In ‘Build your own publishing strategy’ I wrote about different ways of choosing the right journal for your publication. Striving for excellence was the first option I described in more detail, as this indeed is the most common strategy you will be referred to as an early career researcher. While I would strongly argue for the need to critically reflect on the usefulness of such a strategy, I also see the need to consider such an approach in order to get noticed and further promoted. So, let’s consider what excellence means in terms of sustainability science and how we can identify those journals that are considered to be the right place to send high impact articles.
Identifying such journals in an evolving research area such as sustainability science is far from easy. So it might be worth taking a look at the existing mechanisms in more traditional disciplinary settings first. In general we can speak about two different ways of identifying ‘good’ journals. The first is based on what is called revealed relevance, whereby rankings of journals reflect actual publication behaviour. What is being measured here is the citation rates of journals. This is expressed in a journals impact factor. Information on this is provided by Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR), a measure of the average number of citations of papers published over the previous two years in the year being measured. Having your paper published in a journal with a high impact factor is commonly considered to be the most important activity to ensure tenure, funding and promotion (which in essence equals: academic success).
Another way to identify leading journals is to assess their stated relevance. Here the expertise of a particular academic community is taken into account. Journals are ranked on the basis of expert judgements. Such an approach is popular for example in economics where several such lists are in use. It is also used as a basis for funding decisions and at least two major rankings are worth considering in more in detail: Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assesses research quality within Australia’s higher education institutions by using a combination of indicators and expert reviews by committees comprising experienced, internationally-recognised experts. John Lamp from the School of Information Systems at Deakin University has developed an excellent website to explore the ranking of journals from ERA. The European counterpart of ERA that is of interest to us is the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH). A list of ‘core disciplines’ was identified there and expert panels in these disciplines are set up to review journals which had been proposed by various researchers, editors and publishers. Finally, hybrid forms such as Anne-Wil Harzing’s Journal Quality List combine the approaches of stated and revealed preferences.
How can these disciplinary approaches inform our decisions about publishing in sustainability science? Looking into Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports to identify high impact journals shows how few journals (especially in social science) are currently indexed that are explicitly dedicated to sustainability by name. Figure 1 lists these journals within both the Science Citation Index (SCI) and the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI):
However, one is not limited to this rather small sample of journals. Quite a number of journals that are dedicated to environmental issues in the broadest way and are much more established in academia have started to open up with regard to topics of sustainability. The well ranked journals ‘Ecology and Society’ and ‘Ecological Economics’ are only two examples of journals that might be interesting for you. When you start searching more systematically for these well ranked journals, you will face the problem of choosing an appropriate category to consider in detail. The Journal Citation Reports are arranged in categories that follow a rather disciplinary logic. So if you are looking for journals covering sustainability issues, various categories need to be taken into account. Figure 2-4 cover the probably most relevant categories of ‘environmental studies’, ‘environmental science’ and ‘planning and development’. Within these categories you should be able to find the journals that are most likely to include sustainability related articles in your more specific area of research.
Figure 2-4: Relevant journals, sorted by category
Although initial attempts to survey the ‘academic landscape of sustainability science’ (Kajikawa et al. 2007) are underway and are providing some initial insights in what the nature of future leading journals in sustainability science might consist of, there is – at least to the best of my humble knowledge –no ranking based on stated preference. The nearest attempt I am aware of is a collection of key journals for sustainability science that was put together from the ‘Forum: Science and Innovation for Sustainable Development’. Although still somehow arbitrary and already slightly outdated, the list offers a valuable starting point to explore potential journals of interest. To make things easier for you, I have compiled an Excel-File that consists of all these journals and can be searched and put in order according to the journals’ ranking in JCR, ERA and ERIH:
If you use this as a starting point and add information about additional journals that are of interest for your specific work, this might be helpful in making some informed decisions. It goes without saying that you should also consider some more detailed information about the journals in a similar way to how I have described the process in ‘Know your journal’.
As you can see, although we are not in a position to point out specific lead journals that build a sample of those ‘A++ journals’, you – as the promising new sustainability researcher – should try to get an article published in, there are certain ways to find those journals that are highly ranked on one hand and are open to topics and issues around sustainability on the other. The overviews I am offering here might help as a starting point. However, you will have to elaborate for yourself, with regard to which of these journals fits your specific needs. At the same time, this can be only a snapshot as you will see many changes both in the indexes and the way they consider new journals and sustainability as a potential category and in new journals that are popping up or established journals which are launching new topics. What you should do right at the moment is to try to find those journals that are established enough in a certain field of research to be acknowledged as important in that field and at the same time open for your kind of research and topics.
Good luck with that and feel free to comment on your very own experiences!