Selecting a Journal for Your Paper

Montse Fuentes is dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences. She also has served as the head of the department of statistics at North Carolina State University and director for the Research Network for Statistical Methods for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. She is an ASA Fellow.

We asked Montse Fuentes, editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association Applications and Case Studies section, to answer the following questions many first-time authors have when they submit to journals.

How do I find the right journal for my paper?

It is important to choose a journal that represents well your research and conveys it to the right target audience. The journals publishing your work could determine your career advancement. You should aim [to publish in] a journal that is going to bring visibility to your work.

But, it is essential to link your subject and contribution to the mission and scope of the journal. Many rejections are simply the result of a mismatch between the submitted paper and the scope of the journal. Read papers published by the journals you are considering to determine what outlet is more suitable for your work. Ask mentors and colleagues to read your paper and offer candid feedback while recommending a journal prior to submission.

Should I always aim for a prestigious journal?

The paper needs to fit the scope of the journal. You should always aim as high as it seems reasonable for your work. Prestigious journals could have a slow review process, and you might spend a lot of time waiting for feedback. Submit it to a prestigious journal if you believe your work is of the same caliber as the work published by that journal.

I would discourage submitting papers to prestigious journals when you know they will not be published just to get feedback. It is a small community, and we do not have a large supply of reviewers. Editors want to make good use of the reviewers’ time, and you want to gain credibility as an author and researcher.

Submitting Articles to a Journal

What is the purpose of the cover letter? Doesn’t my abstract take care of the description?

The cover letter can help you put your work into context and justify why the journal is a good fit for your work in cases where it is not completely apparent. You also can recommend reviewers, and we always welcome that. The cover letter is particularly useful when you need to explain some circumstance about your paper, like when your paper was previously rejected and you resubmit, though I would not recommend that unless your work has significantly improved or changed.

Can I recommend reviewers to include or exclude?

You can certainly make recommendations, but you need to understand they will not necessarily be followed. Even if you ask to exclude a reviewer, that does not mean that reviewer will not be used.

Must previous rejections by other journals be disclosed?

They do not need to be disclosed. But, it is not uncommon for me to get associate editors or reviewers complaining that they had just rejected the same paper I assigned them when it was submitted to another journal. Since in most cases there are no substantial changes, they simply reject the paper again. I would recommend paying attention to the feedback and reviews, rather than just quickly submitting the paper again to another journal without any changes.

Review Process

Can I contact the editor to clarify the points in the referee’s reports before revising?

You certainly can and are welcome to do that.

What is the best way to respond to a reviewer’s comments?

Doing exactly what you are being asked to do, unless there is a disagreement, in which case it is extremely important for you to justify your position. Never ignore a comment given by a reviewer.

Can rejections be appealed?

They certainly can be appealed. The process to do that is by sending a letter with a compelling argument to the editor.

What if the reviewer is incorrect? Can I complain?

We all make mistakes, so it is certainly possible a reviewer is wrong. You are entitled to express your disagreement by sending a letter to the editor.

Can I resubmit my paper?

Only if you are invited to resubmit, but not if the paper has been rejected before, unless it becomes a completely different paper and then it is treated as a new submission. In JASA, we have a database and we easily link papers to authors. For all submissions, we always check to see if the papers have been previously rejected.

Additional Tips

I strongly recommend new authors read papers published by the journals they are interested in to better understand the journal’s expectations. It is not just about great ideas and excellent research, but also clean, clear, and good writing. The work should be submitted when it is ready for publication, making sure the story is worth telling and it has a clear focus and vision.

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