In our last article on choosing a journal manuscript, we talked about the general factors you should consider when deciding which journals to target for submission. In this post, we will look more closely at another of these aspects: a journal’s aim and scope.
What is a journal’s scope?
“Scope,” simply stated, is the journal’s purpose or objective. This is what the publication wants to achieve by delivering its content to its readers. Also known as “aim” or “mission,” a journal’s goals contain many factors you will want to consider when deciding if the journal is right for you. For example, Nature‘s scope states the following:
Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance, and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful, and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists, and the wider public.
Here, we can see:
- the frequency of the publication (weekly),
- the circulation size (international),
- the type of review (peer review),
- the criteria for selection (“originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions”), and
- the types of articles it publishes (news, research articles (“research in all fields of science and technology”) and editorials and commentaries (“interpretation of topical and coming trends”)).
The journal also includes a mission statement:
First, to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science. Second, to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture, and daily life.
Based on the above, we also learned that its audience includes not only scientists but also the general public. Moreover, its content aims to improve our understanding of culture and daily life.
Where can I find the journal’s scope?
Typically, you can find a journal’s aim and scope in the “About Us” section of a journal’s website. Sometimes it will be presented all in one location. Other times, it may come in separate sections, as in the above example of Nature. More detailed information can also be found in a journal’s “Guide for Authors” or “For Authors” section. Finally, reading through a few recent back issues will give you a better sense of how the referees define selection criteria such as “novelty,” “originality,” “importance,” etc.
How do I know if my research topic matches a journal’s scope?
Once you read a journal’s scope, you should ask yourself several questions, including the following:
- Is your research information that would likely be relevant when it is published? For example, let’s say that your research substantively matches Nature‘s scope. We know that it is a weekly publication and its turnaround is relatively quick. As such, it’s unlikely your research would be outdated if you submitted to this journal. But if the turnaround were seven months, for example, you might have a problem if your research were time sensitive and you were aware that other people who were researching similar topics might be close to publishing.
- Is your research relevant to the audience targeted by the journal? For example, if your study focused on a small ethnic group on one continent, would it make sense to aim for an international journal?
- Are the implications of your research multidisciplinary? If your journal prefers studies that can be useful to experts in multiple subjects, will a specialized project be interesting to that journal’s readers?
- Is my research too technical for a layperson? A journal with a large, general subscription will want articles to be written in plain English containing little jargon.
- Does your research cover work similar to those contained in other articles published by the journal? Some similarity is good, but too much overlap might mean that your research is no longer “original” for the journal’s purposes.
- Does the journal accept your manuscript type? If you are doing a clinical study, but the journal you are contemplating does not publish any, perhaps you should keep looking. Likewise, if you want to write an editorial, but your selected journal does not accept them, it would be a waste of time to submit to that publication.
After you have determined that your draft is a good fit for your target journal, make sure that you convey this in your cover letter and abstract. For example, if a journal wants research that has policy implications, you should make sure to include some discussion about how your research could influence policy. Now you can see why it can sometimes be helpful to choose a handful of similar journals and keep them in mind as you start writing your manuscript!
And before submitting your manuscript to journal editors, don’t forget to receive manuscript editing to improve the clarity of your work and fix any errors in grammar, punctuation, and formatting.
You can also find these resources plus information about the journal submission process in our FREE downloadable e-book: Research Writing and Journal Publication E-Book.