I am a student who will be applying to PhD programs next year. In my field it is relatively uncommon but not unheard of for students to have publications before applying for their PhD.
At this point, I have three solo publications. The journals I published in are all reputable, and range in impact from low to medium-high, with increasing quality over time (meaning that my last publication is in a higher ranked journal than the previous one, etc.). I can reasonably expect to have another medium-high tier publication by the time I apply (though of course nothing is guaranteed).
(I use the terms ‘impact’ and ‘tier’ to loosely refer to ranking and how these journals are viewed by researchers in the field).
I have an old manuscript which has undergone review in several medium-impact journals. Reviewers’ and editors’ comments are generally the same: the paper is fine (in terms of writing, methodology, and results), but it has limitations in terms of scope, which preclude it from getting published in these journals. The findings are still valuable and do offer a minor contribution to the field, but it’s simply not competitive enough to warrant publishing in these venues.
At this point, I can either forget about the manuscript, or try to publish it in a low impact venue. This would either be a low impact journal (though of course, nothing predatory), or a ‘working papers’ style journal (which is peer reviewed). ‘Saving’ this study and expanding on it in future works is not a viable option for me.
There is a similar question on this (For undergraduates, is publishing "weak" research better than not publishing?), but the difference in this case is that there I already have a relatively good publication record for my stage, and I'm worried that this publication would weaken rather than strengthen my research potential in the eyes of the admissions committee.
My question is: from the perspective of grad admissions (and possibly future career), would I be better off not publishing this paper?
Also if I do decide to try and publish it, will it look better to publish it in a low impact journal or in a ‘working papers’ journal?