The Journal Submission Process 2: Choosing Which One and Submitting

This is the second installment in a 5-part series outlining the process of submitting a paper to an academic journal. Part 1 can be found here

Choosing a journal

There are a number of factors to be considered when choosing which journal to submit to: namely, ranking, policy, and editors.

A journal’s ranking is simply the standing it has with the field and the wider academic community. The higher the journal’s ranking, the greater the readership and citablitiy, and thus the greater the impact your paper is likely to have. This also means that the journal is likely to have a larger number of submissions and a higher degree of rigourousness regarding the review process, and so rejection is more likely and the whole process will certainly take longer. In other words, if you aim to publish quickly, try a smaller journal; if you want impact, be prepared to wait.

Different journals have differing policies in regards to what they wish to publish. Some may have a methodological agenda, while others may be more interested in more specific studies. The journal will likely favour certain approaches, such as sociological, historical, philosophical or quantitative. They will also have an editorial policy, stated on the inside front page of the hard copy, and on the journal’s website. It is no use sending a piece on Wicca to the Journal of Early Christian Studies.

The big question in terms of editors, outside of the policy concerns outlined above, is “who are they?” In other words, are any of them friends, or even friends of friends? Things can speed up considerably if one of the team regards your work as strong a priori. Similarly, if you’ve fallen out with the editor, or perhaps been over-critical of their last book, another journal might prove a better option.

In my case, after seeking the advice of my most trusted contacts, I have decided to submit to the Journal of Contemporary Religion. I had intended to submit to Religion, probably the highest-ranked journal in the field, but after being warned about the highly methodological angle of the journal by one of the editorial board, I balked. What’s more, JoCR not only has a policy of seeking innovative work, which I believe my paper to be, but has also published papers in similar area in the past. My one concern, however, is that my paper is a little long. They ask for a maximum of 7000, while mine is approx 7500, although this is within the 10% margin generally followed in academic matters. We shall see.


This having been decided, there is the not inconsiderable matter of formatting your paper to suit the journal’s preferences. This can be a considerable task. In my case, I had to reformat the text, convert all footnotes to endnotes, change electronic references from footnotes to bibliography and change all inline and bibliography references to MLA. Using software such as Endnote would be helpful here, though I’m still not convinced that entering all the references into it in the first instance isn’t just as much work as manually reformatting. I also needed to add a title page with biographical details. Then the whole thing has to be converted to a pdf.

These details will be found on the journal’s website on the “information for authors” page. A useful guide to citation styles may be found here.

This process is deadly dull, of course, and many will consider it a waste of time, and a million miles from the creative acts of writing or theorising. But I stress, as I have before, that it is a necessary evil. You are in essence “playing the game”. The less work the journal editor has to do on formatting your paper and correcting your spelling, the less likely they are to reject it.


Finally, the formatted paper must be submitted to the journal you have chosen. Again, this will be different in each case, and details can be found on the website. Many of the bigger journals use specialist secure sites for electronic submission, but the JoCR is rather more old-fashioned, requiring an electronic version to be attached to an email and a physical copy to be sent to the editor. I shall be doing that tomorrow.


3 thoughts on “The Journal Submission Process 2: Choosing Which One and Submitting

  1. religionandmore July 12, 2011 / 12:06 pm

    A good post, sir… and one that I should probably have read a while ago {had it been written, obviously]. These are great resources.

    I would emphasise, as I think I have done before, that using zotero or endnote is well worthwhile… though not worth the hassle if you are using it retrospectively on an already finished article. However, in the course of about 8 months of use I have now built up over 250 references in my library… and this will only increase, meaning that future bibliographies etc become much easier.

    Oh… and all the very best with this endeavour! I have no doubt that there will be good news somewhere down the line. Fingers crossed for a (reasonably) speedy response!

  2. Carole Cusack July 14, 2011 / 2:55 am

    David, this is a good post, and it has greater applicability than for PhD students such as yourself. It is surprising how little planning many academics put into where and when their articles will appear. It is true that prestigious journals (A ranked and A* ranked) are good places to publish, but in many cases the queue for publication can be years. I co-edit Journal of Religious History (which is A ranked in Australia and America, but I think only B in Europe, that’s another issue, how rankings differ in different countries) and the typical path from submission to publication is 2.5 to 3 years (the difference being the extent of the emendations required by the referees. More extensive emendations adds the extra six months to the process).

    By contrast, careful searching of journal websites reveals that quite a few journals are behind in publishing issues (i.e., there should be two or three per year, and the ‘Current Issue’ is still August 2010 or something similar). The commonest reason for this is lack of decent submissions; so these journals are a good option for those seeking to have work appear quickly (this is often important for annual performance reviews, bolstering CVs prior to job interviews, and applications for promotion).

    A further issue with journal rankings is that often they don’t actually matter, in that it is more important that the scholar reaches his/her audience. The Journal of Coptic Studies is ranked C, but if you work in that specialised field it is the right place to publish, as all the other Coptic scholars the world over place their research in it, too. My senior colleague Iain Gardner, a Coptic and Manichaean scholar of distinction, is the source of that information. The Australian Government recently threw out the latest journal ranking exercise, partly because it had become overtly politicised and scholars were logging in to the Australian Research Council website and making submissions that certain journals be ranked higher, or lower, in order to advantage particular industry bodies, academic research networks, and so on. We are now back to just counting numbers of publications, for the present.

    Chris is probably right that Endnote or Zotero are worth the time spent on them (I have heard nothing but evil of Endnote, however, from my tribe of research students). Some social scientists prefer Research Manager (my friend Hera Cook at Birmingham, for example). I have never bothered with any of these programmes, though, and generally don’t find reformatting that time-consuming. It’s pleasant work when actual thought is impossible, for whatever reason.

    Finally, you’re right that knowing an editor or an editorial board member might help, but this is increasingly less the case, as secure online submission of anonymised work and the fact that most journal editors employ editorial assistants (as Chris Hartney and I do for JRH) means that the editors cannot fast-track the refereeing or publication process to any great extent (the websites automate it, and queues are generally not interfered with). Good luck with the article, Journal of Contemporary Religion is a good journal (though it has quite a backlog, my friend Alex Norman submitted a co-authored piece in February last year that has been through all the hoops and is approved, but has not yet appeared and there is only one more issue for 2011).

  3. adamkadmon July 14, 2011 / 9:54 pm

    Thanks for the excellent comments, guys – much valuable information there. I’m writing this as I go through the process for the first time, so there’s much I have to learn. But your comments help make these posts what I hope they’ll become – a useful resource for others in my position.

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