Deciding where to submit

Did you know that there are more than 25,000 biomedical journals?

The number of scientific journals continues to increase rapidly1. Given this situation, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that many authors have a difficult time deciding where to submit their manuscript for publication. There are many factors that may play a role in your decision of where to submit your manuscript; below we outline some key things to consider:

Journal Impact factor

How is impact factor calculated?


A journals impact factor refers to the average number of citations to articles published in the past 2 years.
The impact factor, invented by Eugene Garfield, was first mentioned in Science in 19552. It was proposed as a mechanism for helping librarians select which journals to subscribe to based on its uptake within the field. In stark contrast to today, for many years after its introduction, impact factors were hardly a consideration of researchers. Today one might argue that editors, authors and academic institutions are obsessed with this metric3. Indeed, a study of Canadian researchers showed that a journal’s impact factor outranked all other benchmarks in author decisions of where to submit a manuscript. While journal impact factor is often a consideration for tenure and promotion, solely focusing on publishing in high impact journals may not be the most effective means of disseminating your research.

Did you know that a journal impact factor is poorly related to the number of citations an individual article receives4,5?

This suggests that the notion of prioritizing publication in high impact journals may be overemphasized. One might get further ahead by placing their research in a journal that ‘fits’ their research topic, even if its impact factor is relatively lower than another journal. When deciding where to submit your manuscript you should consider the journal’s readership – these are the people who are most likely to cite your work. Ask yourself, has the journal you are considering submitting your manuscript published work on a similar topic? You will need to convince the editor why your paper should be published, and why in their specific journal. It is also important to consider what types of articles are published in the journal and if the formats available suit your submission.

Note: Journal impact factors are assigned by Thompson Reuters and released annually. Be aware that some journals post other impact metrics. These should not be confused with the impact factor.

Is it open access?

In order to be compliant with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy published manuscripts must be accessible through the publisher’s website, or from within an online repository within 12 months. Please note that individuals in receipt of graduate scholarships and fellowships are not required to adhere to the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on publications. However, the Agencies do nonetheless encourage open access publishing. FlourishOA can be used to obtain price aggregates and information on publishing impact when selecting an open access journal.

You can use the SHERPA/ROMEO webpage to determine what type of copyright policies and self-archiving procedures exist at various journals.

Beyond these policy guidelines, there are several reasons you may choose to prioritize publishing in open access journals. For example, some argue that there is a moral imperative to make research produced freely available to others. Free access means that published work is accessible to researchers in developing countries. It also means the general public can access the findings, which is particularly relevant in Canada, where taxes paid may be used to support research.

The Open Access movement is becoming much more widespread, in part because of a number of national funders now requiring manuscripts to be made open access within a certain period of time from their date of publication. If you would like to learn more about the various formats of Open Access, Peter Suber maintains an informative website on this topic. You can also view the ‘How open is it? document produced by PLOS and collaborators to learn more about the various formats of open access.

Open Access Publishing Discounts Available for uOttawa Authors

Researchers based at OHRI who are listed as the corresponding author on a manuscript are eligible for discounts on open access publishing via the University of Ottawa. Please note that the University of Ottawa has recently adjusted their discounts scheme for open access publishing. You can read about the currently available full discounts for open access publishing and eligibility criteria here.

Making your work Open access:

There are a number of way to make your research open access. One easy way is to simply publish the work in an open access journal. This will make the work openly available immediately at the time of publication. However, sometimes this option, known as ‘gold open access’ may not be possible. For example, many open access journals require an article processing fee to be paid to publish work. Fee waivers or discounts can be requested to avoid these costs if, for example, the work is unfunded or lead by a student. The discounts available for open access publishing (see below box) may also be valuable in this respect. However, in some instances researchers may choose not to publish their work in an open access journal because they don’t have sufficient funds, or because the best suited journal publishes under the traditional publishing model (i.e., not open access). In these instances researchers are encouraged to self-archive their work in an open access repository. This would ensure compliance to the Tri-Agency Policy on Open Access. This process of self-archiving work is called ‘green open access’. To make work green open access researchers should use the SHERPA/ROMEO webpage to determine what type of copyright policies and self-archiving procedures exist at the journal where they published. Subsequently, they can use the uOttawa Repository to make deposit their work. Please note that researchers can deposit their work at the time of publication and simply stipulate an embargo period in the uOttawa Repository.

Why to make your work open access:

There are several reasons you may choose to prioritize publishing in open access journals. For example, some argue that there is a moral imperative to make research produced freely available to others. Free access means that published work is accessible to researchers in developing countries. It also means the general public can access the findings, which is particularly relevant in Canada, where taxes paid may be used to support research. We also know that work published in an open access format is more likely to be cited (see for example here or here).

The Open Access movement is becoming much more widespread, in part because of a number of national funders now requiring manuscripts to be made open access within a certain period of time from their date of publication. If you would like to learn more about the various formats of Open Access, Peter Suber maintains an informative website on this topic. You can also view the ‘How open is it? document produced by PLOS and collaborators to learn more about the various formats of open access.

Using preprint servers:

Preprint servers host drafts of manuscript that have not yet undergone peer review. There are a number of options for preprint servers including ArXiv.org, PeerJ, and the Open Science Framework. Some benefits of preprints include that work have be made publically available freely very quickly, without significant barriers. In fields that move rapidly, it can also be a means to establish precedence of findings. Many preprint servers also enable commenting, which allows for public discussion of the work. Many journals will allow researchers who have published their work as a preprint to subsequently submit their findings for peer review. Researchers can use SHERPA/ROMEO  to determine specific journals regulations around this.

Does the journal operate transparently?

The advent of open access publishing has coincided with the rise in publishers and journals which seek profit but fail to operate transparently. The term ‘predatory journal’ has been coined to describe these types of journals. Predatory journals do not employ rigorous peer-review processes and often spam (i.e., send unsolicited/unwanted emails) researchers with offers of rapid open access publication at a much lower cost than legitimate journals in the same field, or without acknowledging upfront that accepted manuscripts are subject to publication fees6,7.

There are several reasons why you should avoid publishing in predatory journals. One important reason is that these journals tend not to be indexed in Web of Science or similar databases. This means that the work published in predatory journals is not easily searchable and therefore it is unlikely to be cited or used in systematic reviews.

For more information on the topic of transparency, please see the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, available on the COPE website.

Would you be able to identify a predatory journal?

It is important to be critical of journals when deciding where to submit your manuscript. Since many predatory journals solicit submissions via e-mail invitations, you should be particularly cautious when considering e-mail invites from journals you have not heard of, or from people you don’t know personally. Also beware of potential predatory journals when looking for new journals on major search engines.

Below is a list of red flags known to consider when selecting a journal. Researchers are advised to consider these red flag when assessing if a journal is legitimate or not. These criteria are evidence-based and derive from Shamseer et al. 2017

  1. The scope of interest includes non-biomedical subjects alongside biomedical topics
  2. The website contains spelling and grammar errors
  3. Images are distorted/fuzzy, intended to look like something they are not, or which are unauthorized
  4. The homepage language targets authors
  5. The Index Copernicus Value (a bogus metric) is promoted on the website
  6. Description of the manuscript handling process is lacking
  7. Manuscripts are requested to be submitted via email
  8. Rapid publication is promised
  9. There is no retraction policy
  10. Information on whether and how journal content will be digitally preserved is absent
  11. The Article processing/publication charge is very low(e.g., < $150 USD)
  12. Journals claiming to be open access either retain copyright of published research or fail to mention copyright
  13. The contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliated (e.g., @gmail.com or @yahoo.com)

Other resources for detecting a predatory journal:

  1. Jocalyn Clark’s BMJ blog "How to avoid predatory journals – a five point plan"
  2. Think, Check, Submit : A checklist researchers can use to check the quality of journals and publishers. This website also contains other relevant links and interactive video content worth checking out.
  3. DOAJ: The Directory of Open Access Journals maintains a list of credible open access journals. In order to be listed in the DOAJ, journals must apply and be accepted. The list may not therefore be entirely comprehensive, especially in its inclusion of newly launched journals.

Recently, an initiative to hold providers of author services and other resources relevant to publishing accountable to a basic standard has been launched. You can read more about the Coalition for Responsible Publication Resources to track this initiative.

To read a recent article highlighting the problems predatory journals pose, please see here.

If you have any concerns or questions about a potential journal, please don’t hesitate to contact the Publications Officer.

Tools for selecting a journal

The decision of where to publish your research is an important one. Where you publish impacts who will read and use your findings. Discussing your study and findings with colleagues who are content experts in your field may be a good first step in the process of selecting a relevant journal. The considerations outlined above (e.g., metrics, open access status, transparency) should also be factored into your decision.

There are a number of freely available journal selector tools that may be useful to get an idea of the types of journals that may be relevant for your work. Examples include:

Writing a cover letter

Authors should include the following information in a cover letter:

  1. A full statement to the editor about all submissions and previous reports that might be regarded as redundant publication of the same or very similar work.
  2. A statement of financial or other relationships that might lead to a conflict of interest, if that information is not included in the manuscript itself or via journal submission system.
  3. A statement on authorship.
  4. Contact information for the corresponding author.
  5. If relevant, the cover letter or submission form should inform editors if concerns have been raised (e.g., via institutional and/or regulatory bodies) regarding the conduct of the research or if corrective action has been recommended.
  6. The letter or form should give any additional information that may be helpful to the editor.
  7. Many journals provide a pre-submission checklist to help the author ensure that all the components of the submission have been included. Some journals also require that authors complete reporting guideline checklists for reports of certain study types (for example, the CONSORT checklist for reports of randomized controlled trials). Authors should look to see if the journal uses such checklists, and specify that these have been followed, if so.

The Centre for Journalology has a basic cover letter template available for authors to modify and use with their submission, please see here.