The authors of the text are Nils Klowait and Maria Erofeeva, the Faculty of Social Sciences’ teachers, the winners of the grant competition of the Vladimir Potanin’ Scholarship Program 2018/2019 for the development of the course "Academic Writing for International Science".
The library's request to list the top of discipline journals bewildered us. The point is that modern science is formed in such a way that today you cannot focus only on a small list of, albeit the best, journals in order to be on top. The best way to orient among dozens of sources is to learn how to use search engines of citation like Scopus. We explain below why choosing for yourself five (or more) best magazines is not a good idea.
Five reasons not to be oriented towards top-5 sociology journals
There are a lot of good journals
It was estimated that nearly two million articles are published each year. For example, in Scopus there are six million articles on "social sciences", over 300 thousand articles during 2020. If you choose the top ten journals, you will find out that only a hundred papers are included in the selection of the best articles 2020. Does it mean that the remaining 299,900 articles are worse? Of course, it does not. In terms of international science, there are too many good journals today to choose the top ten and follow them.
Research is being done in the fields
Modern sociology is highly differentiated: it can be difficult for sociologists from different schools to find an understanding, although both of them define themselves as sociologists. If you are studying stratification, you are unlikely to be interested in how the speakers’ queuing is organized in the classroom. That is why you read works and write for a certain range of researchers who share an approach, methodology, or interest in an object (the so-called research field). Certainly, there are such well-known journals of general approach as the “American Journal of Sociology” or “Sociological Theory”, but they publish works of different research directions, which means that most of them will not be relevant for your research. The fields often have their own selection of the best journals.
Sociologists are published not only in sociological journals
Many scientists work in interdisciplinary fields. They study how engineers do their jobs, how office workers cooperate with computers, how cities are planned, etc. Sociologists often publish the results of their work in specialized journals in the area of engineering, organizational research, information technology, urban planning, etc. This is justified: after all, wouldn't it be useful for engineers to get an idea of how they do their job? For this reason, some very good (and relevant) articles can be published in journals far from sociology such as “Computer Science”.
Disciplinary identity is ambiguous
Some research fields may be much closer to other disciplines than other fields within sociology. For example, the microsociological approach of the ethnomethodology and conversation analysis studies how social order is produced in situations using a variety of resources. Since one of the parts of these resources is speech and non-verbal communication, sociologists can change their disciplinary affiliation: they can be called interactional linguists, linguistic anthropologists, communication researchers, social psychologists. Some of them may even deny their affiliation to "mainstream" sociology, but at the same time discuss issues that date back to the classics of sociology Durkheim or Weber.
Citation indexes are not a panacea
But you may take the top journals according to citation rate, because the most cited works must be the best ones, otherwise they would not be mentioned. Unfortunately, a large amount of citations does not necessarily indicate the quality of the article. Different practices of citation are spread across different citation disciplines and fields. In some disciplines, research areas are so interrelated that each new publication is cited ten times on average. Researchers of more narrow specific fields, such as a study of a thought of late Wittgenstein, may be published with much lower frequency. Consequently, published works in a narrow specific field will be cited on average once every five years (or never!). An interdisciplinary audience is obviously broader than the audience of readers within a particular research field (which provides a higher number of citations), but articles published in interdisciplinary journals may not be so relevant to narrow specialists.
The Academic Writing for International Science course, which is being launched in MSSES next year, will provide more detailed information on how to pose a research question, define a field, and find relevant literature for your scientific work.