Tips for Identifying (and hopefully avoiding) Predatory Journals
All academic authors want to get their papers written up and published as quickly as possible and, hopefully, in the best journals possible. Many also want to pay as little as possible for the privilege of seeing their work appear in a leading international journal with a high impact factor.
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.
This cost-to-publish open access model has also (sadly) led to a dramatic rise in predatory publishers running predatory journals. They are journals that are only interested in taking your money. These outlets often have no (or limited) international listing in recognised databases, no impact factor 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.
What is a predatory journal?
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. They are renowned for publishing articles without having checked them for quality and legitimacy, and are also often characterised by not providing the other editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide. Such journals advertise widely, often over email. They earn their reputation as being “predatory” because academics are often essentially “tricked” into publishing with them. Just how to sort good journals from predators deserves a closer look.
How do predatory journals “trick” authors?
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 open access 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. 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.
Below, we have put together some examples of how predatory journals may go about misleading academics with their journal names. 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.
[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
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, just as there are a number of checks to make when assessing whether a journal is predatory. Our top tips for figuring out which journals are predatory are:
- Have you researched journal APCs? You should be publishing your work in journals that actually do perform peer review. The average APC industry-wide is $1,500. Have you been approached by a journal with a much higher or much lower APC than this figure? If so, it may be worth double-checking they are not predatory.
- Does the journal contain reputable content? Journals should be regularly publishing papers in your field and, even better, papers published in the journal should be cited in other publications.
- Is the journal website reputable? There are a few ways you can check this. The easiest is to look at the editorial board: do you recognise any names? If you are unsure, it could be worth sending a few emails since some 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? Or, perhaps more tellingly, 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 presubmission enquiries about your papers before submitting them as this saves everyone time and energy (you and the journal).
- Is the journal regularly publishing content? Take a look at how many issues it produces. Moreover, 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? It’s always better to try to get your work published in journals with impact factors, 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 impact factor.
- And our top tip for avoiding predators: Have you used Think, Check, Submit? Think, Check, Submit ‘helps researchers identify trusted journals for their research’ using ‘a range of tools and practical resources’. It 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.
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