatment of . . . ?" Instead, ask "Are you willing to consider for publication a 50-page detailed review of the diagnosis and treatment of.. . ?" You may learn that the editor has just accepted such a review, or that the journal never publishes reviews that long - a disappointment for the moment, but an answer that can save you time and work.

If information regarding publication time is not indicated in Instructions to Authors, it is also appropriate to query the editor politely about this matter, requesting average and range of time from submission to publication. Most editors take pride in their continued efforts to try to reduce the time from submission to publication.

Additional factors that might influence your journal choice include costs such as page charges and Internet access fees. These vary widely.

If you are still not sure where your document will ultimately be sent, prepare the typescript according to the requirements outlined in Appendix 2 while continuing

Exercise 1.2. Message, format, and audience

How would you answer these questions?

1. A 75-year-old woman brought to your clinic has contracted a rare form of viral infection previously known to be associated primarily with children. A quick library search shows that the oldest affected person in the published literature was 62 years old. Should you publish your new information?

2. Your supervisor suggests that you both review the records of the last 50 cases of canine heartworm disease referred to your clinic and coauthor a paper on the findings. You ask what question the paper is going to answer. He is not trying to answer a question, he says irritably. He just wants to report a summary of these data because colleagues elsewhere will be interested. Does the paper have a purpose? Does it have a message? What format would be most appropriate?

3. The two of you proceed to analyze those 50 cases of heartworm disease. Your analysis doesn't yield any new important findings, but does lend additional support to some previously published views. Is it still publishable? If so, in what form?

4. You've written a concise, clearly worded summary of the genetics of horn development in jackalopes. A series of examples from the literature, combined with your own laboratory analyses and a field-based population study, all point to the conclusion that a single gene controls this trait. You reason that geneticists, veterinary pathologists, and wildlife biologists all should know this important new information. How many papers could justifiably arise from your study?

5. You've gone back through psychiatric clinic records for the past 18 years, and made a startling discovery. Nearly 80% of all the children hospitalized for manic depression had been previously identified in school tests as being highly creative. Who might be the potential audience for your message?

to consider journal possibilities. When you make your decision, check the ITAs to see whether they specify acceptance of the Uniform Requirements.

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