Publication Process

Journal Acceptance Rates: Everything You Need to Know

Every journal has a role to publish and disseminate research in their field, and within that role is a sub-role, if you will. That of a “gatekeeper.” In other words, selecting which research is deserving of being published within the journal’s pages. Obviously, not all unsolicited papers can be accepted, so the editorial team of the journal will reject articles, either before or after peer review.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a journal acceptance rate is, and what it measures. We’ll also touch on how to find a journal’s acceptance rate.

The acceptance rate—the proportion of manuscripts that are selected for publication from the pool of all submitted manuscripts—is an apparently straightforward measure that an author make take into consideration when deciding where to submit a manuscript. Does an acceptance rate have any meaning as an evaluative metric, though?

What do Acceptance Rates Measure?

The acceptance rate of a journal is a measurement of how many manuscripts are accepted for publication, compared to how many are submitted. Even though it may seem to be a straightforward measurement, like most things in the research journal world, it’s a little more complicated than that. But, don’t worry, we’ll sort it all out.

To determine a journal’s acceptance rate, the number of accepted manuscripts is simply divided by the number of submitted manuscripts. For example, if in one year a journal accepts 60 manuscripts, but 500 are submitted that same year, the journal’s acceptance rate is:

60/500 = .12 or 12% acceptance rate

Seems simple enough, right? But, what does that number really mean? If the journal is relatively selective, like this acceptance rate indicates, what does it mean when a manuscript is rejected? It could be because the manuscript was poorly written, or it could be that it was an excellent manuscript, but out of the scope of the journal’s focus. Therefore, is a journal’s acceptance rate really an accurate measurement of a journal’s rigor in selecting manuscripts for publication?

Additionally, some journals calculate their acceptance rate differently. For example, looking at the number of accepted manuscripts divided by the sum of accepted and rejected manuscripts. In this other approach, the publisher is reporting a lower acceptance rate than a publisher with the same number of accepted and rejected articles. You can see how that looks below:

60/560 = .107 or 11% acceptance rate

So, in addition to knowing a journal’s acceptance rate, it helps to know how they’re calculating that rate. Journal’s with lower acceptance rates are generally thought to be more “prestigious,” but is it true? For instance, some journals let their editor select which manuscripts are even sent to the editorial team, and calculate their acceptance rate on those manuscripts – which is much less than the total of the received manuscripts. Other editors don’t keep an accurate count, and submit an estimate of their acceptance rate. Also, if the journal is highly specific, and only a few scientists and researchers can write manuscripts related to the scope of the journal, that would artificially increase the acceptance rate of the journal.

The bigger question might be, though, “Does it matter?” Does a journal’s acceptance really have any meaning, as you’re evaluating which journal to submit your paper to?

What Our Research Shows

We looked at over 2,300 journals (more than 80% of them published by Elsevier), and calculated that the average acceptance rate was 32%. The range of acceptance was from just over 1% to 93.2%.

However, if we look at the different aspects of the group of journals, we can draw some general conclusions.

  • Larger journals have lower acceptance rates than smaller journals, between 10-60%
  • Older journals have lower acceptance rates than newer journals, but not by much
  • High-impact journals have relatively low acceptance rates, but there’s much variation still (5-50% acceptance)
  • We did not see a relationship between the share of review papers that were published compared to the corresponding acceptance rate
  • Gold open access journals had higher acceptance rates than other models of open access journals. Take note that newer journals tend to follow the Gold open access model.
  • No relationship was found between the breadth of scope for a journal and its acceptance rate. But journals within the scope of formal sciences (mathematics, economics, computer science) had lower acceptance rates than journals that focused on medicine and the life sciences.

For yet another take on this topic, check out our article on Journal Impact Factors.

How to Find Journal Acceptance Rates

While there’s no comprehensive journal acceptance rate list, per se, this information is readily found in journal editor reports, journal finding tools and on metric pages within the journal itself. You can find these rates by utilizing the below tips:

  • Contact the journal: Many times, if you contact the editor of the journal, they will share their acceptance rate with you.
  • Industry/field publishing resources: Check with library databases within your field. Sometimes you can find acceptance rates there.
  • Google: Some journals publish their acceptance rate on their home page. Alternatively, if you Google a specific society, they may also publish the acceptance rates of associated journals.
  • Elsevier Journal Acceptance Rate: We keep track of our journals’ acceptance rates by dividing the total of accepted articles by the total of submitted articles.

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Source:

Herbert, Rachel, Accept Me, Accept Me Not: What Do Journal Acceptance Rates Really Mean? (February 15, 2020). International Center for the Study of Research Paper No. Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3526365 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3526365

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