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Grad student just getting started here, this question popped in my head this morning when stumbling across a former colleague that has already published a lot but in journals with low h-indexes.

Generally, is it better to publish more articles in journals that are cited less often/have a smaller reputation, or publish less in higher impact journals?

Bonus question : does the answer changes if considering early-career scientists vs later stages?

  • Publishing in top-tier venues is better than publishing in lower-tier venues. Is that what you wanted to know? Perhaps not: high h-indexes don't necessarily correspond to top-tier venues. Regarding early-career scientists, top-tier venues (should) only accept top-tier work, which isn't typically produced by early-career scientists, hence, such scientists will target lower-tier venues – user2768 Jan 9 at 11:06
  • Oh I thought h-index was an indicator of top/low-tier venues. Just getting started in evaluated journal reputation (and this is outside the scope of this question of course). I understand that early-career scientists won't publish in the highest impact journals, but then should they aim to publish more in lesser-impact journals or publish less in higher-impact journals then? – tb87 Jan 9 at 11:11
  • "high h-indexes don't necessarily correspond to top-tier venues," but they are an indicator. Regarding "more in lesser-impact journals [vs.] less in higher-impact journals then," it isn't that straightforward: You'll surely do the best you can, some of your results won't be as prestigious as you hoped, some won't be as prestigious but were really interesting to you, others will be better than you hoped, ... – user2768 Jan 9 at 12:26
  • In many cases, it matters more how much your work is cited than how much other papers in the journals where you publish are cited. – Brian Borchers Jan 9 at 16:15
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Actually, high impact journals get that way from the quality of the papers in them, not the other way around. So, I'd suggest that you look at it a bit differently.

Write as much as you can based on your research. Make the papers as high quality as you are able, with new and interesting results.

Publish them in the "best" journals that will accept them, but "best" means the most appropriate for the subject matter as much as anything.

If you get rejected somewhere, revise and send the paper out again, perhaps to a less prestigious journal.

Over time you will have a "mixed" portfolio. But you will have a good portfolio if you keep at it.

Keep a lot of irons in the fire. You will probably spend the bulk of your effort at one project at a time, but keep notes on other ideas that arise along the way and outline new potential publications as you have the time. If you get stuck on your main project, pick up one of the others.

No, the answer doesn't change. In fact it is the way to get, successfully, to the later stage.

  • Oh I get the "suggesting to look at it differently" : publishing more in low-impact journals or less in high-impact journals is not "equivalent" - i.e. not a (conscious) choice a researcher has to do, is that it? Work quality would dictate what journals you can publish to, and work volume would dictate the amount of articles you publish? I was kind of relating this (false) dilemma to "is it better to aim for quality or quantity" but I guess that was a wrong way of looking at things according to your answer, because it isn't a choice the researcher will have to do in the first place. – tb87 Jan 9 at 11:18
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Started as a comment but got too long:

To be practical, I would aim your first papers at "decent" subspecialty journals. Not Science/Nature (covering all of science). Not journals covering all of a field (e.g. Journal of American Chemical Society, Physical Review, JAMA). But the next level down (e.g. Inorganic Chemistry). They are not hard to get into if you (A) do classic, good, science and (B) write it up clearly and honestly. [Of course if you discover phlogiston, do a press release and send it to Science.]

In general, the mags from ACS or APS are "decent". But you will also learn equivalent from Elsevier, Wiley, etc in your specialty. However, the commercial publishers tend to saturate the waterfront, so avoid their lowest impact journals, new launchings, etc. unless you have no other option.

Usually you can't save up work and then have a better package that (thus) makes it into a higher ranked journal. Note: sometimes you might be able to self review a campaign of work. But even in that case, you would be better off having published earlier in the more specialized journals.

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