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Okay, I'll try to explain what I mean quickly. My research on a topic kind of strayed from its original purpose, and for some reason (bad choice, lack of experience, lack of guidance, etc) I stayed with it way too long. That was my mistake. It's done now. The question is where to go from here.

I don't think what I produced is worthless, but it's certainly not something the scientific world is sitting on the edge of their chairs for. I think it should be put out there but I'm under no delusions that it should be in Science or something.

I submitted it to one mid-level journal and it got rejected, but it was also because it was in kind of bad shape from a writing (i.e., not science) standpoint.

So I have two options: I could submit it to another mid-level journal, but that would require a decent bit of work. They tend to be a little pickier and of course there's a much higher chance it would get rejected again, meaning more work to submit to yet another.

Or, I could submit it to a lower tier journal that has a much higher chance of getting accepted. As the tone of my question probably implies, I want to do this one. I made a mistake staying with the research this long and I want to be pursuing this new direction, and submitting to a mid-tier journal will mean sticking with it even longer. Aside from the fact that I want to pursue this new direction, I absolutely hate pouring more time into this old thing.

So my question is, how bad is it to have a paper in a lower tier journal? (I don't mean an open-access, pay to be published one, but the next level above that.) Is it possibly so bad that it'd be worth it to put in the extra work and aim for the mid-level journals, even if it'd take a few tries?

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    Side remark: you should know that not all "open-access, pay to be published" journals are lower tier (depending on what you mean by "pay to be published": I interpret it as meaning the journal asks for APC, not that paying automatically grants publication). – Benoît Kloeckner May 27 '15 at 10:08
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    With regard to the title question, I just want to comment that there can be other motivations (besides the OP's) for submitting to a less well-regarded journal: in particular, in fields such as pure math, where reviewing times are routinely on the scale of years, you might feel you can't risk the possibility of wasting serious time waiting for a negative review, and so you opt for the "sure thing". I have certainly struggled with this in the past; at the time I felt like submission to a less prestigious journal was the sensible choice, but in hindsight I think I regret it. – potentially dense May 27 '15 at 16:19
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From my point of view, there is nothing wrong per se with submitting to a low-tier, non-spam journal. I have always maintained the position that if you find out mid-way that your work isn't what you want / should be doing, it's better to submit what you have to whatever is achievable at this point than to either stick it out or throw the work away entirely.

However, in your case it actually sounds like you may want to go for another iteration at the mid-tier anyway, because you don't think your work is that bad, it's just the write-up - and this can be fixed with a modicum of effort, in the worst case re-writing the paper. Also, assuming you are an early-stage researcher, getting more writing practice is basically never wasted effort. In the end, we are not talking about investing a year more into this project - it's a few more weeks for re-writing, and then some on-and-off effort for revisions. Finally, would it not be annoying to you to "waste" your work to a low-class venue just because you did not want to write it down properly?

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    "What is worth doing, is worth doing right". I agree with xLeitix: the most important thing for the community is that you use the advice of the referees of your first submission, and fix the writing. Then you can either publish in a mid-tier or respectable low-tier journal, both options have advantages. But publishing a badly written paper, even in a low-tier journal, is bad practice. As far as you are concerned, I would worry about what a potential hiring committee would think if they read your paper at least as much as what they would think by seeing a low-tier journal name next to it. – Benoît Kloeckner May 27 '15 at 10:13
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    Also there's no guarantee that you won't be held to the same standard of writing regardless of the journal. – Chris H May 27 '15 at 13:29
  • Thanks for the response. I probably didn't explain myself well enough, but I don't think my work is very great. A lot of these mid tier journals are actually fairly picky and require a bunch of other materials. I think the way it would go is, they just wouldn't be that interested in the content and it would take several tries and rewrites to get it accepted. – YungHummmma May 27 '15 at 17:50
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    As a matter of personal ethics, I believe it's important that every paper submitted be the very best effort, given all the constraints. You know your paper wasn't very well written, so I advise that you rewrite it before you submit it anywhere. Once it's done, then you decide on the best place to submit it. – MrMeritology May 27 '15 at 22:53
  • @MrMeritology I agree. – xLeitix May 28 '15 at 6:01
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I think the scientific community is overly obsessed with publishing in top-tier journals. What counts is the quality of your work. If you had not explained your situation in such detail, I might have suggested that you put in that extra bit of work and submit to another mid-level journal. Under your current circumstances, I think you can go ahead and submit to a low-tier journal. For one, publishing in a low-tier journal is better than not publishing the paper at all. Additionally, it does not hurt to publish one paper in a a low-tier journal. Try to confirm that it is not a really obscure journal or a predatory one. Having several publications in very obscure journals, that nobody in your field has ever heard of, might be damaging for your career as this indicates that you care more about quantity than quality. However, publishing one paper in a respectable low-tier journal should be fine. It's about time you just get over with this paper and focus your energies on your topic of interest.

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    "I think the scientific community is overly obsessed with publishing in top-tier journals.": Applause, +1! Really too many people are overly obsessed in being top-something. – Massimo Ortolano May 27 '15 at 9:09
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    I tend to agree that the community is obsessed with tiers and rankings, but note that this is not actually the question of the OP. In reality, the OP wants to know whether he should take the time to write up his research properly or resubmit his currently messy paper to a lower-tier paper and not have the effort of proper re-writing. – xLeitix May 27 '15 at 10:35
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    "I think the scientific community is overly obsessed with publishing in top-tier journals." Maybe some people are; on the other hand, many mathematicians I know wouldn't care one way or the other if their papers never got published in a journal. However, what seems to be universally true is that scientists are under constant pressure from university administration and funding bodies to maximise the "impact" of their work. – potentially dense May 27 '15 at 12:27
  • @xLetix: The OP has also mentioned that currently his paper is in somewhat bad shape only with regard to the writing, not the research. Additionally, he has also mentioned that he does not want to spend any more time on it. Moreover, even if he spends some more time, there is no guarantee that it will get published in a mid-level journal. Some more rework might also be required post review. Taking these things into consideration, I feel that since the OP's intention is to publish it with minimum time and effort, a low-tier journal is a better option. – Kakoli Majumder May 28 '15 at 6:49
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I think the answer has to depend somewhat on what stage of your career you're at.

If you're just beginning your career, and this is one of your very first papers to come out, I would definitely try to get it into as high-profile a journal as you can manage, and would try to avoid putting it in a journal that is known to be very low-impact.

The reason for this is how it will look to people reviewing your CV when you're looking for your next position. If you only have a handful of publications, and none of them are published in decent journals, you're going to have people who assume that your research work is weak overall. That's not the impression you want to convey.

On the other hand, if you're well into your career, a few papers in minor journals will have little impact on your career overall. Then there's really no problem in "dropping off" a paper that you think might be useful, but not strong enough to get into a more impactful journal.

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In my opinion there's nothing wrong with going for a lower tier journal if you think that you will have a hard time getting into a mid-level venue. After all, it's better than not publishing at all.

However, if your manuscript has issues with the writing, this poses a problem that is independent of journal rank. Even if you get it accepted, a badly written manuscript will backfire on your reputation a lot more than the rank of the journal it's published in. On the other hand, a well written manuscript tends to get read and cited more often, regardless of the journal's rank.

My suggestion is to fix the writing, taking into account the comments that you got from the previous version, and then send it to the journal where you think it fits best topic-wise. Your readers will appreciate the effort.

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What may really hurt you is publishing a badly written paper in any journal. Someone may always bring it up in a hiring committee and say: "We do not want anyone who will publish so carelessly."

If your paper is not well written, and you are admitting as much, it is very possible that the best you should hope is that it will be fully ignored (unless it has fantastic ideas that a courageous reader may unearth someday). Publishers and committees who reject a poorly written paper are actually doing you a service. If they were more lax about it, you might later pay for it with stricter people.

So your major risk with low tier journal is they they may let you hang yourself, rather than protect you. I had the opportunity to publish invited papers, and, though it is flattering, I hated it because no one would check for me whether I was going astray.

People may be surprised if you publish only in low tier journals. But if you are a beginner, they may also consider that you may not have been well advised on it, or possibly that you lack self-confidence (which is no scientific crime). This is much less to be feared than their estimating the paper worthless or careless after reading it.

Journala matter. Your work matters a lot more. Do not publish anything you are not satisfied with. Do not publish anything you would not think worth spending time on if you were not yourself. One thing people will not forgive is wasting time because your results are not worth reading (so do not hype the abstract - just be clear and objective), or because the paper is badly written and requires more time reading than should be necessary.

3

In my field (which seems to be the same as yours), the high-ranking journals mainly distinguish themselves from low-ranking journals by:

  1. Requirements on relevance, novelty or impact on the respective work.
  2. Length restrictions.
  3. Requiring the paper to be written for a larger audience.

If you do not want to perform additional research (as I assume you do), e.g., to make more general, better substatiated claims or require less assumptions for your results, you cannot change the first point. You probably cannot do much about the second point. As for the third point: That’s usually not that much work and very much related to good writing – which is helpful independent of the journal rank.

In contrast, more time is required (on average) for meeting requirements that all journals/reviewers have such as doing no nonsense, proper scientific writing, proper literature embedding and so on.

So, if you think that you already meet the relevance and length criteria of a mid-tier journal, it is not that much more work to publish there – except for the higher chance of a desk reject, which at worst would require you to adapt your manuscript to a different journal’s style, which usually can be done within an hour.

Of course, a mid-tier journal might reject your paper only after reviews. If the rejection is due to scientific flaws, you would have to address those anyway and the rejection was as likely to happen with a lower-tier journal. If the rejection is due to relevance (point 1), you can use this as a bonus when switching to a lower tier afterwards, in particular, if there are lower-tier journals by the same publisher (e.g., if your paper was rejected by PRL or PRX only due to lack of relevance, a resubmission to PRA–PRE or similar is in general easier than a regular resubmission).


Another consequence of the above criteria is that it’s no shame not to meet them. Not every research has a highly relevant outcome and often you cannot tell beforehand (otherwise you would not need to research in the first place) and not every research can be reasonably presented on five pages in a way that is understandable by a general audience from your field.

I once looked for a particular low-tier journal for a paper of mine, because it was in a total niche subfield (only a dozen publication in the last forty years) and was not very relevant. (It then got rejected by two journals for being out of scope, but that’s another story and due to the field being a total niche.) At the end, I put roughly a week’s work into writing and publishing this paper, but it’s still a publication I can be proud of.


Finally, as to whether the surplus work it takes to publish in a mid-tier journal (whatever its amount is) is worth it, depends on how you value your time against the rank’s impact on your career. And the latter is something only you can decide about as it depends on a lot of factors.

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