How to Write a Compelling Science Paper: Selecting an Effective Target Journal (Part I)

You devoted an enormous amount of effort, time, and money to your research and are ready to write a compelling paper to spread the word about your findings, enable your colleagues to share in your enthusiasm, confirm your results, and collaborate, not to mention to increase your chances of obtaining new grant funds. Unfortunately, rejection rates are high and writing can feel overwhelming. This essay offers a step-by-step tutorial designed to make it easier for you to create a biomedical or science manuscript that a journal editor will be happy to accept.

Because the journal you chose to publish in will ultimately determine your audience, how your work will be presented, and the time it takes for your findings to reach publication, it is imperative that you make a wise choice. Choosing the right journal will result in rapid dissemination of your important findings with appropriate exposure, whereas choosing the wrong journal may result in rejection or delay to publication. Therefore, wise target journal selection will save you considerable time and effort and is the first step in writing your compelling science article. In this first part of “How to Write a Compelling Science Paper,” we will cover the first 4 out of 10 steps for choosing an effective target journal.

Essential Steps for Selecting an Effective Target Journal: Steps 1–4

The first step is to avoid having your manuscript rejected for technical or administrative reasons before your work is even seen by reviewers. So, we begin by choosing an appropriate target journal.

Why Journal Editors Immediately Reject a Manuscript

Overwhelmed Editor
Overwhelmed Editor

Dozens of manuscripts are heaped upon a journal editor every day, forcing the editor to make rapid decisions. Keeping the journal’s acceptance rate in mind, the editor skims the papers looking for three factors to decide whether to immediately reject or send a manuscript out for peer review: scientific, stylistic, and administrative factors. Scientific considerations are beyond the scope of this essay, but include the importance of the findings, the originality of the ideas, the sophistication of the research methods, the appropriateness of the data analyses, and the implications of the results. Stylistic factors include the quality of the writing and the data presentation. A poorly written or organized manuscript may be viewed as a limitation by the editors or reviewers, and editors may not have the time to work with authors to bring the article in line with the journal’s standards. Administrative factors include the length of the article, the amount of revision required, and the appropriateness of the topic to the journal’s mission. This final point is where authors appear to run afoul of journal editors. In my experience, the number one reason journal editors reject a manuscript before it goes to peer review is that the work is not considered a good fit with the journal’s scope or readers.

Finding a Journal That is a Good Fit with Your Manuscript

Journal Selection
Journal Selection

So how do you find a journal that is a good fit with your work? Because you are already familiar with published studies that are similar to yours, make a list of the journals that published those studies. If you cited several articles from one particular journal, move that journal toward the top of your list as that indicates this journal may be a good fit for your work. Conducting literature searches for recently published articles in your field that are similar in scope and impact on the field is also a good idea.

The first two important choices to keep in mind as you are evaluating the potential target journals on your list is whether the journals are aimed at an international or national audience and what language the articles are published in. If your work is best suited to an international audience, it may be wise to choose an English-language journal that can be read by scholars in most countries because English is the main language of scientific communication throughout the world. Thus, your work written in English may receive greater exposure. If you are concerned about your ability to communicate well in English, consider having an experienced professional native English-speaking editor who specializes in science editing polish your work before submission (for instance, OnboardEditing). A third important consideration for determining your target journal is to decide whether reaching the largest possible audience or a focused audience is most desired, keeping in mind that this choice will affect the number of readers who see your work (discussed in more detail under Step 6: Exposure). If your work is written in English, it may be included in major abstracting and indexing services (also discussed in more detail in Step 6: Exposure), most of which operate in the English language.

Summary of Steps 1–4:

  1. Determine whether your work will interest a national or international audience.

  2. Establish the best language for presenting your work.

  3. Decide whether reaching the largest possible audience or a focused target audience is best.

  4. Choose 3–5 general science or specialty journals based on the above first 3 steps.

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