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Careers Café

Why are you publishing?

Which journal should you publish your academic article in? Jo Van Every tells you which factors to consider.


Everyone knows that you have to publish. And yet, many academics struggle. Even if you don’t struggle with the actual writing, you may find it hard to submit your work. Sometimes your fears about submitting lead you to publish in not quite the right places, affecting your ability to secure a tenure-track job, a grant, or a promotion.

Why are you publishing?

I have noticed that many of the conversations about publishing are focused on those secondary outcomes: hiring, promotion, grants.

It’s as if publishing were like those cards the coffee shop gives you: 10 stamps and you get a free coffee; write articles for X number of publications and you’ll get a job/promotion/grant.

Of course it’s not just any publication, it’s “high impact journals” or “respected university presses” but that’s a bit like saying you only get a stamp for buying a cappuccino.

Making a contribution to knowledge

The real reason academics publish is to make a contribution to knowledge. Publishing is a formal way of engaging in conversation with other scholars.

That means you want to publish your work in a journal (or with a press) that the scholars you want to engage with are likely to read and respect. Sometimes those are called “high impact.” Sometimes they are just called “good journals” or “good presses.”

You also want to publish in a journal that is publishing other contributions to the same conversation. Journals don’t just publish high quality articles. They publish high quality articles that fit the overall direction of the journal.

Who needs the knowledge you have?

The first step is to identify who you want to engage in conversation with.

You may have multiple audiences. Those audiences are likely interested in different aspects of your work, or interested in your work for different reasons. You may be talking about the same findings, but their importance depends on the context of the ongoing scholarly conversation.

Once you have identified the audiences, you can identify journals that serve those specific audiences. You can write your article to address the ongoing conversation amongst that specific group of scholars.

If there are non-academic audiences who would benefit from this knowledge, you may need a different strategy to reach them. Again, specify the audience. What is important about your research in their context. Then consider how they typically learn about new things so you can figure out how to reach them effectively.

Collecting stamps, too

Of course, you also need to get stamps on your card to get hired, promoted, or funded. Just like the coffee shop that won’t honour a card full of stamps from it’s rival, the committees making those decisions value some audiences more than others. It is worth considering their priorities when setting your own publishing priorities.

The real benefit of thinking this way is that you are likely to be more motivated to publish and to speak to others who are excited about similar questions. The fact that you get stamps on your card is gravy.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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