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J R Soc Med. 2001 October; 94(10): 515.
PMCID: PMC1282205

‘Where shall we send our paper?’ A simple decision tool for joint authors


When two or more people write a paper together they must decide where they would like to publish it—ideally before they start writing. Their preferences often differ, and may be difficult to resolve. I want to report an easy, fair and transparent method for making such decisions, based on ranking the personal preferences of the individual authors. My colleagues have found it helpful.

The first step is to agree, first, on the readership that the paper seeks to reach (e.g. all medical practitioners, clinical specialists, researchers in a particular subject area, statisticians); and second, on the academic quality required of the journals to be considered (e.g. a peer-reviewed journal of record). All the journals that serve the target readers and would be appropriate for the paper are listed, and each of the authors ranks them in order of personal preference. The ranks are summed for each journal, and the summed rank order is used to decide the group's preferences. The paper then goes to the journal with the top rank, i.e. the lowest rank sum.

The simplest version of the method is for all the authors' preferences to contribute equally, but those of authors who have done most of the work or who have the greatest relevant experience (e.g. of research, of publishing papers, of the intended readership) deserve to carry greater weight. This is easily done by multiplying their rankings by two or three before adding them into the total of summed ranks. Box 1 shows an invented example.

Box 1
An example

If more than one distinct group of readers is to be addressed, each is considered separately—for example, a piece of work might result in one paper addressed to clinicians and another addressed to statisticians or sociologists. One way of addressing readerships with differing needs, perspectives and priorities is to prepare a master document that may be very long, containing all the references, and then decide which parts belong where.


I thank John Yaphe, Trisha Greenhalgh, Alison Chapple and Iain Chalmers for helpful comments.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press