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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Understanding Journal Competitiveness


Nathan Boutin, Associate Editor

June 2022

What is journal competitiveness?

Finding the right journal for your paper can be a difficult task. There are thousands of scientific journals and an ever-increasing number of researchers trying to publish their work in them. Unfortunately, there are often more papers than publishable space in a journal, so only the best papers rise above the rest. Rejection, academia’s form of Darwinism, is common in the publishing industry, and competition can be either fierce or lax depending on the journal.

You may have heard the phrase “journal competitiveness” thrown around in the publishing space. You might at first believe that this refers to some internal struggles between different journals—say, for instance, two journals in the same field competing to publish the most relevant and groundbreaking research. While editorial boards are trying to improve their journal with each and every issue, journal competitiveness usually refers to how difficult it is for the researcher to publish in any given journal. The more competition, the higher your chances of rejection.

There are many metrics that can provide a glimpse into how competitive a journal is, such as citation rankings, CiteScore, impact factor, and Eigenfactor score. Competitiveness is more of a general idea than a measurable value, but one of the biggest influences on competitiveness is paper acceptance rate. Journals with more submissions are naturally more competitive and must reject a higher quantity of papers due to limited space. The go-to rule is that it will be tougher to publish in a journal with a low acceptance rate than publish in a journal with a high acceptance rate. The issue with acceptance rates is that many papers are rejected before being sent to reviewers, which can skew the numbers and lead to artificially low rates of acceptance. To get your paper to the peer review stage and increase your chances of success, there are several ways to Avoid Desk Rejection in Academic Publishing.

Acceptance rate is not a catch-all metric to understand how competitive a journal is, and papers may be rejected on many foundations aside from their scientific merit. Sheer volume of submissions, the scope of the paper, its novelty, or even the subjective feelings of editors or reviewers can determine the outcome. Even basic language errors can contribute to a rejection. However, acceptance rates on the extremes (less than 5% or greater than 80%) of the curve can be a strong indicator of competitiveness. A very low acceptance rate usually means rigorous standards and a more prestigious journal. Beware, though, for journals with obscenely high rates of acceptance, despite being easy to publish in, may be predatory journals.

Journal competitiveness on LetPub

Journal competitiveness is one metric provided on the LetPub Journal Selector Tool. Most often, the competitiveness is rated on a scale from Easy to Difficult. This rating takes into account a number of factors that influence the likelihood of acceptance and thus the difficulty of publishing. You may also see “invited contributions,” which means that the chance of acceptance is good, but the journal will only consider articles from scholars who have been specifically invited to submit. A given percentage denotes the approximate acceptance rate as reported by researchers who have submitted to that journal. However, these rates can fluctuate, so it is best to use the journal competitiveness metric as a basic guideline. It is recommended to check the journal’s website or contact the editor for the most accurate information.

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