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Selecting a Journal for Publication: Quality Indicators

Quality Indicators

Does the journal contain articles that meet criteria for scientific rigor and editorial quality?

Review at least two years worth of articles from a journal being considered for publication. Do the articles meet your standard for scientific rigor? Is the editorial quality consistent?

Which citation databases index the journal contents?

One indicator of journal quality is whether it is indexed by any major citation databases and if so, how far back does the indexing date to?  MEDLINE is considered among the premier databases for biomedical journals and indexing by MEDLINE is considered as a high quality benchmark for a journal. See the List of Journals Currently Indexed by MEDLINE.  Indexing by other databases such as Web of Science, Scopus, and EMBASE, are also quality indicators and may also be appropriate for your desired audience. Consider the citation databases you use to find citations to the literature—if the journal is not indexed by citation databases you use for your research you may want to consider an alternate journal to reach your target audience.

NOTE: Sherpa-Romeo, DOAJ, and Google are not considered as citation databases.

Is the journal published by an established publisher or recognized professional society?

Quality journals are published by established publishers or professional societies. Do you know the publisher or professional society? Are you a member of the professional society? Does your mentor publish in the journal?

Does the journal provide a description of the review process?

Reputable journals provide a description of how the peer review process is handled including timeframes. Is the review process described on the journal website? How are the reviewers selected?  Are they qualified to serve as reviewers? How many reviewers will be assigned to a manuscript? How are revisions handled? Is the review process transparent?  How soon will an author receive notice that their manuscript has been accepted for publication? What is the average length of time from submission to rejection?  If accepted, what is the expected time period from acceptance to publication?

Does the journal belong to organizations that promote publication ethics?

Is the journal publisher a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)? COPE is a forum for editors and publishers of peer reviewed journals to discuss all aspects of publication ethics and also advises editors on how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. Another organization is the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). STM is a global trade association for academic and professional publishers and members are required to abide by STM Ethical Principles for Scholarly Publishing or equivalent statements. A strong indicator of journal quality is if the journal is one of the members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). A related indicator is if a journal follows the ICMJE requirements Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals (formerly known as Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts, URMs), see: Journals Stating That They Follow the ICMJE Recommendations. If the journal is an Open Access journal, is it listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)? DOAJ contains more than 10,000 open access journals covering all areas of science, technology, medicine, social science and humanities. DOAJ is also co-author to the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing (Principles), a list of criteria used for listing of journals. Another Open Access directory is the Open Access Scholarly Publisher’s Association (OASPA). Members of OASPA are required to follow membership criteria for ethical publishing practices.

Does the journal publisher require authors to follow reporting of research guidelines or to deposit data?
Does the journal follow standard guidelines for reporting of research? Reporting guidelines are a series of guidelines for authors to improve the reliability and value of health research literature. Some major guidelines for reporting of research methods and findings include CONSORT, MOOSE, PRISMA, ARRIVE, GPP2, among others. See Research Reporting Guidelines and Initiatives: By Organization for a list of guidelines. Another source of reporting guidelines is the EQUATOR Network.  Other types of guidelines include requiring authors to deposit scientific data or sequences into relevant data repositories such as Gene Expression Omnibus or Array Express and to provide accession numbers. Journals that require authors to follow standard guidelines or to deposit data are clues that the journal is a quality journal. These practices enhance the reproducibility of science.

What is the reputation of the editor-in-chief or editorial board?

The reputation of the editor-in-chief and editorial board members can be useful in determining the quality of a journal. Are the editor-in-chief and members of the editorial board listed along with affiliation and contact information on the journal website? Are the members of the editorial board known experts in the field of research related to the journal focus? Do you recognize any of the members as being experts in your field of research?

Does the journal post copyright information for authors?

A quality journal will include a sample Copyright Transfer Agreement form on the journal website and include supplemental information to help authors understand the rights retained by the author and publisher. Many publishers grant authors certain rights up front and there is a wide range of what rights are allowed including stipulations for use. Some publishers allow for unrestricted dissemination of the work to colleagues, unlimited copies for personal use, posting of the final published version on a web site or subject repository, re-use of a graph or chart for a future work, compliance with public access mandates, to name a few. However, these rights may come with stipulations for use which vary among publishers. Some publishers will allow authors to use only the final, peer-review manuscript version  and not the publisher’s final version, an embargo period before an author can reuse the work, a limit on the number of times a work can be sent to colleagues, a limit on the number of copies that can be made for educational purposes, to name a few.

Does the journal allow authors to comply with public access mandates for publications and/or data?

Authors whose articles were generated as a result of research funded by organizations such as NIH, Autism Speaks, CDC, among others, are required to comply with public access mandates for sharing of publications and/or data. Check the Instructions for Authors section of the journal website or the Copyright Transfer Agreement form to confirm the journal allows authors to comply with public access mandates. An indicator of a quality journal is a journal that allows authors to comply with public access mandates without a fee.

Does the journal require review or publication fees?

Are publication fees noted upfront before a manuscript is submitted for peer review? Is the fee schedule available for authors?  Some journals impose fees for reviewing an article, article processing fees, page fees or fees for use of color images or other special media formats. It is not uncommon to have a considerable range in article processing fees among journals with similar scope and focus. Some journals also offer discounts on article processing fees to authors who use certain bibliographic software for management of references. If there is no fee information or the fees are vague in nature, this may serve as a potential warning sign as to journal quality.

Are there instructions for authors and other helpful tips?

Journals that provide extensive guidance and templates to help authors with preparing manuscripts for peer review are examples of quality journals. Examples of guidance from journals include templates for specific manuscript types, review of good/bad examples of preparing tables and figures, recommended abbreviations, formatting examples, recommended keyword lists, funding acknowledgement examples, among others. Some journals also offer feedback about a topic for manuscript and whether it is a good fit for submission for peer review to the journal.

What is the publication history of the journal?

Factors such as the number of years in publication, the language/s of the journal, frequency of publication, the number of articles published per year, and availability of electronic or print formats can be helpful in determining a journal for publication. Generally speaking, an established publication history with a reputable publisher or professional society is considered a quality indicator

Does the journal follow good publishing and/or archiving guidelines?

Does the journal follow NISO guidelines by assigning an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) to the journal title and a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to the journal contents? An ISSN is an eight digit code used to assign unique identifier numbers to magazines and journals, print and electronic. The DOI is an interoperable, persistent and unique link assigned to digital objects (individual journal contents). While the ISSN and DOI do not infer journal quality, use of these identifiers is indicative that the publisher is following guidelines that promote best practices in journal publishing. An example of a good business practice followed by quality journals is their long-term plan for preservation and archiving of articles and supplemental data. Does the journal participate in LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, Portico or PubMed Central?  These organizations archive journal content to ensure perpetual access. Some journals accept supplemental data associated with an article and allow for access to the data on the journal website. Other journals go as far as to make a commitment to archive the data and to provide long term access to data sets on behalf of authors.

Does the journal allow for free access to their articles?

A factor that might be important for your area of research is whether the journal allows free access to articles after an embargo period and/or to developing countries. Does the journal provide unrestricted access to all articles immediately or within a set time frame? Some journals allow for free access to institutions in developing countries via HINARI and AGORA.  Does the journal routinely submit articles to PubMed Central for archiving?  These considerations may be important for your scholarly work if you publish on topics related to underserved populations.

Is there information about the journal on the website?

Factors such as the history of the journal and editorials can be helpful in determining a journal for publication. Also to consider is the contact information for the journal. Is there a physical address listed for the journal or publisher? Is there a direct email or phone number for the editor-in-chief? Is there editorial staff to help answer questions or to assist authors through the publication process?

Does the journal post a statement outlining their ethical practices?

Does the journal have a publication ethics statement regarding publication practices posted on the website? Does the journal post procedures for handling of author and publication misconduct on the journal website? Topics related to publication ethics include duplicate publication, conflict of interest, plagiarism, confidentiality, etc.

See Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing for other indicators of journal quality.

How to Check for MEDLINE Indexing Status

Some journals claim to be indexed by PubMed which can be confusing as MEDLINE citations are found in PubMed along with records for full-text articles from PubMed Central (PMC). PubMed, PMC and MEDLINE are three separate entities with different purposes.

  • PubMed is a database that contains citations from MEDLINE, PMC, and other resources from the NCBI Bookshelf.
  • PMC is a free archive of full-text journal articles.
  • MEDLINE is a journal citation database from the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Fact Sheet: MEDLINE, PubMed, and PMC (PubMed Central): How are they different?

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has rigorous scientific and editorial criteria for journals that are selected for indexing in MEDLINE and many authors rely on MEDLINE indexing status as being an indicator of a quality journal.

How to Check if a Journal is Indexed by MEDLINE

  1. Go to the National Library of Medicine Catalog. 
  2. Enter the full journal title in the search box.  For this example, we are using Breast Cancer Research BCR.
  3. From the results page, scroll to find "Current Indexing Status."


BCR is noted as being currently indexed for MEDLINE.