I’ve got a paper almost ready to be submitted. The co-authors are taking one last look, I’m making a few minor changes to figures, and I need to do the final formatting of the references. In order to do that last step, though, I need to decide to which journal the paper is going to be submitted.

There are two journals which would be appropriate for the paper. Both of them are well respected in the field and their impact factors are nearly identical. Both are run by large private publishing houses, one of which used to be involved in the arms trade. I haven’t heard any negative mutterings about either one, and my PhD advisor/co-author didn’t try to steer me to either of them.

So how’s a girl to choose? What my PhD advisor suggested was looking at the time to publication of both journals and selecting the one where things got through the pipeline faster. Seems like as reasonable criteria as any, so I did. And like a good scientist, I made a graph of the data.

Hypothesis: I will submit my paper to Blue Journal, because I like the title better and I vote Democratic.

Methods: I pulled up the two most recent issues (at the time of the analysis) of each journal and randomly selected five articles from each issue. (OK, not so random, I picked the titles that looked the most interesting.) One the front page of each article, I found the information on when the manuscript was received, when it was accepted, when it appeared on line, and when the print issue was produced. (Note: I threw out one data point where the paper spent >3.5 years between submission and revised submission. I suspect that there were other issues at hand.)

Figure 1. Time to publication for selected articles in Blue Journal and Red Journal.

As shown in Figure 1, the two journals are pretty comparable. The average time from submission to print is 478 days for the Blue Journal and 492 days for the Red Journal. When talking on the scale of 1.3 years from beginning to end, I’m not going to sweat a 14 day difference in average publication time.

A closer examination of the data, however, reveals a divergence in the data. There are appreciable differences in lag times at different points in the publication process between the two journals.The time associated with the review process (manuscript submitted to revised manuscript received) was only 145 days for Blue Journal as compared to 235 days for Red Journal. Conversely, Blue Journal was slower getting accepted articles to print than was Red Journal.

Discussion: The process of going from manuscript submission to revised submission depends on three players: the editors, the reviewers, and the authors. I don’t have enough data yet to say where the sticky wicket is in the process, but I suspect from my own experience that it is the reviewers or the authors and not the editors, who should have a relatively minor role to play in this stage of the game. As an author who has sat on revisions for months (shame on me, I know), I am inclined to give less weight to the receipt to revision time lag than I am to the accepted to in print time lag, where the major player is the publisher. Again, this is tempered by my own experience. I don’t know too many authors inclined to sit on uncorrected proofs.

Conclusion: Based on the rate at which accepted papers appear in print, I am compelled to submit the paper to Red Journal, even though it has a slightly longer overall time to publication. An additional factor is that as I was pulling articles for the analysis, I was much more excited by topics in Red Journal than Blue Journal. It’s nice when quantitative and qualitative analyses confirm each other, even if the hypothesis is proven wrong.

Future Research: Results of a test case of submission to Red Journal will be reported in approximately 1.3 years.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    April 16, 2008

    PLoS ONE. A few weeks for the entire process. Average, I think, is 16 days between acceptance and publication.

  2. #2 ScienceWoman
    April 16, 2008

    But, Bora, PLoS ONE has never published an article in -ology. Sure, I could be the first, but as a junior academic, I need to have people in my field reading my papers. It may be a good place for other disciplines though.

  3. #3 PA
    April 16, 2008

    I agree with Coturnix. Go Open Access! At least take the idea to your advisor.

    With a paper I published, the editors were indeed the rate-limiting step, as they were trying to compile a stack of papers similar enough to make a dedicated issue.

  4. #4 PA
    April 16, 2008

    Sorry for the double post… I wish the Seed overlords would implement comment editing.
    PLoS One is a fine journal, but if you are worried about subject matter, I’m sure there is an acceptable OA journal in -ology?

    Check the Directory of Open Access Journals. I’d do it for you, but -ology is giving me a lot of hits 😉

  5. #5 Janus Professor
    April 16, 2008

    When trying to pick the most appropriate journal for submission, I look at my citations. Which journal(s) have I cited the most in this manuscript? Whichever one(s) come out on top is the contender!

  6. #6 ScienceWoman
    April 16, 2008

    PA: I looked at the directory and the only appropriate OA journal had a significantly lower impact factor. Again, as a pre-tenured person, I need to be aware of those things.

    Janus Prof: That sounds like a pretty reasonable place to start. Based on my reference list I should be submitting to Red Journal with Blue Journal close behind. There is one other journal that pops out of my reference list, but it is probably aiming a bit high.

  7. #7 Mommyprof
    April 16, 2008

    Knowing what I know now, if the times to publication are even close, I’d pick the one with the higher rating on Web of Science, since these things do seem to matter…

  8. #8 Gabriel
    April 16, 2008

    I liked so much that you published a fine data research for this question, including the later considerations -which aren’t abstract at all. It could be used as a good example to explain some decision issues to novel researchers.

  9. #9 JSinger
    April 16, 2008

    …as a junior academic, I need to have people in my field reading my papers.

    Except for Science/Nature and the top one or two journals in your field, no one “reads journals” nowadays. As long as your paper shows up in Medline searches and is accessible to your prospective readership (and open access is a benefit for the latter), people will read it regardless of where it is.

    Impact factor, on the other hand, is a completely valid concern. I wouldn’t publish in PLoS ONE if any at all superior alternative were possible, although that doesn’t extend to the more selective PLoS arms.

  10. #10 DrCubaLibre
    April 16, 2008

    Before you go running off to submit your paper to red journal, consider this: on a CV or website, an article “in press” (i.e. accepted) will get higher marks than one “in review” (and thus still subject to rejection. If there’s no difference in pub time, there may be a reason to have it longer in the accepted column rather than the ??? column. And hey, since most journals reject most papers, if they do say no, you can have it at Red Journal sooner…

  11. #11 Kim
    April 16, 2008

    Yeah, the list of open access journals for -ology is not impressive at all. Too bad.

    I would say to publish it in the journal that you’re citing the most – sounds like it’s the best fit there. (Unless the editors have an axe to grind with your research topic.)

  12. #12 acmegirl
    April 16, 2008

    (OK, not so random, I picked the titles that looked the most interesting.)

    Could this have skewed your analysis? Naively,perhaps, I imagine that if you were interested in these papers, they were also more attractive to editors and reviewers. In other words, you only chose the “winners”, which might not have as much of a spread.

    Also, if Blue accepts more papers, and gets them through review more quickly, could it just be experiencing a backlog? After having watched a post-doc in my lab suffer for months waiting for a response on a paper that ended up being rejected, I’d also rather go with the one that speeds the review along – just in case I would have to start over, I’d rather do that 100 days sooner. But, then again, we don’t know what the time to rejection is, or how much of the time to revision actually is the review, so I can see why you’d feel that metric is not so reliable.

    I think I might try this method when it comes time for me to submit a paper!

  13. #13 guppygeek
    April 16, 2008

    For a pretenure person submitting a paper, two more things that might matter are: how does your institution judge your publication record? I heard a few years ago that Univ Minnesota, for example has a weighted point system. You need so many points for tenure, and clearly Science counts more points than Oikos. So how do they assign these points? But also, do you care when you can list your paper as “in press” (see also DrCubaLibre)? If so, then go for the one that gets papers to the accepted stage fastest. And as a recently “retired” co-editor of a pretty good journal in one of the -ologies, I can say that differences between journals in time to acceptance are most likely due to editorial policies and the culture of the journal (does the editor in chief pressure the co- or associate editors to complete decisions within x weeks of submission? how many weeks are reviewers given to do their reviews, etc). Differences in time from acceptance to publication depends more on how well the journal has embraced technology (i.e. are their papers considered do they have online publication prior to print? do they have a fully automated submission system?).

  14. #14 Tex
    April 17, 2008

    Nearly 500 days to print?!

    There is absolutely no excuse for this with electronic submission, electronic review and electronic publishing. Sounds like a real good way to get scooped (again).

    My advice is to start over and find a journal that can at least get the paper into print in under a year.

  15. #15 Jim Thomerson
    April 19, 2008

    Make up a list of possible journals from most preferred to least preferred. If your paper is rejected by the first journal, use the reviews to make it better and submit it to the next journal down the line. Keep doing this until it is accepted.

  16. #16 Gary Carson
    May 12, 2008

    Why don’t you decide who to send it to before you write it?

    It would seem like that would greatly increase the probability of acceptance.

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