Most science research is published in subject-specific journals, of which there are many. However, there are a relatively small number of interdisciplinary journals, some of which are the most highly cited of all journals (Nature, Science); others have impact factors comparable to subject-specific journals (e.g., PLOS ONE, J. R. Soc. Interface, etc.).

If we discount arguments around open science and similar business model arguments (which could favor journals like PLOS ONE), and assume that the purpose of publishing is simply to get your research read (and cited) by the largest "relevant audience", when should one publish in an interdisciplinary journal versus a subject-specific journal (assuming they have comparable impact factors)? (Are there any papers out there that compare the fate of publications [or their authors!] in the two different types of journal?)

Thanks in advance.


My opinion on this is as follows. If your research advances the state of the art of field X, either by adding new knowledge specifically to X or improving existing methods/knowledge in X, you should submit to an X-specific journal. If your paper improves knowledge in field Y using methods from field X, I would either publish in a journal specific to Y, or in an Y,X interdisciplinary journal.

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  • 1
    +1 For your second sentence, which answers a question I've been thinking about, but never got around to asking: If I use methods from field X to address a topic in field Y, should I publish in X journals or Y journals? – mhwombat Mar 25 '15 at 18:07
  • This is of course only my opinion. But, for example, I have found it very hard in computer science to get accepted to a journal that applies pretty standard CS methodology to advance some other field unless you also greatly improve the state of the art of the methodology itself. – Tommy Mar 26 '15 at 15:23
  • I have, on one occasion, published a paper in a CS journal that applied some state-of-the-art technology to another field. I did not develop the state-of-the-art technology in question, but it was brand new technology. I guess that is why it was accepted. – mhwombat Mar 26 '15 at 15:55

If the scope of your research is so wide that audience of subject-specific journal would require prerequisite knowledge other than the predefined scope of the journal then I'd be publishing in the interdisciplinary journal if I were you.

I don't to expect to read an article in computer science specific journal and encounter an article about useful application of computer science in some other scientific field.

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I think the most important factor is who you (and the editor/reviewers) think should read the paper. Nature has a very broad readership from different fields - if your results are relevant for this broad audience, send there. PLoS ONE is also multidisciplinary, but has a different audience then Nature. If your results are relevant to a more specific field, send to a field-specific journal.

In fact, in some cases, you could even have a work that is mainly in field X, but you feel an audience from field Y should be exposed to it and send it to the "less fitting" journal of field Y.

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