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Stretch, reach and fall back: Targeting your submission to the journal

Deciding where to submit your journal article can be a daunting task. Not all journals are created equal. Journals differ in content and, of course, in the more elusive, status within the discipline. What I will write about here is how to select and refine your submission based on the journal’s status within your discipline. Two strategies can smooth out the submission process. The first strategy illustrates one way to decide on the journal in which you want to publish. The second strategy is how to analyze the articles within that selected journal to focus your writing to that audience.

Peer review of materials is the heart and soul of academic work. From journal articles to promotion and tenure committee deliberations, faculty members review each other’s work and make decisions on its quality and contribution to the profession. Peer experts review journal article submissions. This seems straightforward and obvious. Yet, these journals vary not only in content but also in rigor and, therefore, in how many articles are accepted from those submitted. Learning as much as you can about your target journal is essential in finding the best place to submit your work and to get it published.

The first strategy in getting a handle on where to submit a journal article involves your learning as much as you can about a target journal. Find out as much as you can about the quality, rigor, acceptance rates and respectability that a journal has. Some journals have a greater “impact factor” than others, that is, they are cited more than others. Some journals are just considered more prestigious than others by knowledgeable peers. Some of this information is on Cabell’s Directory, a research journal database, available through your library databases. Other information can be found by asking your peers, especially those well respected in your department or at the national level. It is your job to figure out the top journals in your field early on in your career.

Once you have found those top journals, label them the “stretch” journals. To publish in these would be considered very prestigious by your peers and the gold standard of the field. One tier down from that group would be what I call, the “reach” journals. These are good, solid, peer-reviewed journals that won’t necessarily get the “wow” factor from your colleagues but, certainly are regarded as worthy. They are peer reviewed but may have a higher acceptance rate and lower impact factor. By publishing in these journals, you are indicating that you want tojoin the academic conversation, you have ideas to offer, your work is good and you are creating a publication track record that most promotion and tenure committees like to see.

The next group is what I call the “fall back” group. These journals are easy to publish in with high acceptance rates. Some of these like Kappan may have a more magazine format and do not look like the typical research journal at all. Some of these might be written for the practitioner with sidebars and articles with catchy titles. Others have the typical research journal formats but the acceptance rates are high because it is a new journal so they have few submissions. Others may be online journals, although, as the number of online journals increase, not all online journals would enter this “fall back” category.

Armed with this information about the journals in your discipline, you can now apply the second strategy in understanding the journal submission process, a “Text Structure Analysis” (TSA). Select a target journal where you think your work can be submitted. Some people use the “stretch”, “reach” and “fall back” method above to decide where they want to send their work. Nevertheless, decide on one journal. Photocopy or download and print 3 articles. Now your job is to analyze the text structures in these three articles to get a feel for what makes sense to the peers that review for this journal.

Below is a form that you can use to conduct the Text Structure Analysis. Applying this analysis allows you to see what the reviewers value in the submissions they receive. For example, do they expect you to have 40 references or will 10 suffice? Is the title engaging or just inclusive of the content of the article? Are they enamored with qualitative or quantitative methods? Conducting this analysis can help you feel more confident about your submissions as it provides more insight than the information provided in journal submission guidelines.

Journals do differ in content and focus but they also differ in status and structure. Analyzing both the status and the structure of a journal will guide you to producing submissions that are highly regarded by your peers and are publishable.

Dannelle D. Stevens is a Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Portland State University. She is a coauthor of several books including: Introduction To Rubrics: An Assessment Tool To Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning, 2nd edition; and Journal Keeping: How to Use Reflective Writing for Learning, Teaching, Professional Insight and Positive Change.

Know the “language of the tribe”- Text Structure Analysis

(TSA) Identify the journal in which you wish to publish. Photocopy 3 articles that use a similar methodology to the one you have used. Compare the articles for the following text structures. See how you can shape your work to match the patterns in these structures.

Text structure & possible descriptors Article #1 Article #2 Article #3 Patterns across articles.
10-word brief of gist of article. Not in sentences.
Title: friendly, formal, long, colon, tone, inviting, academic
Abstract– length, content
References– number, age, type
Subheads in article– number, type
Pages or paragraphs devoted to: Introduction, lit. review, method, results, discussion, other
Number of figures
Number of tables
Overall tone of article 1st person, 3rd person (detached)
Purpose of research where stated–
Research questions, clear?
Other noteworthy items