Skip to content Skip to navigation

Publishing Your Research

Tomorrow's Research

Message Number: 

The main trouble is that journal editors and publishers are often risk-adverse people who like to maintain a 'bank' of accepted articles as a safeguard against running out of copy. Some editors accept many more articles than they can feasibly publish, and so create a backlog problem.


The posting below looks at quite thorough look at the journal publishing process. It is from Chapter 9, Publishing Your Research in Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write, and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation, by Patrick Dunleavy. Palgrave Macmillan ? Patrick Dunleavy 2003. First published 2003 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 Companies and representatives throughout the world. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP DATE: Faculty Evaluation: Work that Matters Should Be Work that Counts

Tomorrow's Research


------------------------------- 2,637 words -------------------------------



Academics arrange orthodox print journals into a rough hierarchy of excellent, above average, average, blow average, and marginal journals. There are four major influences on journals? long-run reputations: their methods of refereeing; their citation scores; the journal's type and its circulation (which are closely interrelated); and the overall time lag from first submitting a paper through its eventual publication.

Referring systems.

Peer group review is the central quality- assurance process in the academic world, and how well it is handled is crucial for a journal's standing. A top-rank journal will send your paper to four diverse and well-qualified referees, and reach an editors? decision on the basis of three verdicts - quite a demanding threshold to surmount. It will be able to secure the involvement of senior members of the profession in reviewing papers. In each discipline as you go down the hierarchy of journals the publication requirements will get progressively less strict. A somewhat less prestigious journal may see views from two or three outside referees and go on two positives. I may not be able to attract the same quality of people to look at prospective articles, bearing in mind that referees are not paid for their efforts.

Lowering down in the hierarchy in most professions are those journals which do not run proper independent refereeing. Instead they may serve mainly as a vehicle for a 'referencing circle' around a particular clique in the profession. Similarly, more 'ideological' journals may single-mindedly plug a particular viewpoint, without ever publishing critical work undertaken from divergent positions. Some journals may referee internally only amongst an editorial team, or perhaps the editors may somewhat 'rig' who gets the write the references, so as to attract positive responses from their referees for material they want to accept. This is especially the case if the journal positively needs copy just to keep its pages filled, or is struggling to keep alive the apparent level of interest in their viewpoint or their subfield. However, there are important exceptions to this general pattern. In many humanities, arts and social science disciplines there are still quite prestigious !

journals with large circulations, which none the less do not operate on the basis of professional-standard peer group refereeing.

In addition to the number of opinions that editors seek, there are also important differences in the conditions under which refereeing takes place. The best journals tend to use a 'double-blind' system of refereeing. Here anything that would identify the author is removed before the paper goes to referees. The referee then writes an anonymous comment, which normally comes back to you. (To comply with this approach, you usually need to have two title pages on a paper you submit. The first shows all the author names, their university affiliations and any other identifying elements, such as a note of thanks. The journal removes this page before sending the paper out to referees. The second page is retained and shows only the article title without any author-identifying

elements.) This system is supposed to protect new authors from being rejected just because they are unknown. It is meant to put them more on an even plane with established authors. It is also supposed to prevent rivalries between academic personalities colouring what referees write,

and to prevent any automatic 'taking sides' by referees. At the same time referees? anonymity ensures that they can be frank and say what they really think, without worrying that adverse professional consequences might attach to them in future if they comment unfavourably. Some

journals now use 'single-blind' refereeing, where referees know who authors are but can still comment anonymously. The final option is an 'open' approach where referees know who authors are and authors know who has commented on their work. Some editors feel that double-blind refereeing is fake, because experienced referees can usually scan the literature references and work out who authors are. Equally, sheltering behind the cloak of anonymity, unaccountable referees may be overly

critical or negative in their reviews. But most professional association journals still abide by the double-blind system, and in my view its value for new authors is still considerable.

Citation scores

Every year the ISI 'Web of Knowledge' bibliometric system counts how much articles published in each of the journals it indexes are referenced across all its journals in social

sciences and in the humanities. (These systems used to be known as the Social Science Citation Index and the Humanities Citation Index, but have been rebranded.) The Web of Knowledge?s coverage is heavily biased towards the United States and towards English-language journals more

generally. It is very patchy in some particular fields like law, where most UK or other overseas journals are not covered. Despite these limitations, as in other walks of life, partial or inadequate data like these are widely seen as preferable to no data at all. Every serious academic wants to be noticed, and so faute de mieux, the Web of Knowledge?s scores influence where the academic 'stars' send their papers. They also are key ways in which journals try to measure how well they are doing against their competitors.

Despite all the elaborate arrangements for sifting and improving academic papers most current evidence shows that the median journal article is referred to by nobody in the five years after it is published, and very few articles have a referencing life longer than this. In major bibliometric analyses (like the ISI indices) the leading journals in most disciplines are those which manage to achieve an impact score over or reasonably close to 1. This means that on average each of their published papers is referred to at least once in five years by some other paper in one of the journals included in the analysis. Any journal with an average citation score of more than 0.5 is also doing relatively well. Many perfectly reputable journals may have citation scores of below 0.25,

meaning that papers there have a less than one-in-four chance of being referenced by anyone else.

Circulation and journal type

The chances of anyone else noticing your work partly depend upon how many people even get to eyeball the journal where it has appeared. Large-circulation journals are often those which are longest-lived in a particular discipline. Having reached good world-wide library access long ago (around 2000 to 300 copies or above), they can to some extent rely on inertial ordering and librarians? concern for continuity to shield them from current market forces. Often these are 'omnibus' journals with rather a broad mission to cover a whole discipline, especially those run by prestigious professional associations.

By contrast, most recent start-up journals (in the last thirty years) have been specialist journals with much more focused markets and editorial statements of intent. The actual paying circulation of many new or specialized journals, even those which have been running for a decade, may be counted in the tens or at best low hundreds. Commercial publishers have kept on starting new specialist journals, even since the last 1990s when the academic market has been shrinking. Some of the circulations for these titles are so low that there is a real risk to the academics who

submit papers ? initially that very few people will ever get sight of the journal. In the longer term there may be some degree of risk that a small, newish journal may fold and its materials become even less accessible.

Time lags

Journal publishing is a game of many parts. First the editors send your paper out to their required number of referees. These people then sit on it for a certain period before responding, usually taking six weeks to three months, even for an efficiently run journal. In many fields responses can drag on much longer, up to four to six months, because scrupulous editors have to collect in a sufficient comments to make a decision, which always takes longer than a single reference. Next the editors have to work through their in-tray of refereed submissions and decide how to respond to your paper in the light of the comments and scores, which usually take several weeks, adding perhaps another month. Once your article is accepted without further substantive revisions, then it goes into a publication queue. Time lags from acceptance to publication in journals are almost always at least 6 months, and probably average around 12 months. Good journals will also publish their stati!

stics in an annual report, either on their Web site or in the journal pages itself. Most reputable journals now indicate when paper were accepted, and some will give details of how long the editorial process took.

The main trouble is that journal editors and publishers are often risk-adverse people who like to maintain a 'bank' of accepted articles as a safeguard against running out of copy. Some editors accept many more articles than they can feasibly publish, and so create a backlog problem.

In some pathological cases the editors of highly prestigious journals can create a time lag from acceptance to publication which is up to 30 months or even three years. This approach makes a complete mockery of any journal's role to provide swift, lively an contemporaneous feedback to

their academic profession. At the other extreme there are hand-to-mouth journals which only get by through their editors constantly living on their wits, acquiring papers at conferences, and so on. Here the copy for the very next issue may be problematic, so if your paper arrives at an opportune moment the editors may bend over backwards to accept it and publish it quickly. This might seem a good result for you, but only if the journal has a significant circulation and has maintained its quality reputation despite copy shortages.

In addition to these major influences on the long-run standing of journals, there are further four shorter-term or less important influences on how journals are seen by the profession. These factors may not matter so much for the most-cited journals. But for all other titles they are worth considering because they help to differentiate the middle mass of journals one from another.

The reputation of the editors (or editorial teams) and the editorial board.

Despite the importance of refereeing systems, changes of editor can have an important influence on how journals develop within their long-run market niches. Academic love speculating about what different editors? priorities are, especially for the bigger omnibus journals. Editing a journal is a thankless task, but one which tends to attract senior academics at a certain stage in their careers. A good editor is someone who is well known in the discipline, intellectually respected but not close-minded, and who can project a strong and distinctive style for her journal. The editors who become best known often have a 'project' for changing their journal's appeal in a particular direction. Good editors are also often interested in new ideas and in bringing on younger people in their discipline via helpful and supportive refereeing. They are always committed to encouraging good writing, strong scholarship and improved standards of professional communication. The conference !

circuit gossip machine is often the best guide on where different journals stand in terms of the editors? orientation ? yet another reason for getting out there and plugging in.

Editorial boards (sometimes also called advisory boards) are a much more distant influence on what journals do than are the editors. But the extent to which a journal has well-known and senior people on its editorial board can provide a fair indication of where it stands in the international profession. If it has no one well known involved as a board member it may have only a small circulation, or there ma be some problem in its approach to refereeing.

Professional ownership versus commercial ownership.

In general, journals run by professional bodies in each of the disciplines have higher prestige than those which are chiefly set up by commercial publishers and entrepreneurial academics to each a major buck. Professional journals are normally supplied free to members of the professional association as part of their overall subscription, which tends to mean that far more individual readers in at least its home country will routinely notice that your paper has been published. There are far fewer individual subscriptions to commercial journals, and so readers mainly have to come across your paper in the library or look it up directly. The chief reasons why people find your material are because they regularly search particular journals? electronic contents; because a colleague or the journal?s e-mail alerting service draws their attention to it; or because they are starting a new article or research project of their own and hence are doing a systematic literature trawl.

Survey responses. Most of the key professional groups in the major countries survey their members each year on how they rate their discipline's journals. These responses often provide invaluable guidance about which journals are actually being read by academics and students in the different fields. Articles in prestigious journals are quite frequently unreadably dense or too esoteric for most professional readers. Their high level of citations can be sustained at any on time by

a small group of elite academics citing each other but not necessarily being read or followed more widely. Sometimes a cohesive refereeing circle or lesser authors can also achieve high (mutual) citation scores.

Quality of production.

Journals vary greatly in their 'look and feel'. Older journals, and those run by professional bodies, often have a cramped, unattractive appearance. Indeed some misguided editors deliberately cultivate a classical' (that is, unreadable) format for their journals, under the illusion that this makes them look more academically 'respectable'. From an author's point of view this approach is liability. You want your journal offprints to look prestigious and presentable to appointment and promotion committees for a long time ahead, not nondescript and old-fashioned within a few years. Other things being equal, it is always best to go for journals that have a stylish and simple modern design and clear, uncluttered layouts, incorporating appropriate amounts of white space around your text. Good handling of equations, graphics, charts and tables is important in the social sciences.

All these points of comparison above assume that you are considering publishing in an orthodox journal that essentially sells paper copies as the basis of its subscriptions. Even these journals have responded extensively to the grown of the Internet by expanding their electronic presence. Virtually all titles are available electronically via major contents aggregator sites (like Ingenta or Jstor) and some journals also have electronic-only subscriptions. In addition to the paper circulation of journals it may be worth learning about your possible target journal?s

electronic readerships, including the number of times articles were downloaded. Some journals will also publish articles in enhanced form electronically, such as using colourized versions instead of being confined to the black-and-white of the normal print version. Other print titles do 'advance on publication', putting up forthcoming articles for on- line access on their Web sites as soon as they are accepted, rather than waiting for the relevant journal issue to be printed. This way your article is officially seen as published six months earlier than otherwise, which can be important when you are looking for an academic job.

A further way to curtail the acceptance-to-publication delay is to publish in a Web-only journal, which is published electronically but not in print. Such titles are common now in the physical sciences, and they are beginning to spring up too in parts of the humanities and social sciences, especially in areas like information science, informatics and business studies. Where they have become established some refereed Web- only journals are starting to be quite successful and well read. But this is still a developing area, and across most the humanities and social sciences Web-only articles are not yet as full publications.