Dear Academia Community,

I would like to ask the following question: In my department, there is the culture of "IF first", which implies that the IF is the most important (and often sole) criteria when submitting an article to a journal. My supervisor insists on a list with 5 journal suggestions for a ready-to-submit paper. Then again, he would just order the suggestions by IF and direct the submission to the journal with the highest IF. I am working in medicine / lifestyle medicine - which is at the intersection of medical science, social science and economics. Thus, when presenting him journal suggestions, he always insists on submitting to the same journal (a 6.8 IF MDPI journal). More recently, I asked him about an alternative option that would fit very well with my latest work. The journal has 1.6 impact points and he immediately dismissed the idea. Is this department-specific or also the case in your departments? Sincerely M

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    Not a real answer, but probably still relevant: at least, it seems to be field-dependent to some extent. As a mathematician, I hardly hear other mathematicians discussing impact factors of journals - which doesn't mean that mathematicians wouldn't care about "prestige" of journals, though; they just seem to infer it by other means than impact factors. (For instance, I would definitely refuse to submit any of my articles to an MDPI journal, no matter what any metrics say about the journal.) Aug 20, 2022 at 8:13
  • By the way, does your supervisor specify from which database the impact factor for the short listed journals have to be taken? Aug 20, 2022 at 8:15
  • Dear Jochen Glueck, my supervisor asks me to make a list based on Clarivate IF list. I am based in Germany.
    – Dr.M
    Aug 20, 2022 at 13:01
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    @JochenGlueck, I was just about to say the same about MDPI. BTW, many so-called predatory publishers use made-up IF or ones purchased from particular services, so it is indeed important which database is being used. As for Clarivate: "Clarivate has been criticized for its anti-competitive practices in a highly oligopolistic academic database market [...]" (en.wikipedia.org/w/…) Aug 20, 2022 at 19:26
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    The IF of MDPI journal is inflated. Not to be trusted. Sep 6, 2022 at 21:55

7 Answers 7


Focusing on high Impact Factor, or believing that the IF of a journal is a useful proxy for the quality of a paper published in that journal is an toxic behaviour that has a negative impact on Academic research.

Unfortunately the IF of published papers is often used in recruitment and promotion assessments, as well as proof of researcher capability in grant applications therefore Academics who want to progress and achieve success in their career are effectively forced to game the publication of their papers by choosing journals to target on the basis of the IF of those journals.

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    Note that the use of Journal Impact Factors for the assessment of outputs is not allowed in the REF. See REF Panel Criteria and Working Methods paragraph 207.
    – atom44
    Aug 20, 2022 at 10:39
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    @atom44 Glad they've changed that. Aug 20, 2022 at 11:07

Like the other posters, I would not aim for the highest impact factor journal. My process is:

  1. Exclude journals with mandatory publication charges. I can and do use ArXiv for free.
  2. Identify the set of journals that are likely to accept the manuscript.
  3. Select those journals that fit my professional brand. For example, if the paper could be published in a biology journal or a physics journal, I would choose the physics journal.
  4. Select the most prestigious journal.
  5. Use impact factor to break the ties and admit that is arbitrary.

Since I am biased towards physics-branded journals, I tend to end up somewhere with a bit lower impact factor than some of my other options.

  • "Exclude journals with mandatory publication charges." Watson (metacitation Watson & Crick, 1957) disagrees. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- WATSON, J., CRICK, F. Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. Nature 171, 737–738 (1953). doi.org/10.1038/171737a0
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 6, 2022 at 12:08
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    @EarlGrey Choice of journal was not their area of expertise. Sep 6, 2022 at 12:19

Why would you not submit to the highest impact factor journal? Impact factor acts as a proxy for prestige and visibility. They are harder to publish in, ergo, if you successfully publish there then it's a mark that your paper meets some high standard. Furthermore, when you publish in a high impact factor journal, more people see your results.

There's basically no non-personal reason not to publish in the highest impact factor journal possible. You could have ideological reasons against it (e.g. Jochen Glueck's comment about publishing with MDPI), or maybe financial reasons (if you can't afford to pay any publication charges then you certainly cannot publish there), but absent these things, there's no downside.

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    Hmm, I'm not sure whether my reasons to avoid MDPI are ideological. Most articles that I've seen there had an extremely short (for mathematical standards) time between submission and acceptance, which makes me doubt their standards. So I avoid them since (i) I believe publishing with MDPI could harm my reputation among collegues and make it likely that my article is not considered a serious contribution (even if this specific journal had longer review times) and (ii) I do not want to support a publisher who follows this practice. I don't think (i) is ideological, but I'm not sure about (ii). Aug 20, 2022 at 9:40
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    Dear Allure, thank you so much for your comment. My field is Nutrition / Lifestyle Medicine and thus the options with the highest IF are "Nutrients" (MDPI) or "Frontiers in Nutrition", both OA journals. Financial reasons are not a topic in this case, it is just "preference" vs "recommendation".
    – Dr.M
    Aug 20, 2022 at 13:03
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    @JochenGlueck (ii) sure sounds like an ideological objection to me.
    – Allure
    Aug 20, 2022 at 14:26
  • You might not submit to the highest impact factor journal because they have manipulated their impact factor. "when you publish in a high impact factor journal, more people see your results." I do not believe you. I am quite convinced that Google Scholar decides who sees your results. Aug 20, 2022 at 16:35
  • @AnonymousPhysicist every impac factor is manipulated, because it is just an index. I do not have a solution, but Google Scholar is smart enough to have a variable impact factor with a secret formulation, which is even worse: it cannot be gamed, because research itself is the game. I am quite sure even "google scholar impact factor" is not an advancement of research.
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 6, 2022 at 13:46

Depends on the system / country you are in. Some countries provide a list of recognized journals or conferences -- usually they are based on IF. Hence, if your supervisor is going for promotion or/and funding, he/she must have recognized publications as per the system. Any journals/conferences not on the list are basically useless, despite their corresponding community holding them in high regard.

Note also that the IF of a journal can be manipulated.

The IF of journals can act as a signal as to what is currently hot. In my areas, journals for old, established, areas have low IF despite having top quality journal articles. Hence, if you publish in journals with a high IF, that indicates that your research is current.

I'm with some readers -- MDPI is a dodgy publisher.

  • Why do you think those journal lists are based on impact factor? Did you have a specific country in mind? Usually those lists are pretty broad. Aug 20, 2022 at 16:26
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I do. I have collaborators who are purely driven by the list of journals as recommended by their university or education ministry. Aug 20, 2022 at 20:46

IF is just another case of a generally useful, easy to understand metric that is vulnerable to being gamed (or manipulated). Somewhat similar is the h-index.

It is widely known and recognized, despite debates about its merits/relevance. Therefore, in the absence of other criteria, IF is one way (arguably the most objective) to select a suitable journal. The issue is that the 'other criteria' almost always exist.

Researchers are as subjective as anyone else; we make value judgements based on our perception of status. Respect for members on the editorial board plays a role, as does a vaguely defined but strongly motivating sense of prestige.We also consider historical precedents (certain journals have traditionally carried important papers from some field). We worry that a senior interview panel may not quite appreciate a young journal with skyrocketing IF as much as a classical journal with low IF.

The conflict between this inherent subjectivity and the cold objectivity provided by a single-numbered metric (IF) is one that we often don't acknowledge.


There is one more consideration I don't see discussed in any other answers: time.

Often (but not always), the higher IF journals have a longer "time to first decision". Even if they do not, the higher you aim, the lowers your chances of acceptance, and if your paper gets rejected, resubmitting to a different journal takes time. So, given infinite time, I agree that the best strategy is to start with the highest IF journal which matches the topic of your work (and a good match is essential), however, most researchers do not have infinite time.

There is definitely something to be said about aiming high enough: if all your papers are getting accepted with minor to no revisions, you are likely aiming too low. If most of your papers are getting rejected, you are likely aiming too high. And striking the right balance needs to take time available into account.

We recently had to decide on a publishing strategy with a postdoc nearing the end of their contract. Their publication output in the first part of the postdoc was a bit on the low side, especially because of "aiming high" (not "too high" mind you -- then, they still had plenty of time to shoot that high). So when discussing targets, we ordered the journals according to IF, as well as time to first decision (as much as we could find that information online), and discussed how likely we consider the acceptance to each of those (both according to the topic, and the level of novelty). The final decision was made to maximise (in our opinion) the chances of their work getting published before the end of their contract in good, but not the best, journals and conferences.

So, my own personal strategy is highest-IF-given-available-time (and given a good topic fit), which often does not mean only my time (I'm in a permanent post, so have plenty) but also the time of everybody on the author list.

Note that most of these considerations don't really hold for MDPI journals -- they have a suspiciously short turnaround time. I also echo what many others voiced about MDPI -- I do not like their practices, and while some of their journals are better than others, I would not consider submitting there any longer.


Unfortunately, I doubt that any reputable supervisor would recommend an MDPI journal, which are considered by some as a predatory publisher.

On the other hand, this is a good example why we shouldn't (and indeed most academic don't) care for IFs: they tend not to represent accurately the prestige of a journal.

Indeed, while prestige and importance of the journals in which one publishes in is crucial for one's career, it is not the impact factor but other factors that normally determines the prestige of a journal.

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