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Tips for identifying (and hopefully avoiding) ‘predatory’ journals

A ‘predatory journal’ can be defined as a publishing outlet that is purely interested in taking your money and not interested in properly disseminating or publishing your work. Such journals advertise widely, often over email.


Just how to sort good journals from predators deserves a closer look.


All academic authors want to get their papers written up and published as quickly as possible and, hopefully, in the best journals possible. We also want to pay as little as possible for the privilege of seeing our work appear in a leading international journal with a high impact factor (IF).


You’ll be aware that the rise of open access publishing over the last few years has led to a dramatic shift in the way that article costs are paid: from journals and publishers recouping monies via subscriptions (the ‘traditional’ model) to the levying of article processing charges (APCs) that are typically paid either by universities or by authors themselves.



Predatory journals

This cost-to-publish OA model has also (sadly) led to a dramatic rise in predatory publishers running predatory journals. Journals that are only interested in taking your money: these outlets often have no (or limited) international listing in recognised databases, no IF, and limited production values. Predatory journals have a bad reputation for taking your money and then publishing your work, often badly and in a place that few other authors will be able to find, read, or cite your study.



Since predatory journals are clearly such a bad deal for authors, why do so many academics get suckered into publishing in these ‘purely for profit’ outlets? 


One reason is lack of author education. It’s hard to tell which journals are predators and which are not; often these journals hide themselves in plain sight and look extremely reputable. They market directly to authors, often via email, with very attractive-sounding publication deals. We’ve all seen the emails: “Why not consider publishing your work in our journal?”.



Predatory publishers have also, in many cases, taken over formerly reputable journals and flipped them to a profit-based model. In many cases, these flipped journals were run by scholarly societies that were no longer able to survive financially as the industry moved towards OA models: paid-for journal subscriptions were one key way for these societies, often smaller ones, to make money.


Another approach that’s becoming more-and-more common is the creation of new journals with very similar names to older, well-established publications that are well-known in particular fields. Predatory publishers have been known to also create mock websites that look similar to those of well-established journals to dupe authors into submitting and paying for publications in outlets that they think are reputable and well known.



Here are some examples:


Reputable journal                                 Mock predatory version


Preventive Medicine                               Journal of Preventive Medicine

International Journal of Public Health    International Journal of Environmental Research and                                                Public Health

Archives of Internal Medicine                Archives of Medicine

Internal Medicine Journal                      Internal Medicine Review


As the journal names on the right (predators) look very similar to the ones on the left (reputable) and are backed up by reputable-looking websites, authors may not know any better. Indeed, recent surveys have revealed that large numbers of active researchers do get duped into publishing (i.e. paying for) their work to appear in such predatory outlets.



What to do? How can you tell which journals are predatory?

There are a number of steps to take when deciding on a suitable journal outlet for your work as well as a number of things to know about journal APCs:


  • You should be publishing your work in journals that actually do perform peer-review
  • The average APC industry-wide is $1,500
  • Journals should contain reputable content: Is your journal of choice regularly publishing papers in your field?


Things to think about when assessing candidate journals for your work:


Is the journal website reputable? 

  • Look at the editorial board. Do you recognise any names? 
  • Maybe send a few emails: Predatory journals have been known to add the names and emails of well-known scientists to their boards without asking first.


Have you ever heard of any members of this journal’s editorial board? 

  • Does it even have an editorial board? Any reputable journal must have an editorial board to handle submissions and make decisions about papers as well as to steer the thematic direction and scope of the outlet. 
  • Do check the editorial board of the journal you are looking at and maybe send a few quick emails to some members: it’s always a very good idea to make so-called ‘pre-submission enquiries’ about your papers before submitting them as this saves everyone time and energy (you and the journal). 


Is this journal regularly publishing content? 

  • How many issues does it produce? Generally speaking you’d want to avoid journals that are not listed in international databases such as ISI, Web of Science, PubMed, or Scopus. These are good places to start when assessing the reliability of a journal.


Does this journal have an impact factor (IF)? It’s always better to try to get your work published in journals with IFs, if possible. At Charlesworth, we recommend making a list of journals in your field that you’d like to see your work published in, and then ranking this list from top to bottom by IF.



And our top tip for avoiding predators: Think, Check, Submit. This site ‘helps researchers identify trusted journals for their research’ using ‘a range of tools and practical resources’.  Think, Check, Submit  is an international, cross-sector initiative that ‘aims to educate researchers, promote integrity, and build trust in credible research and publications’. There are so many journals out there all competing for your business as an academic researcher, you owe it to yourself to put the time in and check that your candidate journal is reputable, above-board, and real.



Have you been contacted by a journal and are unsure what to do? Charlesworth Author Services can help

Charlesworth Author Services’ editorial team of PhD-level native English speaking experts in your field are here not only to edit your papers to a high standard, but can also make recommendations as to which journals would be suitable for your submissions. You can use this list to make pre-submission enquiries (which we can also edit) and enhance your publication success and ensure that the journals you use are reputable and, therefore, will be good for your career progression.


More details can be found here


Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher. 


Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.

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