Dr. K. Satyanarayana

Guest Lecture delivered at BIC Workshop, JBTDRC, Sept. - Oct. 2003

A major dilemma that scientists from developing countries like India face is that of choosing an appropriate journal for publication of their papers. Should one publish the paper in a journal of one's own country or send it to a journal abroad, which usually means those from the United States or United Kingdom since journals from these countries constitute almost 60 % of all journals included in the Index Medicus (year 2000; US: 1435 journals; 42.0%; UK: 600; 17.6%) or the Science Citation Index (US: 41.0%; UK: 20.1%). Developing countries have few journals of their own. Also, journals from these countries are not 'respected' by peers who sit on expert committees for faculty selections or approval of research grant proposals. Not surprisingly, many authors therefore prefer to publish in an obscure 'foreign' journal than in a well-known local one. However, many authors from developing countries complain that these foreign journals often turn down even good-quality papers with the comment that the research topic may not interest their readership. Thus, to find a journal which considers papers from developing countries, scientists from developing countries need to understand the scholarly communication systems of the world.

According to the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) register of the ISSN International Center, Paris, France managed by the UNESCO, more than one million journals or serials are published in various languages. Admittedly, many of them are of poor quality. One indicator of the quality of journals is their inclusion in secondary information services, such as Index Medicus, Chemical Abstracts, that have stringent criteria for inclusion. Not surprisingly, many journals fail to feature in these databases. Many, in fact, do not make it even to the lists of periodicals brought out by commercial agencies, like the Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory 1999, which provides information on 157,173 (about 16% of total) serials published globally and arranged under 973 subject headings.

While choosing an appropriate journal, it is worthwhile knowing the criteria used by major international secondary databases like Index Medicus or Science Citation Index. The inclusion criteria are tough and, what is more, these services constantly monitor the performance of journals and review the list of journals included in these indices annually.

Index Medicus : Index Medicus, and its electronic version called Medline, brought out by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), Bethesda, USA is the largest medical journal database in the world. It currently includes 3419 journals and has a wide reach, particularly through its web-version, the PubMed. The major criteria for inclusion of a journal in this database include: i) scope and coverage of subject content ii) quality of content iii) editorial quality in terms of peer review and selection of articles iv) production quality v) types of journal content vi) foreign language journals, and vii) geographical coverage. A new journal seeking inclusion in the Index Medicus is monitored for three years before a decision is taken. NLM has its own reviewers who advise about inclusion of a journal. While the NLM does not disclose the actual criteria for inclusion and deletion, parameters like punctuality, minimum basic editorial and printing standard, peer review, periodicity, etc. appear to be important.

Science Citation Index/Journal Citation Reports (SCI/JCR) :

Inclusion in SCI/JCR system is much tougher than that in the Index Medicus. Some parameters the SCI/JCR system lists as important for inclusion include i) punctuality of publication ; ii) international editorial content ; iii) English language article titles with key words and abstracts , and iv) use of peer review. Its publisher, the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), Philadelphia, also uses an international advisory board for its decision making.

Factors determining the appropriate journal for a manuscript

While these criteria used by indexing agencies represent standard criteria of journal quality, the choice of an appropriate journal by an author could be based on several other factors too. Quality of a scholarly journal is very difficult to judge and there cannot be a single universally acceptable parameter for ranking journals. However, one can always use several known methods of evaluation of journals and take an informed decision of the appropriateness of a journal in a given context.

Impact Factor

This is a well known but controversial parameter of a journal's reputation. A journal's 'impact factor' is a measure of the extent to which articles published in it are cited. The rationale behind the system is that more the citations to a journal's articles, the greater is its 'impact'. ISI) [] publishes impact factor of journals indexed by it in an annual publication called Journal Citation Reports (JCR) / Science Citation Index. Journals with high impact factors are the most sought after by authors for publishing articles. In fact, many journals widely advertise their impact factor data to claim that their journals are among the best in their respective fields.

Though it is the only measurable index of journal quality, impact factor must be used with caution. Several factors are known to influence citation patterns. These include the subject of coverage (research-intensive basic science areas as immunology, cell biology, genetics or molecular medicine tend to have high citation rates), type of paper (methodology papers of average 'quality' in biomedical sciences are cited more often than outstanding papers in mathematics or physics), periodicity of journal (weekly journals have higher citation rates than monthly journals); and type of articles (an average review article is cited more often than good original articles). With careful choice and mix of editorial content, a shrewd editor can ensure sustained high citation rate and impact factor for his journal.

In choosing the right journal, at the minimum, potential authors could ensure that the selected journal(s) finds place in the latest edition of the JCR/SCI. The 2000 JCR/SCI lists 5684 journals from over 150 areas of science and technology. Specifically, there are 62 categories in biomedical sciences, with number of journals per category varying from 4 (Andrology) to 310 journals (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). Table shows the impact factor of top-ranked journals in some important categories.

Table. Top Ten Journal Rankings sorted by Impact Factor for some fields

Medicine, General & Internal (No. of journals = 104)



Journal name abbreviation

Impact Factor

Medicine-general & internal (n = 104)


New Engl J Med



Jama-J Am Med Assoc






Ann Rev Med



Ann Rev Med



Arch Intern Med



Am J Med



Brit Med J








Medicine, Research & Experimental (No. of journals = 74)



Journal name abbreviation

Impact Factor

Medicine, Research & Experimental (n = 74)


Nat Med



J Exp Med



J Clin Invest



Hum Gene Ther



Gene Ther



Mol Med Today



Lab Invest



Cancer Gene Ther



Mol Med



J Mol Med-Jmm


Multidisciplinary Sciences (No. of journals = 49)



Journal name abbreviation

Impact Factor

Multidisciplinary Scinence (n = 49)








P Natl Acad Sci USA



Sci Am



Ibm J Res Dev



J Res Natl Inst Stan



Philos T Roy Soc A



P Roy Soc Lond A Mat



Ann Ny Acad Sci





( Source : Journal Citation Reports ( JCR ) on CD - ROM - 2000 Science Edition )

Prestige factor

Scientists who regularly publish papers 'know' which journals contribute significantly to advancement in their area. These journals may not necessarily have the highest impact factors. These are journals which most scientists in the discipline consider as very influential. These are journals that young researchers hope to publish in to let the peers know that they have arrived.


Potential readers of a journal are important because scientists publish papers primarily not to see their name in print but to communicate some crucial messages of interest to their peers. Sometimes, you may be interested in very specific and focused niche group(s) of readers. Your work may interest scientists from a part of a continent or country either because most scientists working in that area are located there or because the research could directly influence population in that area. In such circumstances, it does not make sense to try and publish in a high impact journal that is unlikely to be consulted by these groups.

Editorial Board

One of the important criteria to judge a journal is by the people associated with its peer review process. These are the members of editorial advisory board who are expected to closely monitor the quality of science that appears in the journal, advise the editor on the type of material that should find its way into the journal and generally monitor the overall progress of the journal. An experienced and reputed global editorial board adds to the prestige of a journal.

General vs Speciality Journal

With increasing specialization in science, now there are journals that cater to super-specialists. While general medical journals have a wider readership, they may not be read by many specialists. Also, editors of general medical journals often do not encourage publication of highly specialized papers.


It may be worthwhile scanning a recent issue of a journal to know the kind of papers that are published. Is the focus of the journal broad or narrow? Which disciplines are most frequently represented? What is the journal's orientation - for example, is it clinical or basic, theoretical or applied, or a mix of some? Is it a journal that most medical researchers scan regularly? And there are certain 'core' journals for each specialty that most people in the field automatically browse every time a new issue comes out.

Do you have to always publish in the journal that most closely matches the topic of your article? Not necessarily, especially if your paper is also likely to be of interest and relevance to non-core readers. For example, a paper in basic sciences could be sent to a more clinically oriented journal if you wish to emphasize the clinical relevance of your work. Remember that wrong choice of journal could mean burial of the paper forever, as only a selected few may access the paper.


You'll want to publish your article in the most prestigious place where it will get accepted. How do you determine a journal's reputation? Here are some ways:

Who reads it - Ask established colleagues in your field which journals they regularly read. Most will have a short list of top ('high profile') journals, a somewhat longer list of other journals which may not necessarily be 'high impact', 'high prestige' ones, yet most relevant to their work.

What's the journal's manuscript acceptance rate - Is the journal very selective, or does it publish most of the submitted manuscripts? Are the journal's standards so high, that you will be wasting time submitting to that journal? You can sometimes determine acceptance rate by contacting the editors; you can also ask more experienced researchers in the field for their general impression.

How long has the journal existed - New journals are launched every year, and the survival rate is low. Even if a journal is successful, it may take a few years before it is listed in most electronic databases. So, if you're just starting your career, be wary of publishing in a new journal. Let more senior researchers be the path-breakers.

Journals form developing countries

A few additional factors that may be important when considering journals from developing countries, since many of these journals are still addressing very basic publication issues, as listed below.


Many journals from India and other developing countries are not published on schedule. It is always helps to look at the latest issue of the journal before submitting a paper to the journal.


For people to read your article, they have to be able to find it. In judging a journal's availability, the major issues could be accessibility in the hardcopy form and electronically. How many libraries subscribe to the journal? How many individuals? These numbers can vary widely. For example, some journals may have a library subscription base of less than 500, and no personal subscriptions at all; other journals are present in virtually all libraries and have well over 250,000 personal subscriptions. Does the journal have an on-line version? This provides individuals (at least those with personal or institutional subscriptions) with quick access to the publication and may also offer hypertext links to other articles of relevance. But beware of publishing your work in a journal that is only available on-line and not in print. These journals - as well as the concept - may be so new that tenure and promotion committees will view them as less valuable than print journals. It is thus probably best for young scientists in most fields (with a few notable exceptions such as physics) to avoid these journals.


Make sure that the journal you select accepts articles of the form (e.g. brief communication, rapid communication, or full communication) that you will be writing.


What style does the journal use for its text, including its style of citing references? Journals differ widely in the styles that they use: Typefaces vary, as does the way in which a journal cites references. For example, some journals cite references in the text by numbers (e.g., [10]), others by authors (e.g., [Satyanarayana & Jain, 2002]). The manner in which the references are written also varies. There are some journals that provide full references (authors, title, journal, volume, pages, and year) in an alphabetic list, and others that provide only limited information (e.g., the first six authors, journal, first page, and year) in the order in which the reference is cited - this takes up less room but also provides less information to the reader. Will you be including photomicrographs or other "half-tone" (continuous colour) figures (e.g., Western blots)? Not all journals are capable of printing figures with a high resolution or in colour. Also, consider whether your figures will be printed within the article itself or in a different section of the journal where all of the figures in that issue will appear. Make sure that you are comfortable with the way your article will appear when published.

Time to print

An author wants to get his article in print as soon as possible. It is worthwhile checking the length of a particular journal's publication cycle i.e. the time taken for the review process and, once the article is accepted, for publication. You can find this out by looking at the articles the journal has published in a recent issue. Many journals spell out the policy. For others, one needs to look at the dateline - "date submitted" and "date accepted". You might also want to consider whether the journal has an on-line component, and if so, whether the journal will post articles to that website as soon as they are approved for publication, even if the printed version would not be available for a while.

Page Charges

In contrast to those who write for money, authors of research articles are usually not paid by the journal. In fact, they may be required to pay charges for publication, to partially offset the cost of journal production. Charges are of two types: page charges and plate charges. Some journals may also demand 'handling charges' for getting the paper peer reviewed.

Page charges are at a predetermined rate per page in the printed article. These fees can range widely and may be as high as US$60 per page. Plate charge, or charges for printing colour figures, may be as high as $1,000 per plate.

Journals assume that these charges will be paid out of institutional funds or research grants. If such funds are not available to you, indicate this in the covering letter that you send along with your manuscript. Many journals will waive these charges if they would represent a hardship to the researcher. It is important to know that journals asking for page charges are not necessarily better in quality. For example, the impact factor (2000) of The Journal of Neurosciences (8.502) which charges $60 per page is substantially lower than Nature Neuroscience (12.636) that does not seek page charges.

When should one choose the journal

A tentative decision should be made as soon as one starts writing. This is because journals follow different styles. Knowing the format in advance helps avoid reformatting later.

What type of article does one want to publish

When selecting a journal, an important consideration is kind of paper being written - full-length research articles, short communications (also called brief communications), case report, a review or status paper, or an opinion paper, etc. Many journals may not entertain some types of papers, say unsolicited reviews. Such information may be found in 'Instructions to Authors' for each journal. Be sure to get the information in respect of type of articles, length of articles in terms of number of words, number of tables, number and size of figures, abbreviations that can be used without defining them, the format for references in the text and in the bibliography, references section, and other information on formatting the manuscript. Many times not consulting the Instructions could mean return of the paper asking the authors to fulfill the requirements and avoidable delay.

The final choice

When more than one journal is being considered, some critical variables can help make the final choice. It is likely that no single journal will have all the features one is looking for; therefore, decide which features are the most important and which you are willing to compromise on. However, having said that, one should not compromise on minimum quality and standard of the journal and inclusion in a reputed international secondary database; this ensures a minimum editorial standard. A tight time schedule may be particularly important for your younger coauthors who could be looking for a fast publication to support their job applications.

It helps to apply a set of known criteria to short list a group of high impact journals with wide outreach and circulation in one's chosen field of specialty. Depending upon the contents of the article to be sent, one may short-list two or three journals for publishing a particular paper. It also helps consult an experienced senior colleague as several journals have some unwritten rules or well-known biases, for and against some areas of research. It does not make sense to try and publish in a journal that has well known strong views.

Even though one may identify 2-3 potential journals, one must submit a manuscript to only one journal at a time. Simultaneous submission to more than one journal is considered unethical. In fact, many journals require the author(s) to state in their covering letter that the paper is not under consideration elsewhere.

Selecting the most appropriate (best) journal can take some time and experience. But it is worth the effortsince it will determine whether your paper gets read, gets read by the right authors and influences progress of science. Publication in a good journal will give a positive impression among your peers. Finally, consider the advice someone once gave to us : "If you do not get a manuscript rejected once in a while, you are not aiming high enough."

Suggested Reading

  1. Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory 1999, 37th edition, R.R. Bowker, New Jersey. 1998. vol 1- 5.

  2. Directory of Periodicals Published in India 2000, (Eds Kaur, S. and Sapra, P), Sapra & Sapra Publishers Distributors Pvt Ltd, New Delhi. 2000.

  3. Directory of Indian Scientific Periodicals 1992, 4th edition, Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre, New Delhi. 1992.

  4. Science Citation Index 1996 - 2000 Annual Guide and List of Source Publications, Institute for Scientific Information Inc., Philadelphia. 1996-2000.

  5. Journal Citation Reports on CD-ROM-1996-2000 Science Edition, Institute for Scientific Information Inc., Philadelphia. 1996-2000.

  6. Satyanarayana, K. Srivastava, D. Biomedical Publications in India - A review. Proceedings of a seminar on learned periodicals. Past, present and future. INSDOC, New  Delhi1989, 109-120.

  7. Satyanarayana K. Journal evaluation; Why and how. Indian J. Gastroenterol., 1993, 12, S5-S8.

  8. Satyanarayana K. JAMA, NEJM and beyond. Journal editing in the new millennium. Curr. Sci., 2000, 78, 225-227.

  9. Jain, N.C., Impact Factor of Indian journals. Curr. Sci., 2000, 79, 1513-4

  10. Jain, N.C., Indian journals and SCI . Curr. Sci., 1999, 76, 1061-2

  11. Satyanarayana, K. Journal publication crisis or opportunity? Curr. Sci., 1999, 76 ,861.

  12. Satyanarayana, K. NIH plans a global biomedical database. Curr. Sci., 1999, 77, 630.

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