Digital vs. Print Journals: 3 Factors to Consider Before Submitting Your Paper for Publication
If you’ve recently started writing a scientific paper, chances are you’re already thinking about which academic journal to submit it to for publication. Whether it’s a personal favorite or a leading title in your field, the journal you choose should be one you know well and one that can make you proud to envision your paper gracing its pages.
If you aren’t sure where you want your paper to be published or aren’t entirely familiar with your target journal, you should start thinking about this now because tailoring your writing to the publication you’re submitting it to is key to getting your work out there. Every academic journal has its own specifications and guidelines, and editors won’t hesitate to turn down innovative and well-written submissions if they fail to comply with the requirements. The easiest approach is to optimize your paper for your chosen journal while you’re writing it.
The internet has drastically changed the publishing industry, and scholarly journals are no exception. While a few decades ago researchers could only pick from a handful of relevant publications to submit their work to, they not only have a lot more options these days, but they also have to choose between digital and print journals. Which format is best for your paper will depend on multiple factors—your goals, field of research, and target audience affect the decision, but there are other things to consider as well.
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Let’s now turn to the main factors you should consider when determining whether to publish in a digital or a print journal.
1. Target audience and circulation
One of the first things academic writers consider when choosing a journal is its reach. Is it subscription-based or open-access? How large is its audience? Who reads it? Most journals target a specific segment of the scientific community although some cater to a wider range of readers, many of whom aren’t in academia. The latter could result in a larger audience but a limited impact on your career. However, if your topic isn’t too niche and your paper touches on issues that the general public is likely to both experience and understand, publishing in a less specialized journal may actually prove more beneficial for you, especially if your research offers insights into how regular people can improve an aspect of their lives.
The makeup of a journal’s audience can also influence the extent to which specific articles are circulated among your peers, which is what most researchers aim to achieve. Citations are a currency within the academic world—you’re less likely to advance your career if your colleagues and superiors don’t know about your published work. This means that finding a journal that’s popular and well-respected within a field is a priority for most academic writers.
2. Online accessibility
A journal’s reach also depends on its online accessibility. Previously, journals could only be accessed in university libraries, where there would usually be a single printed copy, thus severely limiting a paper’s reach. These days, many established academic print publications have online catalogs and release their issues in both print and digital formats. For most people, a journal that offers both is the best option as they can reap the benefits of each version with minimal drawbacks, but there are also advantages and disadvantages to print-only and online-only journals.
Print-only journals tend to be rooted in academic tradition and considered more prestigious. In an age where electronic formats can become obsolete within years, they’re also seen as longer-lasting and more reliable. The obvious disadvantage of a print-only journal is its limited accessibility, with its reach dramatically reduced by a lack of online presence.
Online-only journals, also known as electronic journals, can only be accessed on the internet, with no print copies produced. Many people can read them at the same time from anywhere in the world, but they do tend to be lower-ranked than their printed counterparts and may not maintain the same standards of quality as print-only journals.
If you don’t want to choose between having your paper featured in a physical journal and sharing it online with the academic community, find a publication with both print and digital versions. In this way, you make your work widely accessible, with people all over the world being able to read it at the same time, but you also benefit from the prestige of having your paper published in a reputable print journal.
Researchers who submit their work for publication want it to be discovered, read, and cited by their peers, so making it easy to find is paramount when choosing a journal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be readily accessible to the general public, but it’s key that researchers in your field can discover it with ease. For this to happen, you’ll want to target a high-ranking journal, regardless of its format.
Keywords and search engine optimization (SEO) are crucial for online rankings, which articles published in print-only journals will not benefit from—a digital journal certainly makes your paper far more discoverable. To narrow down your choices, try searching databases and indexes for topics similar to yours and note which publications are easier to find and access. As a bonus, this exercise will help you determine what keywords you should use for your paper.
That’s not all, though. Once someone gets access to your article, how easy is it for them to scan and search it? Digital journals can include hyperlinks and menus that make them easier to navigate, with search tools making it incredibly simple to find specific terms and words within a long-form article. This task is much harder with print-only versions. If discoverability is your main concern, you have to take your paper digital, which means finding a hybrid publication or forgoing a printed article altogether.
Overall, print journals tend to enjoy more prestige and support from academic institutions, but digital and hybrid journals have real-world advantages over their print-only counterparts. Which type of journal you choose to submit your work to also depends on factors such as citation count (which tends to be higher for open-access electronic journals than for print journals), formatting, and referencing styles. In other words, you’ll want to carefully consider the nature of your paper and your goals and find the right solution for your particular circumstances.
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