Why should you choose a journal before writing a first draft?

In life it often pays to be prepared. For example, before going for a night out we check that we have enough cash to avoid embarrassment when trying to get drinks. This same level of preparation and preparedness is also essential when you are writing a manuscript for submission to a journal.

Each journal is different and may have different rules on how much you can write and how to structure your manuscript. This might limit the number of figures or references you can include, or request specific details be included in subsections. You may think that you can edit your manuscript to meet these guidelines at a late stage, but this can be hard. If you have cited 100 references and are allowed a maximum of 30 which should you cull?

Maybe you think that you do not need to abide by these rules and your work will be accepted whatever. I have found that this is often not the case. For example, if you submit a manuscript that is overly long the editor will send it back with a request to edit the word count down and resubmit. This is additional work and time that could be better spent moving the research forward or writing grant applications.

I would, therefore, advise you to select your target journal, having written an outline and before you write a first draft. This enables unconstrained creativity when developing the initial flow of the article and deciding what to include, but then allows a targeted approach after this, which can maximize your chance of being considered by your chosen journal. By selecting the journal after the outline you also have more information at your disposal about the proposed manuscript and can reject journals if they do not allow a particular aspect of your manuscript, possibly seven huge tables or a video.

So be prepared and increase your chances of success!

Why selecting the correct journal is important.

When I was doing research in Chemistry I thought that the work I was doing was highly important and sure to get published in the highest tier journals. However, now that I have been advising on journal selection for a while I can see that I, like many people, was most probably deluded. The work I was doing definitely added to the scientific body of knowledge but was not of world-changing importance. However, the potential impact of the work is not the only consideration when selecting a journal to submit a manuscript to. The main considerations are listed below:

What is the quality/impact of the work being reported?

This will allow you to select a journal with an appropriate impact level, however, other considerations will modify this.

What is the intended audience for the manuscript?

It is important that your peers working in the same area as you get to see your work and this can partly be managed by selecting a journal that is read by them

Where are your ideal audience located?

Different journals have different footprints and this may influence your decisions. A journal widely read in the West might be less popular in Asia.

Which journals have published similar work before?

If a journal is publishing on a particular topic it is more likely to want to publish again on that topic. There is the exception of reviews, where if a similar review has been published they are less likely to want to publish yours for fear of being repetitive.

What are the submission to publication lead times?

Do you need to publish rapidly or can you wait 6 months to have a citation?

What is the rejection rate?

This is often related to how the journal is rated in a particular field, with more people submitting and being rejected from high-tier journals. A low rejection rate might increase teh chance of acceptance.

Do the journal offer other advantages, for example open access or are they online only?

Open access can be very beneficial as your work will be available for a greater number of people to read. Online only journals are not constrained by physical size so can accept more articles.

Having selected a journal it is then essential to read the author guidelines to ensure that the journal will accept your type of submission, for example some journals will not accept unsolicited review articles. Furthermore, the word count and other requirements (e.g. number of figures or references) may mean that your manuscript is unsuitable.

It is important to research and think about journal choice, and by considering all of these points and your manuscript in a critical manner I feel you can increase your chance of being accepted for publication.