The term academic journal applies to scholarly publications in all fields; this article discusses the aspects common to all academic field journals. Scientific journals and journals of the quantitative social sciences vary in form and function from journals of the humanities and qualitative social sciences; their specific aspects are separately discussed.
There are two kinds of article or paper submissions in academia: solicited, where an individual has been invited to submit work either through direct contact or through a general submissions call, and unsolicited, where an individual submits a work for potential publication without directly being asked to do so. Upon receipt of a submitted article, editors at the journal determine whether to reject the submission outright or begin the process of peer review. In the latter case, the submission becomes subject to review by outside scholars of the editor's choosing who typically remain anonymous. The number of these peer reviewers (or "referees") varies according to each journal's editorial practice – typically, no fewer than two, though sometimes three or more, experts in the subject matter of the article produce reports upon the content, style, and other factors, which inform the editors' publication decisions. Though these reports are generally confidential, some journals and publishers also practice public peer review. The editors either choose to reject the article, ask for a revision and resubmission, or accept the article for publication. Even accepted articles are often subjected to further (sometimes considerable) editing by journal editorial staff before they appear in print. The peer review can take from several weeks to several months.
Review articles, also called "reviews of progress," are checks on the research published in journals. Some journals are devoted entirely to review articles, some contain a few in each issue, and others do not publish review articles. Such reviews often cover the research from the preceding year, some for longer or shorter terms; some are devoted to specific topics, some to general surveys. Some journals are enumerative, listing all significant articles in a given subject, others are selective, including only what they think worthwhile. Yet others are evaluative, judging the state of progress in the subject field. Some journals are published in series, each covering a complete subject field year, or covering specific fields through several years. Unlike original research articles, review articles tend to be solicited submissions, sometimes planned years in advance. They are typically relied upon by students beginning a study in a given field, or for current awareness of those already in the field.
Reviews of scholarly books are checks upon the research books published by scholars; unlike articles, book reviews tend to be solicited. Journals typically have a separate book review editor determining which new books to review and by whom. If an outside scholar accepts the book review editor's request for a book review, he or she generally receives a free copy of the book from the journal in exchange for a timely review. Publishers send books to book review editors in the hope that their books will be reviewed. The length and depth of research book reviews varies much from journal to journal, as does the extent of textbook and trade book review.
An academic journal's prestige is established over time, and can reflect many factors, some but not all of which are expressible quantitatively. In each academic discipline there are dominant journals that receive the largest number of submissions, and therefore can be selective in choosing their content. Yet, not only the largest journals are of excellent quality.
In the natural sciences and in the social sciences, the impact factor is an established proxy, measuring the number of later articles citing articles already published in the journal. There are other quantitative measures of prestige, such as the overall number of citations, how quickly articles are cited, and the average "half-life" of articles. There is also the question of whether or not any quantitative factor can reflect true prestige. Clarivate Analytics' Journal Citation Reports, which among other features, computes an impact factor for academic journals, draws data for computation from the Science Citation Index Expanded (for natural science journals), and from the Social Sciences Citation Index (for social science journals).
In the Anglo-American humanities, there is no tradition (as there is in the sciences) of giving impact-factors that could be used in establishing a journal's prestige. Recent moves have been made by the European Science Foundation (ESF) to change the situation, resulting in the publication of preliminary lists for the ranking of academic journals in the Humanities. These rankings have been severely criticized, notably by history and sociology of science British journals that have published a common editorial entitled "Journals under Threat." Though it did not prevent ESF and some national organizations from proposing journal rankings, it largely prevented their use as evaluation tools.