We all face these choices, but they loom larger for graduate students and young scholars. They need quick publications, which would favor a lower-ranking journal. But a paper in a top journal looks awfully good on your CV. These questions are on my mind now as I begin looking over applications for an archaeology position in my unit. Candidate A has two papers in top journals, but candidate B (at the same level of seniority) has three papers in lower-ranking journals plus two book chapters. Yes, but candidate A has a bunch of papers in conference proceedings.
There is no easy rule of thumb for deciding where to send a paper, but here are a few thoughts. I don't claim to be an expert or to speak for anybody else; these are my personal opinions. If you are thinking about this question in relation to job searches, another complexity enters the stage: will search committees only count publications in hand, will they look at accepted papers, or will they also consider papers under review?
Journal ranking is a major consideration. Top journals have much wider readership and much more prestige. I've talked about my experiences trying to publish in Science previously (and for some reason, that post is wildly popular, the only entry from this blog with a steady stream of thousands of hits a month. Maybe the thousand of authors rejected by Science find it comforting). My Science rejection ended up in PNAS, "Papers Not Acceptable to Science." Oops, that should be Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Not a slouch of a publication (much higher ranked than any archaeology journal), but still not on the same level as Science or Nature. Journals are full of excellent published papers that were previously rejected from another journal, typically from a higher-ranking journal. Although I did just come across a paper rejected by a lower-ranking journal published in a higher-ranking journal.
Journals are often divided into levels. A typical scheme is:
- International: A top journal with an international readership and reputation.
- National: An excellent journal of national scope.
- Regional: A journal with a regional focus. These are far more important in archaeology than in other fields, since our research has a strong place-orientation and since we have to publish a lot of data reports.
- Semi-journal: A publication whose status as peer-reviewed is uncertain.
- Newsletter: A non-peer-reviewed serial publication.
Non-English language journalsEnglish-speakers who do research in other countries have to publish in local journals. This can be more difficult if it requires publishing in another language. I once translated a paper into Spanish for a Mexican journal. I gave it to a bi-lingual secretary in Cuernavaca who offered to check the translation. After looking it over, she asked if I would mind if she re-translated it from English. Wow. That was the last time I tried translated my own writing into Spanish; now I either write directly in Spanish, or pay for a translator.
But publishing in foreign journals has another downside. Many U.S. scholars without experience in international research or scholarship assume that foreign journals are not peer reviewed. I know of one case where it nearly cost an archaeologist tenure and promotion because the search committee did not want to count journal articles published in a Latin American country. But even if one's colleagues are not so biased as this, it can be difficult to evaluate how non-English language journals rank with respect to English-language journals. I know for a fact that many Mexican journals have rigorous peer review processes. So in evaluating whether to publish in other languages, one has to balance the benefits of publishing in the country of research (for which there are many benefits and positive features) versus the potential downside of having others possibly evaluate one's publications lower.
This is another very important factor in deciding where to publish. If you care about how long it will take to get into print, then you want a journal that is quick. I've commented previously about fast review times for the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and for Urban Studies. And don't forget the three days it took Science to reject my paper! Can't complain on that measure.
It can be difficult to get accurate data on turnaround time. This information is rarely published in a public location, and it is in the interest of slow journals to suppress or cover up the actual record of their turnaround time. In my field, Mesoamerican archaeology, the two top journals are both VERY slow to get papers reviewed, and then to get accepted papers into print. It is hard to say just how slow they are, however. My judgment is based on my own experiences and on talking with colleagues, many of whom complain bitterly about the time delays. I could tell a few choice stories here, but I will refrain. I had a short descriptive paper on urban neighborhoods at Maya cities, and I didn't even consider those two journals because of the time delay. I was going to send it to a regional journal/semi-journal, but the editor of a French international journal expressed an interest and said they could review it quickly. I submitted it, and the process was quick, convenient, and of high quality (the Journal de la Société del Américanistes). I thought it would be better to get the paper out more quickly than to wait for it to come out in a higher-ranked journal with wider readership, and I think I made the right decision.
What about edited volumes? It is usually much easier to get a paper into an edited volume, especially if it originated at a symposium at a meeting. But if you have followed this blog for a while you already know of my (low) opinions of most edited volumes in archaeology. The corollary of that view is that in most (but not all) cases, I would advise sending a good paper to a journal rather than putting it in an edited volume. See:
- Why are so many edited volumes worthless?
- Buried in an edited volume, or
- Sloppy editing of edited volumes.
But the most important advice I can offer is to get off your duff and finish that article!