Many journals publish academic papers and each one has its own criteria for what papers it will publish. Some are quite broad in the scope of research areas they will accept. The Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) will publish any paper dealing with chemistry, so long as it is a “fundamental research paper.” Most journals are more specific in the research area they publish, narrowing down the scope to at least “organic chemistry.” Some readers don’t care for journals with too broad a scope. “I don’t subscribe to JACS,” said a friend of mine. “It’s a bit of this and a bit of that.” Another acquaintance had a different opinion: “I read the Journal of Organic Chemistry to keep up to date on organic chemistry,” he said. “I read JACS to keep up to date on chemistry.” A lot of people must agree with him, since JACS is the most cited journal in Chemistry.
Suppose you are a researcher in the field of organometallic catalysts and discover a new catalyst for adding an organic group to an aromatic ring. Where should you submit your paper for maximum impact? Surely the choice would be JACS, the self-proclaimed “preeminent journal in all of Chemistry” with an impact factor of 9.9. By contrast, the Journal of Organic Chemistry and Organometallics have less than half this impact factor. Does this mean twice as many people will read (and cite) your article if it appears in JACS rather than in one of the other two journals?
I don’t think so. Biochemists, physical chemists, and computational chemists read JACS. Are these people going to read your article? They might if it’s truly revolutionary, an entirely new system for studying Chemistry. But if the catalyst is a variation of a known system, the article will be of interest only to a small percentage of the JACS readership. In this case, would it not be better to have the article read by a large percentage of the readership of a more specific journal such as the Journal of Organic Chemistry or Organometalics?
As a previous blog pointed out, impact factor can be a misleading indicator of a journal’s value. An impact factor of 10 doesn’t mean that there will be 10 citations of every paper that appears, but only that this is the average number. If a popular paper has 100 citations and 10 others have one each, this averages out to be 10 per paper. Great if yours is the first paper, not so great if it’s one of the latter!
A study of American colleges showed that the value of a degree from the most prestigious Ivy League schools is overrated. Students who were accepted into an Ivy League school but then decided to go to a non-Ivy League one were just as successful post-college. I suspect the story is much the same for journal submissions: a good paper published in a journal with a narrow scope will often have the same, if not more, impact as one published in a journal with a broader scope, even if the latter is generally considered more prestigious.