Scientific journal

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Cover of the first issue of Nature (4 November 1869) Nature cover, November 4, 1869.jpg
Cover of the first issue of Nature (4 November 1869)

In academic publishing, a scientific journal is a periodical publication designed to further the progress of science by disseminating new research findings to the scientific community. [1] These journals serve as a platform for researchers, scholars, and scientists to share their latest discoveries, insights, and methodologies across a multitude of scientific disciplines. Unlike professional or trade magazines, scientific journals are characterized by their rigorous peer review process, which aims to ensure the validity, reliability, and quality of the published content. [1] [2] With origins dating back to the 17th century, the publication of scientific journals has evolved significantly, playing a pivotal role in the advancement of scientific knowledge, fostering academic discourse, and facilitating collaboration within the scientific community. [3] [4]


As of 2012, it is estimated that over 28,100 active scientific journals are in publication, covering a broad spectrum of disciplines from the general sciences, as seen in journals like Science and Nature , to highly specialized fields. [2] [3] These journals primarily publish peer-reviewed articles, including original research, review articles, and perspectives, each serving distinct purposes within the academic landscape. The advent of electronic publishing has further expanded the reach and accessibility of scientific journals, enabling more efficient dissemination and retrieval of information, while also addressing challenges related to cost and copyright. [5] [6]

Scientific journals not only contribute to the dissemination and archival of scientific knowledge but also play a critical role in the academic and research careers of scientists. They are instrumental in keeping researchers informed about the latest developments in their field, supporting the integrity of research through reproducibility and replicability, [7] and influencing the direction of future research endeavors.


Scientific journals

There are thousands of scientific journals in publication, with one estimate from 2012 indicating that there were 28,100 that were active, [8] and many more have been published at various points in the past (see list of scientific journals). Most journals are highly specialized, although some of the oldest journals such as Science and Nature publish articles and scientific papers across a wide range of scientific fields. [9] Scientific journals contain articles that have been peer reviewed, in an attempt to ensure that articles meet the journal's standards of quality and scientific validity. [1]

Although scientific journals are superficially similar to professional magazines (or trade journals), they are actually quite different. Among other things, scientific journals' papers' authors are experts who must cite everything (and have a bibliography). They also deal with research, and are peer reviewed. Meanwhile, trade journals are aimed at people in different fields, focusing on how people in these fields can do their jobs better. They additionally cover information related to work, and include tips and advice for improving performance, but they are not scholarly. [2]

Articles in scientific journals

Articles in scientific journals are mostly written by active scientists such as students, researchers, and professors. Their intended audience is others in the field (such as students and experts), meaning their content is more advanced and sophisticated than what is found regular publications. [10] They have different purposes, depending on the type. Articles with original research are meant to share it with others in the field, review articles give summaries of research that has already been done, and perspective articles give researchers' views on research that their peers performed. [11]

Each article has several different sections, including the following: [12]

Scientific journal articles are not usually read casually like a person would read a magazine. Whereas magazine articles can be read in a more casual manner, reading an article in a scientific periodical requires a lot more concentration. Reading an article in a scientific journal usually entails first reading the title, to see if it was related to the desired topic. If it was, the next step is to read the abstract (or summary or conclusion, if the abstract is missing), to see if the article is worth reading. Then, if it seems like reading it would be worthwhile, the reader would then read the whole article. [13]

Publishing research results is an essential part of helping science to advance. [14] If scientists are describing experiments or calculations, they should also explain how they did them so that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation to verify the results, or so that they could evaluate whatever the research article's findings were. [15] Each such journal article also becomes part of the permanent scientific record. [16]


Articles in scientific journals can be used in research and higher education. Scientific articles allow researchers to keep up to date with the developments of their field and direct their own research. An essential part of a scientific article is citation of earlier work. The impact of articles and journals is often assessed by counting citations (citation impact). Some classes are partially devoted to the explication of classic articles, and seminar classes can consist of the presentation by each student of a classic or current paper. Schoolbooks and textbooks have been written usually only on established topics, while the latest research and more obscure topics are only accessible through scientific articles. In a scientific research group or academic department it is usual for the content of current scientific journals to be discussed in journal clubs. Public funding bodies often require the results to be published in scientific journals. Academic credentials for promotion into academic ranks are established in large part by the number and impact of scientific articles published. Many doctoral programs allow for thesis by publication, where the candidate is required to publish a certain number of scientific articles.


Articles tend to be highly technical, representing the latest theoretical research and experimental results in the field of science covered by the journal. They are often incomprehensible to anyone except for researchers in the field and advanced students. In some subjects this is inevitable given the nature of the content. Usually, rigorous rules of scientific writing are enforced by the editors; however, these rules may vary from journal to journal, especially between journals from different publishers. Articles are usually either original articles reporting completely new results or reviews of current literature. There are also scientific publications that bridge the gap between articles and books by publishing thematic volumes of chapters from different authors. Many journals have a regional focus, specializing in publishing papers from a particular geographic region, like African Invertebrates .


In the 17th century, scientists wrote letters to each other, and included scientific ideas with them. Then, in the mid-17th century, scientists began to hold meetings and share their scientific ideas. Eventually, they led to starting organizations, such as the Royal Society (1660) and the French Academy of Sciences (1666). [3] In 1665, the French Journal des sçavans and the English Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society began systematically publishing research results. Over a thousand, mostly ephemeral, were founded in the 18th century, and the number has increased rapidly since then. [4]

Peer review did not begin until the 1970s, and was seen as a way of enabling researchers who were not as well-known to have their papers published in journals that were more prestigious. Though it was originally done by mailing copies of papers to reviewers, it is now done online. [17]

Publishing process

The authors of scientific articles are active researchers instead of journalists; typically, a graduate student or a researcher writes a paper with a professor. As such, the authors are unpaid and receive no compensation from the journal. However, their funding bodies may require them to publish in scientific journals. The paper is submitted to the journal office, where the editor considers the paper for appropriateness, potential scientific impact and novelty. If the journal's editor considers the paper appropriate, the paper is submitted to scholarly peer review. Depending on the field, journal and paper, the paper is sent to 1–3 reviewers for evaluation before they can be granted permission to publish. Reviewers are expected to check the paper for soundness of its scientific argument, including whether the author(s) are sufficiently acquainted with recent relevant research that bears on their study, whether the data was collected or considered appropriately and reproducibly, and whether the data discussed supports the conclusion offered and the implications suggested. Novelty is also key: existing work must be appropriately considered and referenced, and new results improving on the state of the art presented. Reviewers are usually unpaid and not a part of the journal staff—instead, they should be "peers", i.e. researchers in the same field as the paper in question.

Standards and impact

The standards that a journal uses to determine publication can vary widely. Some journals, such as Nature , Science , PNAS , and Physical Review Letters , have a reputation of publishing articles that mark a fundamental breakthrough in their respective fields.[ citation needed ] In many fields, a formal or informal hierarchy of scientific journals exists; the most prestigious journal in a field tends to be the most selective in terms of the articles it will select for publication, and usually will also have the highest impact factor. In some countries, journal rankings can be utilized for funding decisions [18] and even evaluation of individual researchers, although they are poorly suited for that purpose. [19]

Reproducibility and replicability

For scientific journals, reproducibility and replicability of the scientific results are core concepts that allow other scientists to check and reproduce the results under the same conditions described in the paper or at least similar conditions and produce similar results with similar measurements of the same measurand or carried out under changed conditions of measurement. While the ability to reproduce the results based only on details included in the article is expected, verification of reproducibility by a third party is not generally required for publication. [7] The reproducibility of results presented in an article is therefore judged implicitly by the quality of the procedures reported and agreement with the data provided. However, some journals in the field of chemistry such as Inorganic Syntheses and Organic Syntheses require independent reproduction of the results presented as part of the review process. The inability for independent researches to reproduce published results is widespread, with 70% of researchers reporting failure to reproduce another scientist's results, including more than half who report failing to reproduce their own experiments. [20] Sources of irreproducibility vary, including publication of falsified or misrepresented data and poor detailing of procedures. [21]

Types of articles

Title page of the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science Philosophical Transactions Volume 1 frontispiece.jpg
Title page of the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society , the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science

There are several types of journal article; the exact terminology and definitions vary by field and specific journal, but often include:

The formats of journal articles vary, but many follow the general IMRAD scheme recommended by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Such articles begin with an abstract , which is a one-to-four-paragraph summary of the paper. The introduction describes the background for the research including a discussion of similar research. The materials and methods or experimental section provides specific details of how the research was conducted. The results and discussion section describes the outcome and implications of the research, and the conclusion section places the research in context and describes avenues for further exploration.

In addition to the above, some scientific journals such as Science will include a news section where scientific developments (often involving political issues) are described. These articles are often written by science journalists and not by scientists. In addition, some journals will include an editorial section and a section for letters to the editor. While these are articles published within a journal, in general they are not regarded as scientific journal articles because they have not been peer-reviewed.

Electronic publishing

Electronic publishing is a new area of information dissemination. One definition of electronic publishing is in the context of the scientific journal. It is the presentation of scholarly scientific results in only an electronic (non-paper) form. This is from its first write-up, or creation, to its publication or dissemination. The electronic scientific journal is specifically designed to be presented on the internet. It is defined as not being previously printed material adapted, or retooled, and then delivered electronically. [5] [6]

Electronic publishing will likely continue to exist alongside paper publishing for the foreseeable future, since whilst output to a screen is important for browsing and searching, it is not well suited for extensive reading. Formats suitable both for reading on paper, and for manipulation by the reader's computer will need to be integrated. [5] [6] Many journals are electronically available in formats readable on screen via web browsers, as well as in portable document format PDF, suitable for printing and storing on a local desktop or laptop computer. New tools such as JATS and Utopia Documents provide a 'bridge' to the 'web-versions' in that they connect the content in PDF versions directly to the World Wide Web via hyperlinks that are created 'on-the-fly'. The PDF version of an article is usually seen as the version of record, but the matter is subject to some debate. [24]

Electronic counterparts of established print journals already promote and deliver rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed and edited, "published" articles. Other journals, whether spin-offs of established print journals, or created as electronic only, have come into existence promoting the rapid dissemination capability, and availability, on the Internet. In tandem with this is the speeding up of peer review, copyediting, page makeup, and other steps in the process to support rapid dissemination. [25]

Other improvements, benefits and unique values of electronically publishing the scientific journal are easy availability of supplementary materials (data, graphics and video), lower cost, and availability to more people, especially scientists from non-developed countries. Hence, research results from more developed nations are becoming more accessible to scientists from non-developed countries. [5]

Moreover, electronic publishing of scientific journals has been accomplished without compromising the standards of the refereed, peer review process. [5] [6]

One form is the online equivalent of the conventional paper journal. By 2006, almost all scientific journals have, while retaining their peer-review process, established electronic versions; a number have moved entirely to electronic publication. In a similar manner, most academic libraries buy the electronic version and purchase a paper copy only for the most important or most-used titles.

There is usually a delay of several months after an article is written before it is published in a journal, making paper journals not an ideal format for announcing the latest research. Many journals now publish the final papers in their electronic version as soon as they are ready, without waiting for the assembly of a complete issue, as is necessary with paper. In many fields in which even greater speed is wanted, such as physics, the role of the journal at disseminating the latest research has largely been replaced by preprint databases such as Almost all such articles are eventually published in traditional journals, which still provide an important role in quality control, archiving papers, and establishing scientific credit.


Many scientists and librarians have long protested the cost of journals, especially as they see these payments going to large for-profit publishing houses. [26] To allow their researchers online access to journals, many universities purchase site licenses, permitting access from anywhere in the university, and, with appropriate authorization, by university-affiliated users at home or elsewhere. These may be quite expensive, sometimes much more than the cost for a print subscription, although this may reflect the number of people who will be using the license—while a print subscription is the cost for one person to receive the journal; a site-license can allow thousands of people to gain access.[ citation needed ]

Publications by scholarly societies, also known as not-for-profit-publishers, usually cost less than commercial publishers, but the prices of their scientific journals are still usually several thousand dollars a year. In general, this money is used to fund the activities of the scientific societies that run such journals, or is invested in providing further scholarly resources for scientists; thus, the money remains in and benefits the scientific sphere.

Despite the transition to electronic publishing, the serials crisis persists. [27]

Concerns about cost and open access have led to the creation of free-access journals such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS) family and partly open or reduced-cost journals such as the Journal of High Energy Physics . However, professional editors still have to be paid, and PLoS still relies heavily on donations from foundations to cover the majority of its operating costs; smaller journals do not often have access to such resources.

Based on statistical arguments, it has been shown that electronic publishing online, and to some extent open access, both provide wider dissemination and increase the average number of citations an article receives. [28]

Traditionally, the author of an article was required to transfer the copyright to the journal publisher. Publishers claimed this was necessary in order to protect authors' rights, and to coordinate permissions for reprints or other use. However, many authors, especially those active in the open access movement, found this unsatisfactory, [29] and have used their influence to effect a gradual move towards a license to publish instead. Under such a system, the publisher has permission to edit, print, and distribute the article commercially, but the authors retain the other rights themselves.

Even if they retain the copyright to an article, most journals allow certain rights to their authors. These rights usually include the ability to reuse parts of the paper in the author's future work, and allow the author to distribute a limited number of copies. In the print format, such copies are called reprints; in the electronic format, they are called postprints. Some publishers, for example the American Physical Society, also grant the author the right to post and update the article on the author's or employer's website and on free e-print servers, to grant permission to others to use or reuse figures, and even to reprint the article as long as no fee is charged. [30] The rise of open access journals, in which the author retains the copyright but must pay a publication charge, such as the Public Library of Science family of journals, is another recent response to copyright concerns. [31]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preprint</span> Academic paper prior to journal publication

In academic publishing, a preprint is a version of a scholarly or scientific paper that precedes formal peer review and publication in a peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journal. The preprint may be available, often as a non-typeset version available free, before or after a paper is published in a journal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Academic publishing</span> Subfield of publishing distributing academic research and scholarship

Academic publishing is the subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship. Most academic work is published in academic journal articles, books or theses. The part of academic written output that is not formally published but merely printed up or posted on the Internet is often called "grey literature". Most scientific and scholarly journals, and many academic and scholarly books, though not all, are based on some form of peer review or editorial refereeing to qualify texts for publication. Peer review quality and selectivity standards vary greatly from journal to journal, publisher to publisher, and field to field.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Academic journal</span> Peer-reviewed scholarly periodical

An academic journal or scholarly journal is a periodical publication in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. They serve as permanent and transparent forums for the presentation, scrutiny, and discussion of research. They nearly universally require peer review for research articles or other scrutiny from contemporaries competent and established in their respective fields.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open access</span> Research publications distributed freely online

Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of access charges or other barriers. With open access strictly defined, or libre open access, barriers to copying or reuse are also reduced or removed by applying an open license for copyright.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific literature</span> Literary genre

Scientific literature encompasses a vast body of academic papers that spans various disciplines within the natural and social sciences. It primarily consists of academic papers that present original empirical research and theoretical contributions. These papers serve as essential sources of knowledge and are commonly referred to simply as “the literature” within specific research fields.

An article or piece is a written work published in a print or electronic medium, for the propagation of news, research results, academic analysis or debate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Self-archiving</span> Authorial deposit of documents to provide open access

Self-archiving is the act of depositing a free copy of an electronic document online in order to provide open access to it. The term usually refers to the self-archiving of peer-reviewed research journal and conference articles, as well as theses and book chapters, deposited in the author's own institutional repository or open archive for the purpose of maximizing its accessibility, usage and citation impact. The term green open access has become common in recent years, distinguishing this approach from gold open access, where the journal itself makes the articles publicly available without charge to the reader.

The term serials crisis describes the problem of rising subscription costs of serial publications, especially scholarly journals, outpacing academic institutions' library budgets and limiting their ability to meet researchers' needs. The prices of these institutional or library subscriptions have been rising much faster than inflation for several decades, while the funds available to the libraries have remained static or have declined in real terms. As a result, academic and research libraries have regularly canceled serial subscriptions to accommodate price increases of the remaining subscriptions. The increased prices have also led to the increased popularity of shadow libraries.

Scientific writing is writing about science, with an implication that the writing is by scientists and for an audience that primarily includes peers—those with sufficient expertise to follow in detail. Scientific writing is a specialized form of technical writing, and a prominent genre of it involves reporting about scientific studies such as in articles for a scientific journal. Other scientific writing genres include writing literature-review articles, which summarize the existing state of a given aspect of a scientific field, and writing grant proposals, which are a common means of obtaining funding to support scientific research. Scientific writing is more likely to focus on the pure sciences compared to other aspects of technical communication that are more applied, although there is overlap. There is not one specific style for citations and references in scientific writing. Whether you are submitting a grant proposal, literature review articles, or submitting an article into a paper, the citation system that must be used will depend on the publication you plan to submit to.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open science</span> Generally available scientific research

Open science is the movement to make scientific research and its dissemination accessible to all levels of society, amateur or professional. Open science is transparent and accessible knowledge that is shared and developed through collaborative networks. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open-notebook science, broader dissemination and engagement in science and generally making it easier to publish, access and communicate scientific knowledge.

Scholarly communication involves the creation, publication, dissemination and discovery of academic research, primarily in peer-reviewed journals and books. It is “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use." This primarily involves the publication of peer-reviewed academic journals, books and conference papers.

Nature Precedings was an open access electronic preprint repository of scholarly work in the fields of biomedical sciences, chemistry, and earth sciences. It ceased accepting new submissions as of April 3, 2012.

MDPI is a publisher of open-access scientific journals. It publishes over 390 peer-reviewed, open access journals. MDPI is among the largest publishers in the world in terms of journal article output, and is the largest publisher of open access articles.

Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP) is a predatory academic publisher of open-access electronic journals, conference proceedings, and scientific anthologies that are considered to be of questionable quality. As of December 2014, it offered 244 English-language open-access journals in the areas of science, technology, business, economy, and medicine.

Scholarly peer review or academic peer review is the process of having a draft version of a researcher's methods and findings reviewed by experts in the same field. Peer review is widely used for helping the academic publisher decide whether the work should be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected for official publication in an academic journal, a monograph or in the proceedings of an academic conference. If the identities of authors are not revealed to each other, the procedure is called dual-anonymous peer review.

A copyright transfer agreement or copyright assignment agreement is an agreement that transfers the copyright for a work from the copyright owner to another party. This is one legal option for publishers and authors of books, magazines, movies, television shows, video games, and other commercial artistic works who want to include and use a work of a second creator: for example, a video game developer who wants to pay an artist to draw a boss to include in a game. Another option is to license the right to include and use the work, rather than transferring the copyright.

Academic journal publishing reform is the advocacy for changes in the way academic journals are created and distributed in the age of the Internet and the advent of electronic publishing. Since the rise of the Internet, people have organized campaigns to change the relationships among and between academic authors, their traditional distributors and their readership. Most of the discussion has centered on taking advantage of benefits offered by the Internet's capacity for widespread distribution of reading material.

Frontiers Media SA is a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals currently active in science, technology, and medicine. It was founded in 2007 by Kamila and Henry Markram. Frontiers is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, with offices in the United Kingdom, Spain, and China. In 2022, Frontiers employed more than 1,400 people, across 14 countries. All Frontiers journals are published under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Predatory publishing</span> Fraudulent business model for scientific publications

Predatory publishing, also write-only publishing or deceptive publishing, is an exploitative academic publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors while only superficially checking articles for quality and legitimacy, and without providing editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide, whether open access or not. The rejection rate of predatory journals is low, but seldom zero. The phenomenon of "open access predatory publishers" was first noticed by Jeffrey Beall, when he described "publishers that are ready to publish any article for payment". However, criticisms about the label "predatory" have been raised. A lengthy review of the controversy started by Beall appears in The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

An article processing charge (APC), also known as a publication fee, is a fee which is sometimes charged to authors. Most commonly, it is involved in making an academic work available as open access (OA), in either a full OA journal or in a hybrid journal. This fee may be paid by the author, the author's institution, or their research funder. Sometimes, publication fees are also involved in traditional journals or for paywalled content. Some publishers waive the fee in cases of hardship or geographic location, but this is not a widespread practice. An article processing charge does not guarantee that the author retains copyright to the work, or that it will be made available under a Creative Commons license.


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Further reading