A simmering question facing the scientist or engineer thinking about publishing a peer-reviewed paper is which journal to submit to. Hopefully, the question (and possibly its answer) is in the mind of the researcher from the beginning. Often, it is a last-minute choice after the paper is mostly or completely written. What factors should lead to a decision as to the most appropriate publication venue for your work? Historically, journal selection has involved relevance, acceptance rate, circulation, prestige, and publication time. But as more journals have moved online, and search engines have made finding and accessing articles much easier, some of these factors are less relevant today.
8.1 The Specialization Spectrum
The first scientific journal was published over 350 years ago. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society was a general journal of “natural philosophy” (as science was then called), and for over 100 years all regularly published journals were also similarly general. After all, there was no real specialization in science or scientists and so no need for specialized journals. The birth of chemistry as a modern scientific discipline changed that. Largely through the efforts of French scientist Antoine Lavoisier and colleagues, the “chemical revolution” of the late 18th century helped make chemistry a quantitative science involving the combination of elements into molecules. In 1789, they started the first permanent specialty science journal, Annales de Chimie.
Since then, the growth of science has led inexorably to a growth in specialization, both in scientific disciplines and the journals that serve them. Today, there are about 30,000 peer-reviewed journals publishing more than 2 million articles a year. These journals run from the perfectly general to the highly specialized, but the vast majority of science journals today are specialized in narrow fields. The first decision facing prospective authors is where on the specialization spectrum they should try to publish.