Every so often we get a shopping question (e.g. this one) about finding a suitable journal to publish some specific paper in. It's a good thing to close these as off-topic. However, can we also point the asker to the on-topic question about ways to find suitable publication outlets in general? Could this serve as canonical answer, or should we open a new thread from scratch?


1 Answer 1


Short answer

I would vote no. I think "canonical answers" only make sense when the canonical answer addresses (a) the user's actual question, or (b) some generalization of the user's question. Telling askers that their question is a "duplicate" of some vague, seemingly-unrelated question will only infuriate them. If we want to improve the status quo, we should provide the asker with a clearer explanation of why their question will not be answered.

Long answer

this image

I think the particular "shopping questions" you identified are a good example of the sort of issue identified by the above cartoon:

  1. Someone wants to know where they can publish their article about jubjub birds.
  2. They post here in the hope that we have an ornithologist (or anyone in the life sciences) that can recommend a well-regarded journal at the appropriate level of selectivity. They take the time to write out a clear, detailed, specific question.
  3. It....does not go well.

So what should we do in step #3?

I think the best thing we can do is to say "sorry, this forum does not recommend journals." In this way, the asker clearly sees why their question, no matter how reasonable or well-posed, will not get an answer here. They may not understand why we won't recommend journals, but there is no miscommunication or ambiguity.

On the other hand, closing as a duplicate of an unhelpful question is infuriating for the asker. Common reactions will be:

  • "It is not a duplicate; this is super broad, my question is super specific. Did you even read what I wrote?"
  • "Of course I could ask my advisor! Do you really think I hadn't considered that? But my advisor doesn't know / is a jerk / does not exist!"
  • "I'm a professional researcher with decades of experience, of course I know everything on this list. What I need is subject matter expertise. Are there really no biologists on this forum?"
  • "Argh. How can I rephrase my question to get an actual answer?"

In this case (requests for journal recommendations), we are not going to create a giant ontology of journals, so we don't have anything helpful that we can link them to. So, I would suggest that best practice should be:

  • Close as a shopping question.
  • Add a comment explaining "sorry, we don't recommend journals".
  • If OP is a student, it might be worth further saying "sorry, we don't recommend journals. But this is really the sort of thing you should discuss with your advisor." (In fact, perhaps we should have a canonical meta question about "When and why do we refer students to their advisor instead of just answering their question?" that commenters could link to.)
  • 2
    I like your last bullet Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 20:40
  • That makes a lot of sense. Thanks! Commented Oct 31, 2020 at 20:46
  • 2
    "Close as a shopping question." This is the main reason why we should not have such a canonical question. Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 1:27

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