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Academic Publishing

This guide contains information about best practices in academic publishing and information about predatory journals and other pitfalls.

Predatory Publishing

What is a Predatory Publisher?

The modern academic publishing environment largely functions at a high standard, providing academics a means to publish articles in scholarly journals that provide a fair and rigorous peer-review process. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous publishers have interjected themselves into the world of academic publishing, particularly exploiting the decentralized nature of the open access publishing movement. Potential authors should beware that some so-called "predatory publishers" or "predatory journals" exist alongside the many legitimate academic journals. Predatory journals are essentially fake publications. They will charge an author to publish the article without providing the rigorous peer-review and editorial services that are expected from an academic journal. 

Predatory journals will have legitimate sounding names and, at least after a cursory view, the semblance of a real academic journal. Because there are so many academic journals in publication, and new journals are not uncommon, many modern academics have unwittingly submitted manuscripts for publication to a predatory journal.

Analyze the Academic Journal Prior to Submission

Before submitting an article to a journal, be sure to evaluate the journal for appropriate standards. Predatory journals claim to be peer-reviewed, but often do not offer an actual peer-review process. Most predatory journals will be labeled as open access. While many legitimate open access journals exist, the lack of involvement with a traditional publisher greatly improves the ability of predatory publishers to operate within an open access environment. A traditionally published journal (non-open access) will pass most or all of the costs of editing and publishing along to the subscriber, often a library. Any submission and publication fees should be reasonable and clearly explained. A predatory journal, by contrast, will place all of the costs on the author or the author's institution in the form of a direct payment for publication. Like a vanity publisher of books, predatory journals operate on an author-pays model. Any such publication should be intensely scrutinized by a potential author.

Predatory journals weaken the open access movement and undermine trust in the peer-review process. Note that predatory journals should not appear in academic library databases, making the publication difficult to locate by other researchers. Predatory journals will not be associated with a stable organization dedicated to maintaining its digital archives. Even if the journal appears in Google Scholar, it is unlikely to have the staying power of a professionally published source in a traditionally published journal or a stable open access journal. Even if a journal disappears from the web, academic publication rules would normally preclude the articles published in it from being resubmitted to another publisher. Because predatory publishers are not legitimate, it is even possible that an "accepted" and paid-for manuscript may never appear in print at all. It is, thus, paramount that the business of verifying the legitimacy of a publisher be established before submitting a manuscript and accepting any offer of publication from an academic journal.

Avoiding Predatory Publishers: Items to Consider

  • How transparent are the journal's policies and website?

    • Is the journal Open Access or is it associated with a traditional publisher? Especially if it is Open Access, what are its stated policies on submissions?
    • What are its stated policies on peer-review?
    • How transparent is the journal with listing members of its editorial board?
    • Are the editorial board members associated with legitimate institutions? Is their contact information available?
      • You should be able to independently verify the editor's credentials.
    • How clear and transparent is the journal's website? Are its submission, editorial, and peer-review policies easy to access?
    • Does the journal have a professional looking website?
  • Does the journal require any fees for submission?

    • Any fees should be clearly stated on the journal's website and submission policies prior to the submission of a manuscript.
    • Submission fees are not uncommon, but should be considered to be an issue requiring further investigation. Ask the journal to explain all fees required before submitting a manuscript. 
  • Does the journal require payment for publication? Is this fee substantial?

    • Predatory journals rely on a author-pays model, without providing the accompanying peer-review and editing that a legitimate journal would.
    • A publication fee is a serious indicator that the journal is a predatory publisher. 
    • Some legitimate open access journals do charge publication fees.
      • These fees should be transparent and clearly stated.
      • Do not submit an article to a journal requiring publication fees before verifying the legitimacy of the journal! Look for the journals indexing information -- see below.
      • Predatory journals take advantage of the divergent publishing policies of open access journals to scam authors. 
    • Predatory journals may wait to ask for money until after a manuscript has been accepted. A legitimate journal would have communicated any such payment in advance. 
    • Carefully read any journals policy on submissions prior to sending the journal to a manuscript. A legitimate journal will not own rights to an article until it has been published.
  • Is the journal indexed in a legitimate database?

    • Look for the journal's indexing information in the library or in a well-known database like PubMed (for science journals).
    • Limestone's Journal Finder
    • Directory of Open Access Journals
    • Verify journal's indexing information in more than one location.
      • Some journals that have appeared in databases or indices have been accused of being predatory. They may not be taken down immediately.
    • Conduct a news search for the journal to see if any allegations have been made against it.
  • Did you receive an unsolicited email asking you to submit a manuscript?

    • Unsolicited emails or other correspondence from an unknown journal is a potential cause from concern. 
    • Beware of unsolicited emails that are personalized and flattering.
  • Is your correspondence with the journal's editor professional?

    • Independently verify the identity of the editor of the journal, including the email address and telephone number. An editor associated with a university or similar institution, for example, should have an entry on that institution's directory.
    • Look for suspicious clues in the correspondence:
      • Is the email written professionally? 
      • Scrutinize the email address: Is the domain correct?
      • Is the email timestamped at a reasonable hour based on the expected location of the journal's staff?

For Further Reading: Selected Bibliography

Beall, Jeffrey. "Best Practices for Scholarly Authors in the Age of Predatory Journals." Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 98, no. 2 (2016): 77–79.

Beall, Jeffrey. "Predatory Publishers Are Corrupting Open Access: Journals That Exploit the Author-Pays Model Damage Scholarly Publishing and Promote Unethical Behaviour by Scientists, Argues Jeffrey Beall. (WORLD VIEW: A Personal Take on Events)." Nature 489, no. 7415 (2012): 179.

Cobey, Kelly D., Manoj M. Lalu, Becky Skidmore, Nadera Ahmadzai, Agnes Grudniewicz, and David Moher. "What Is a Predatory Journal? A Scoping Review." F1000 research 7, no.1001 (2018). https://doi:10.12688/f1000research.15256.2.

Elmore, Susan A., and Eleanor H. Weston. "Predatory Journals: What They Are and How to Avoid Them." Toxicologic Pathology 48, no. 4 (June 2020): 607-10. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192623320920209.

Kebede, Mihiretu, Anna E. Schmaus-Klughammer, and Brook Tesfaye Tekle. "Manuscript Submission Invitations from 'Predatory Journals': What Should Authors Do?" Journal of Korean medical science 32, no. 5 (2017): 709-712.

Masten, Yondell, and Alyce Ashcraft. "Due Diligence in the Open-Access Explosion Era: Choosing a Reputable Journal for Publication." FEMS Microbiology Letters 364, no. 21 (November 2017). https://doi:10.1093/femsle/fnx206.

Strinzel, Michaela, Anna Severin, Katrin Milzow, and Matthias Egger. "Blacklists and Whitelists To Tackle Predatory Publishing: a Cross-Sectional Comparison and Thematic Analysis." mBio 10, no. 3 (2019): 411-419. https://doi:10.1128/mBio.00411-19.

Strong, Genae. "Understanding Quality in Research: Avoiding Predatory Journals." Journal of Human Lactation 35, no. 4 (2019): 661–664. doi: 10.1177/0890334419869912.

If you are experiencing problems with our guides, please contact Janet S. Ward, jward@limestone.edu, Associate Professor and Web Services Librarian.