Do you remember as a teenager when you realized that there was more to boys and girls than your parents told you? That there was something you were supposed to know about? Something you should participate in but no one ever explained how to get started? Well, when it comes to publishing your first paper, you might have that feeling again.
I remember quite well how I felt when my first paper had to be written. Everyone else seemed to know what to do, and it was only I who felt completely lost. It took me a while to realize that this was a perfectly normal first-time syndrome and a lot of my colleagues had the very same questions that bothered me about the publishing process. Although some seemed just to wait for the right publishing opportunity to come to them, others seemed to be positively scared of all the hurdles and drawbacks in the publishing process so they postponed the whole thing to the near (or not so near) future.
What I have seen on only very few occasions is a clear publishing strategy, a strategy that gives answers to the ‘what’ and ‘where’ and ‘how’ to publish and sets clear and realistic milestones, although I would consider such a strategy as one of the most crucial factors in a successful academic career. Not only will it give clarity to your ongoing work (thinking about a project in terms of publishing results often helped me to structure it more concisely) but a clearly developed publication list will dramatically increase your chances of getting the job, grant or application you actually want.
So how come so many of us are struggling with a proper strategy for these important decisions? Time constraints might be a serious issue, as so much of our work is so often hindered by the daily grind. For academic novices a lack of mentoring or training in how to develop such a strategy might be another issue. I remember quite well when I started and how long it took me to understand the game, and as we are dealing with an inter- and transdisciplinary research area in which specific journals are still to be established, the process is far from becoming easier.
Knowing where you want to go with your publishing is not only crucial but also something that you can work out. The three questions you should ask yourself are these:
- What do you want to publish?
Seems pretty easy, eh? But do you really know? If you are about to finish your PhD, what part of it is it you want to focus on? Empirical results or theoretical reflection, the whole study or a specific part? The more you are able to articulate the most important message you want to put across, the easier it will be to make informed decisions on the following two questions.
- Which journal could you publish in?
The first thing to do when you know what you want to publish is to think carefully about all the journals that might be an option. Here you should ask yourself:
- What are the top journals you read most often?
Obviously, your research and the topic of your prospective article match these journals’ aims and objectives.
- In which journals do the big names of your field publish?
Again, these journals will at least be prepared to consider your sort of topic and you already have some references from the same journal to demonstrate that you are familiar with the journal’s content.
- Are there any special issues or calls for papers that cover your intended topic?
Beside the regular issues of sustainability-related journals you will find quite a number of more discipline-oriented journals that devote a special issue to questions of sustainability – this might be your chance.
- What are the experiences of your peers?
Whenever you have the chance, discuss these matters with your colleagues: at conferences, within your research project, at your institute, trust me, those guys are struggling with the same questions! At the same time a lot of tacit knowledge lies within such groups, knowledge that will help you make informed decisions!
These sub-questions should help you to compile a list of journals you could and should target and those which are worth a closer look.
- What are the top journals you read most often?
- How do you choose the right journal?
The last question might be the most difficult one. What is the right journal for your specific article? How do you decide which journal to target for the type of article you want to write? This question is often understood as a quest for the highest impact factor journal you can find. But this is only one (and often not the best) strategy. In my opinion there are at least three different strategies, depending on your ultimate goals, that are worth considering. I will briefly introduce them, but will come back to each of them separately in a later post.
(1) The highest impact factor
As I said before, this is probably the most common strategy which academics adopt. Journals are ranked against their impact factor and you can check each individual impact factor for every journal that you have in mind. The idea is pretty simple: the higher the impact factor the more reputable the journal, so all the better, if you manage to get your article accepted. Other rankings can be found in databases like the Web of Sciences and national or regional governmental tables such as the Australian ‘Excellence in Research Australia’ (ERA) programme. All of them will give you a strong indication of which journals are the most reputable.
(2) The highest impact for your audience
A slightly different angle is taken in the second approach. Now the main focus is not on the highest impact factor but on the highest impact for the audience you have in mind. This could mean a high-impact factor journal, but not necessarily. It is also about the availability of the journal and how it is seen within your target group.
(3)The best match to your career goals
This last approach might not sound as straightforward as the other two but it could be even more important. Here, more aspects will come into the picture. It is not only about the highest impact or the highest impact factor, but also about the reputation of specific fellowships or research programmes you want to apply for and/or the timing of the publication. So if you are planning to apply for a grant in 12 months’ time, for example, you need to find a journal that is both well respected AND offers a speedy publishing process so that your article is published before the programme deadline.
So, what should you take out of this post? (1) Find your personal publishing strategy. Take some time and think about it to develop some clear answers to the questions raised here. And (2) think about the right strategy when it comes to choosing your journal. And if you have a (3) that works better for you, let me know!