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Settling In: The Researcher's Guide to Your University

1.2 Getting published

A good publication record is very important if a researcher is starting out or in the early stages of establishing a research career. Publications are important criteria when considering candidates for academic positions, and publication track record is vital. There is a strong focus on the number of publications, the journal where an article was published, and publication impact (usually measured via the number of citations that a publication receives).

It is easy to obtain publication records from the Web of Knowledge. There is also a new index that is used, the h-index or Hirsch-Index. The h index is defined as the number of papers with a citation number higher or equal to h.  In other words, a scholar with an index of h has published h papers each of which has been cited in other papers at least h times. Additionally, citations and other research impact metrics are used for international rankings of universities and disciplines. Poor placement of publications can therefore negatively impact on university rankings.

This means it is important that papers are submitted to the right journals. Once a paper has been submitted it is too late to change your mind and place it somewhere else. It is very much the responsibility of the Chief Investigator, the supervisor of a postgraduate, the head of the research group, and the head of department to mentor researchers in their department about publication strategies so that all parties benefit. It is the responsibility of established researchers to enhance the career of their students. Every author on a publication, as well as the employing institution, benefits when a published article achieves a high number of citations in a short time. Equally, little happens if the article is published in a journal that few people read.

1.2.1 Finding a journal to get published

An analysis of 7,528 journals covered in the 2005 Journal of Citation Reports revealed that as few as 300 journals account for more than 50 per cent of cited articles and 25 per cent of published articles. A core of 3,000 of these journals accounts for about 75 per cent of published articles and over 90 per cent of cited articles. So the important task is to select the right journal.

In terms of research journals, terms used to describe the level of quality are often used interchangeably, for example refereed, scholarly, peer-reviewed, and academic. There are different levels of peer review. For example, journals may use editorial peer review (editorial board), peer review by experts in the field, or blind peer review by experts in the field.

Choosing the right journal is important and the following sections describe aspects of some useful criteria in selection.

1.2.2 Recognition factor

Well-recognised journals exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Readily recognised and also used by your peer group
  • Usually easy to get copies (through libraries, online, etc.)
  • Built-in readership numbers through things like affiliations with a professional society (whose members get the journal as part of their membership package)
  • It is listed in relevant content-based databases and searchable through various search engines and library databases
  • Published and relevant industry data may be quoted through the popular press (with the journal as the source).

1.2.3 Type of publication

The article being submitted needs to fit with the scope and direction of the journal. So it is important to review previous journal editions to confirm that the sort of article to be published is consistent with the publication strategy and direction in order to make the best match possible.

Different types of articles are published by different journals. Some publish review articles and editorials; others publish technical reports such as new research findings, case reports, letters to the editor, supplements, and original articles. The readership of each journal is different, reflecting the differences in their content. It is important that the journal chosen actually publishes the type of article you intend to submit.

1.2.4 Citation and impact factor

Citations and impact factor are important measures of academic achievement and are often used in evaluating academic excellence by funding agencies in the awarding of project funding and by universities in the appointment of staff. The impact factor of a journal is calculated by dividing the number of citations to publications in the journal over the previous 2 years by the number of articles the journal published. In other words, the impact factor reflects the citation rate of the ‘average’ article in a journal (and not that of a specific article). However, it is important to be aware of whether the citation rate of a particular journal is increasing or decreasing. Despite a range of views on the validity of the impact factor as a measure of research quality, it is an important consideration in deciding which journal is best to publish in.

1.2.5 Editorial office standards and efficiency

This consideration relates to how easy it is to meet the requirements of the journal and whether clear and unambiguous instructions are easily accessible to prospective authors, including the process for dealing with a submitted article. This includes the referee and review process and what the expectations are for getting constructive feedback on work submitted, and how long it will take to get that feedback. Some journals have a high rejection rate and authors need to understand how long it will take to be advised of acceptance or rejection.

1.2.6 Publishing and distribution factors

The final presentation of an accepted article is an important consideration, including what opportunities the author will have to sign off on proofs. Distribution includes how many people get the journal, including through professional association membership and other distribution mechanisms (libraries, library databases, and so on). Obviously, the broader the distribution of a journal, the greater the chance of an article in the journal being seen, and therefore being cited.

In addition, authors should check whether they will have the right to make their own copies of the individual article separate from the journal’s own web-site publication. For example, can the author load it onto their own university’s web-site for free download?

1.2.7 Costs

Many journals charge no fees to authors. However, many charge either a submission fee, an acceptance fee, or a per-published page fee, and this needs to be understood. Some journals also charge where tables, figures, and diagrams need to be reproduced in colour. Sometimes colour is necessary (particularly in the case of scientific images), so in selecting a journal this needs to be taken into account as part of the decision-making process.

1.2.8 Governance and funding of the journal

This can be a sensitive issue, but it is important to know that the editorial staff of a journal will treat your manuscript in a fair and equitable manner, so there needs to be some sort of policy in place in terms of processes for selecting articles. This is difficult to understand for new or less well-known journals. In addition, financial security is an important consideration for new and emerging journals, and things like having issues that appear on time are important indicators of such security. Many commercial organisations have policies that do not allow them to advertise in journals that have not got a specific period of successful production and distribution so that they don’t buy advertising in journals that won’t be around in the longer term.

1.2.9 Checklist for choosing a journal

Authors have a lot of choices for publications. The following checklist is a quick summary of the preceding sections.

Table 1.2: Checklist for choosing a journal

Criteria Question
Content Is the content focus of the journal aligned with yours?
Fit with research article Does the journal publish the type of research article (i.e. letter, article, review, original research) that you want to publish?
Impact factor Does the journal have a high impact factor? (check if increasing or decreasing)
Author instructions Can you get these easily? And do they clearly explain what you need to do and the process of submitting an article for publication?
Review process Do you know what will happen to your paper when it is submitted (i.e. how long will it take to know whether it is accepted or rejected, what type of feedback you will get etc.)?
Cost Will there be any cost associated with submitting an article? If it is accepted will there be a cost and will there be any additional cost for colour images, figures etc.?
Track record Does the journal have a track record of publishing on time and will it still be in business in a couple of years' time?
Distribution What reach does the journal have to the kind of people you want to read your article (to maximise its chance of citations). Is it distributed to people in a professional association or profession that you wish to target? What sort of numbers get published and where is it distributed (i.e. just in Australia or overseas, and if so where and how many?)
Peer opinion What do your colleagues think? Do they know and recognise the journal and recommend this one or others?

(Subtopic 1.2 was developed by Dr Delyth Samuel of the University of Melbourne.)


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