4.1. Journal Attributes
With regards to journal attributes, these survey respondents echo the findings of previous literature. In short, a journal’s reputation
with the author’s work are the two most highly-rated attributes that respondents take into consideration, followed by the journal’s audience
(i.e., “readership” [24
]). Even though impact factor
is considered to be important in the current study, it takes a back seat to ensuring that the author’s work is situated alongside other reputable research and is being read by the intended, or “right” audience. Taken together, it is evident that reputation building within a specific field is at the heart of what matters most to our respondents. Mabe [25
] points out that for authors deciding where to publish, “…the reputation of the journal becomes associated with both the article and by extension the author
] (p. 141). A journal and all of its attributes is essentially a brand, with authors seeking to align themselves with top brands.
It is perhaps not surprising that graduate student researchers have the same top journal-related priorities as faculty and postdoctoral researchers. However, they tend to rate the attributes of quality/reputation, fit, and audience slightly lower in importance relative to faculty and postdoctoral researchers. In particular, 61% of graduate students rate quality/reputation as “5” (very important), while nearly 80% of faculty chose 5. One explanation could be that many graduate students—particularly master’s students—do not plan to enter academia as a profession and, therefore, do not see publishing as necessary for their professional development. These individuals may care less about associating themselves with the right publication “brand” or about publishing at all. As one social science graduate student explained in open-ended comments, “I do not like my major, so I am busy with my own aspiration(s) and I do not have any publication(s).” Additionally, a number of graduate student respondents expressed in open-ended comments that the choice of where to submit was not theirs. Similarly, respondents from life sciences/medicine, physical sciences, social sciences, and engineering/computer sciences all stated that their advisors’ or PIs’ recommendations were an additional consideration in choosing an outlet. Some may have rated these top journal attributes lower because the choice of publication is not theirs and they may be interested in simply getting something published. For example, one respondent from life sciences/medicine said, “Honestly, all of my papers thus far have been submitted by people above me and so I haven’t been able to choose much.”
There is a striking lack of variation across subject disciplines in the high level of importance given to reputation, fit, and audience. This consensus points to the universal importance of being part of a high-quality conversation among peers.
When we examine mid-range attributes, including impact factor, likelihood of acceptance, time from submission to publication, and editor/editorial board, these are still considered somewhat important across all position types and subject disciplines. Compared to the other positions, faculty rated impact factor and likelihood of acceptance as slightly less important. Faculty, particularly in certain fields, may feel that impact factor does not necessarily equate to quality or visibility within a specific field, and it is not necessarily an indicator of fit for an author’s work. As one life sciences/medicine faculty member said, “instead of Impact Attribute, I generally look more at what is the total number of citations for the journal as this seems to be to be a better indicator of visibility of my work.” As more experienced researchers, they may also feel more confident about the likelihood of getting their work accepted by the right outlets. Graduate students, on the other hand, are often inexperienced and may just want their work to be accepted somewhere. According to one engineering/computer science graduate student, “I don’t have many publications, so I just care if it gets accepted right now.”
In this sense, faculty may view themselves as repeat-players in an academic conversation among peers. They may also have greater confidence in both their personal judgment about the fit of publication outlets and in predicting the audience’s reception of their message. In contrast, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars may be more focused on entering into scholarly dialogue and may be more conservative when selecting a research outlet, using quantifiable metrics or advisor directives in selecting appropriate publication outlets.
There is also some variation across subject disciplines in terms of the importance of these mid-range journal attributes. Those in life sciences/medicine, for instance, place higher importance on impact factor
, likelihood of acceptance
, and time from submission to publication
than other subject disciplines; however, differences are small, especially when examining the breakdown of response ratings by percentage (see Table 9
). However, taken together, these three attributes may indicate a slightly more calculated, quantitative way of accounting for research productivity in the life sciences field. It could also represent an interest in rapidly circulating the scholarly findings. Those from mathematics also have distinct thoughts on the importance of journal attributes, although, due to their small sub-sample size (n =
45), the findings are often non-significant. For instance, mathematicians rate likelihood of acceptance
higher than anyone else, while caring the least among subject disciplines about impact factor
and time from submission to publication
. This finding may be reflective of a close-knit field with relatively few journal outlets in which to publish.
Finally, open access
is rated the lowest in importance across all position types and subject disciplines. Within both independent variables, however, there are differences in the level of importance assigned to this attribute. Faculty members rate open access as slightly less important than either graduate students or postdoctoral researchers. It is possible that faculty are both more informed and more opinionated about the open access model (or at least more comfortable in expressing their opinions); the strength of their opinions shows in that a full 26.5% of faculty rate the importance of open access as a 1 (See Table 5
). This sense of certainty is reflected in the comment of one physical sciences researcher, who says “I do not publish in open access journals. Publication costs for open-access journals are typically very expensive, and the quality of the publications is below par.” Graduate students’ more moderate rating of the importance of open access may stem from uncertainty about the model. As one arts/humanities graduate student put it, “Taking this survey makes me realize how little I know about open access publishing.” Another from life sciences more generally admitted, “I still only have very limited experience in the world of scholarly research publication.”
However, this difference may also indicate a generational shift in attitudes toward the open access model. Graduate students from across multiple disciplines (including arts/humanities, engineering/computer science, life sciences/medicine, and social sciences) comment that everyone should have access to all research. This finding may indicate an emerging attitude in a new generation of researchers who have stronger beliefs about open access than their predecessors, or it may merely be expressing a utopian rather than a pragmatic opinion at an early stage in their career. As one graduate student from life sciences/medicine expressed, “[e]veryone should have access to all scientific knowledge.” However, it should be noted that journal articles are written for peer researchers and academics rather than the general public, so that wider access may only realistically target practitioner audiences who have the educational and/or professional background to read research. A longitudinal study that tracks attitudes throughout an academic career might shed light on this issue.
In terms of subject discipline, feelings about open access
are consistent for the most part. Any differences, though small, in the perceived importance of open access
may be attributable to familiarity with or availability of quality open access journals in a given field. For instance, the lowest rating comes from those in social sciences (including business, education, and law), where open access journals may not carry the same prestige as traditional gated-access journals. Indeed, previous research has found that, at least from among those in the field of business, open access journals are seen as lacking prestige, and there is a perception that publishing in them would be damaging to a scholar’s career [26
]. As one social science postdoctoral researcher in the current study wrote, “I’d like to support open access and publish in open access journals exclusively, but I’m on the job market and I feel a lot of pressure to publish in prestigious, high-impact factor journals.” Those from engineering/computer science give open access the second lowest rating from among subject disciplines, which is consistent with previous research that recorded similar hesitation [27
]. In addition to the availability of these types of journals, the relatively low importance of open access
may also be a reflection of the perceived value of wide accessibility to published research. Examining the rated importance of different stakeholder groups’ access to research outputs may shed light on the reasons behind this.
We asked about accessibility for different audiences in an attempt to capture the importance of potential stakeholders of respondents’ research. Respondents from across all position types and subject disciplines express that it is of the highest importance for researchers at other research-intensive institutions
to have access to their research output. Though there is some variation in the level of importance assigned, it is evident that respondents care a great deal about reaching other academic researchers who work in similar types of environments. Perhaps having one’s work not only accessible to this group, but disseminated, read, and, perhaps most importantly, cited among them is an important part of building a scholarly reputation. This question is somewhat distinct from what was asked in the 2012 Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey [12
], which found reaching scholars within one’s own field to be of particularly high importance; however, it does not differentiate between scholars at different types of academic research institutions. Within the current study, researchers at different types of academic institutions (e.g., teaching schools)
are seen as a less important audience. Respondents may assume that this latter group of academic researchers tends to produce less in terms of published research, and will therefore be less likely to read and cite respondents’ work.
Although reaching those outside of academia may be somewhat important, it does not compare to being an active participant in the conversation among academic peers. Among survey respondents, business and industry practitioners and policy-makers in government and NGOs appear to be a less important audience than academic researchers. Graduate students rate business and industry researchers, policy-makers, and the general public as being slightly more important than faculty do, with roughly 10% more graduate students selecting “5” for each of these groups than faculty. This may again be an indication of differing goals or concerns about future professional pathways: graduate students may care more about non-academic audiences as these groups may contain potential employers should they pursue non-academic appointments. They may also be more concerned with ideals of connecting with the public. It seems that researchers at all levels are most concerned with connecting to audiences who do the type of work that they do, or aim to do in the future. They want their work to be appreciated among those whom they see as peers.
Across subject disciplines, the picture is more complex. Only those from engineering/computer science rate the importance of reaching those in business and industry as highly as reaching those doing research in academic institutions. They are also slightly less concerned about reaching those at different types of academic institutions than other subject disciplines. There may be an underlying assumption that smaller institutions, such as liberal arts colleges, are less likely to have engineering and computer science departments that would seek out and benefit from their work or it may represent a more fundamental difference in the nature of these disciplines.
In addition to those in engineering/computer science, researchers from life sciences/medicine and physical sciences also rate business and industry
practitioners as more important than their counterparts in other subject disciplines. The practical applicability of their research, as opposed to authors from a field such as arts/humanities, is likely what makes those working in industry a relatively important stakeholder group for those in “hard” sciences. This supposition fits with previous research; for instance, those who conduct research in agriculture, food and nutrition, forestry, and environmental sciences fit into “hard” science categories. Researchers from these fields have been found to place farmers and producers among the most important stakeholders for their research [13
For similar reasons of applicability, policy-makers in government and NGOs
are seen as more important by those from social sciences than by other subject disciplines. This finding may relate to the strong connections between the work of many social scientists and current policy issues [18
]. Also, similar to the 2012 and 2016 Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey [12
], the general public
is rated as more important by those from social sciences and arts/humanities, with those in arts/humanities rating the public as more important than either government or NGO policy-makers
practitioners. Those in the sciences, particularly engineering/computer science and math, care the least about reaching the public with their research. Respondents from the sciences may not feel their research would be of value to the general public without some kind of mediated interpretation—that is, they may not believe that the research is easily understandable outside of their narrow fields.
In sum, it seems that across subject disciplines, authors are concerned first with reputation building among peers, followed by getting their research in front of practitioners who can and will use it for practical purposes. For example, works produced by those in the fine arts may be enjoyed by the general public, but will likely be of little use to those in other industries. For engineers, on the other hand, the reverse is true: those working in the engineering industry stand to greatly benefit from their research, while the general public likely has little use for it. Academics and researchers in health or human social behavioral research produce outputs that will ideally drive policy decisions, and therefore care about reaching policy-makers, perhaps more so than researchers from other disciplines.
Finally, it is important to point out a pattern from the open-ended comments about other possible stakeholder groups for whom access to participants’ research is important. Across all subject disciplines and position types, respondents express that students are an important stakeholder group that had not been addressed in the survey. Descriptions include graduate, undergraduate, and even high school students as potential beneficiaries of respondents’ research.