Selecting a Journal that Meets Ethical Standards

When you submit your paper to a journal for consideration, you want to be sure that the journal follows the appropriate ethical guidelines. You want to know that the editors will act in an ethical way, that the peer review process follows appropriate standards and that the journal has integrity. When these standards are followed, you can be confident that your paper will be reviewed fairly and in a timely fashion and that you have some recourse if you believe something was not handled appropriately. You also want an editor who will respond to any communication you send and a journal with a transparent peer review process.

Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) is a non-profit organization that has over 12,000 members across the world. This organization outlines ethical standards that all journals should comply with. COPE publishes flowcharts on their website that are designed to support journal editors and help publishers to apply ethical standards and address issues when they arise. Checking out these flowcharts, as an author, will inform you about the ethical standards journal editors should follow and the steps they should take to address any issues that arise.

COPE guidelines

COPE provides guidelines targeted toward editors, reviewers and authors.

Editors are recommended that they: do not discriminate unfairly and act in an even-handed way; base publication decisions on paper quality and journal fit; protect anonymity of reviewers in any blind review process; develop clear policies that will guard against commercial influence; and develop guidelines for the editorial board and reviewers.

Authors are also expected to follow ethical standards for publishing their work. Work submitted should be original with no instances of plagiarism. All work discussed in the article should be appropriately cited. There should be no copyright or other intellectual property infringement. The manuscript submitted to the journal must not have been published or submitted elsewhere. Any third-party materials, such as images and visuals should have appropriate permissions. Funding that supported the research should be mentioned. Authors should declare any conflicts of interest. Finally, if any error is discovered after submission and author should let the editor know.

Reviewers should commit to providing actionable and timely feedback geared toward improving the quality of publications; report any suspected cases of plagiarism, or recognition of work that has been published elsewhere, to the editor; immediately tell the editor if a submitted article raises any potential conflicts of interest for them; and maintain confidentiality of authors, materials and processes.

If publishers and journals follow these guidelines, you can enter into the paper submission process knowing that it will be fair and ethical.

So, you should submit your paper to a journal and publisher that comply with these ethical standards, but how can you tell which journals do so?

Identifying journals that follow ethical guidelines

One thing you can investigate is whether the publisher of the journal shares ethical guidelines with their journal editors. These will typically be published on the publisher’s website. For example, Springer posts Publishing Ethics for Journals and is a member of COPE. Wiley posts Best Practice Guidelines in Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics and offers membership to COPE to all of its journal editors. You can search the COPE website, using their member search tool, to see whether the publisher you are considering is a member.

Always explore the journal website to see what policies and procedures the editors have adopted. COPE suggests that these websites should have a number of clearly communicated procedures and policies that are easily accessible by authors. The site should communicate the aims and scope of the journal and provide details of the peer review process that is followed when making publication decisions. Links to policies on peer review should be provided on the website. When visiting the website, it should be easy to find information about the editorial board, their affiliations and how to contact the lead editors. Links to policies regarding copyright should also be provided on the website, including Creative Commons (CC) licensing for open access publications. In addition, details about any publication fees that authors are expected to pay should be clearly visible. Journals should also provide details of policies and procedures for dealing with any issues an author might have or any allegations of plagiarism or unethical practices that arise from a review of an article.

COPE also recommends that publication ethics policies are visible on the journal website and these should include:

“i) Journal policies on authorship and contributorship; ii) How the journal will handle complaints and appeals; iii) Journal policies on conflicts of interest/competing interests; iv) Journal policies on data sharing and reproducibility; v) the Journal’s policy on ethical oversight; vi) the Journal’s policy on intellectual property; and vii) the Journal’s options for post-publication discussions and corrections.” (COPE)

Traditional and open access journals gain a reputation which travels by word of mouth. Top-tier journals are known to researchers in the discipline of focus. So, if your colleagues and other researchers in your field are talking about a specific journal it is worth considering targeting this journal for publication. In addition, if researchers with a high reputation are publishing in a specific journal that is also an indication of quality. These journals will typically follow ethical guidelines carefully.

As you are reviewing other research studies, identify those journals where you recognize authors who are prominent in your discipline. Also, ask colleagues which journals they submit to and why. Look at the editorial board and their affiliations. Do they come from reputable institutions? Do you recognize any names from your field of research? These are good indicators regarding the quality of the journal.

Also, look at the impact factor of the journal. The impact factor of a journal is simply a measure of journal performance and calculates the average number of citations that an article published in that journal receives. Impact factor has been one of the most commonly known approaches to measuring the performance of a journal.

Lastly, always be careful to avoid predatory journals. These journals often exploit the fee-based open access model for profit. They lack a rigorous peer review process, which impacts the quality of papers published and the reputation of the journal. If you do submit to this type of journal you may incur costs that you did not anticipate and have difficulty withdrawing a paper from submission. Furthermore, a publication in a journal that does not have a solid reputation will probably not weigh heavily in retention, tenure and promotion (RTP) decisions.


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