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Researcher Services and Support: Predatory Publishing

Thinking of publishing? This guide contains everything you need to know about the publishing lifecycle, copyright, self-archiving, and promoting your research.

What is Predatory Open Access Publishing?

The open access movement has given rise to many new publishers that employ questionable practices with the goal of profiting from scientific research. These “predatory” publishers solicit articles from faculty through spam emails with the goal of exploiting their desire to publish for the article processing fee.

Common tactics of predatory publishers:

  • Establishing what appears to be a legitimate online presence with webpages for bogus journals, complete with issues of previously published articles. Closer scrutiny reveals the articles to be plagiarized, completely fake or promoting unsound science that was not approved for more mainstream journals.
  • Some advertise a bogus Impact Factor on their website and in emails to prospective authors. They can also list editors for their journals who either did not agree to be an editor, or use fake names to populate the editorial board.
  • Advertising expedited peer review to get your article published quicker.
  • Soliciting you to edit a special theme issue in your area of research, through which they use you to recruit more of your colleagues.
  • Engaging in questionable business practices such as charging exorbitant author publishing fees or failing to disclose cost of publication fees to potential authors.  


Checking Publisher Credentials

To ensure that a publisher is legitimate, do some research on the publisher before agreeing to send a copy of your article, and definitely before paying an article processing fee:

  • Look at a few of their articles to ensure that they are scientifically sound.
  • Check Ulrich’s Periodical Directory to see if the journal is indexed in MEDLINE, PubMed, Scopus or other legitimate A&I services.
  • If the journal is only one or two years old, they are unlikely to have an Impact Factor as supplied by ISI Web of Knowledge. Many predatory publishers are listing fake Impact Factors, with names like CiteFactor, Universal Impact Factor and others. To be sure, you can look the journal or publisher up in ISI’s Journal Citation Reports.
  • Search for information on the chief editors of the journal through PubMed, MEDLINE or simply by Googling them. If they are legitimate scholars in your discipline, they will have previously published articles and some sort of legitimate online presence.
  • Google Maps can be a useful tool. Find the publishers contact information on their website, and search for their provided address in Google Maps. Take a look at the street view of the address. Does the building look like the type of building or office space you would except a reputable journal to use? 
  • Don’t give them money or agree to anything until you know they’re legitimate!

Want some additional help? Contact Ruth Bueter, Serials & Systems Librarian (202-994-9756;

Qualities of Reputable Journals

There is no single checklist that determines if a journal or publisher is legitimate or predatory. However, qualities of reputable publishers include the following:

  • Journal Scope is well defined and clearly stated on the journal's website
  • Editors and Editorial Board consists of recognized experts in the field
  • Journal is affiliated or was established by scholarly or academic institution or organization
  • Peer Review process is rigorous and explained clearly on website
  • Articles fall within the stated scope of the publication
  • Publication fee structure is clearly explained and easy to find on website
  • ISBN exists
  • Articles have Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)
  • Journal has an Impact Factor
  • Usage rights are clearly stated (e.g. Creative Commons License CC By license)
  • Journal is registered on UlrichsWeb Global Serials Directory
  • Journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Publisher is a member of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)
  • Journal is indexed in subject databases or indexes
  • Contact information is clearly provided and available
  • Publishing schedule and publication frequency is clearly stated
  • Solicitation of manuscripts and other direct marketing are appropriate, well-targeted, and unobtrusive

Red Flags: Know the Signs of Predatory Publishers

If you're not sure if a publisher is legitimate or predatory, be on the watch for the following red flags:

  • E-mailed Invitations to Submit an Article:
    • Was the e-mail well written? Were there typos or misspelled words? Was the language awkward or unprofessional? Did the e-mail use flattery to convince you to submit your article or join their editorial board?
  • Journal's Name Suspiciously Similar to Another Prominent Journal in the Field:
    • Is the title trying to make you believe it a journal or publisher with which you are already familiar? Many predatory publishers create journal titles (and even publisher company names) that are intentionally similar to well respected journals or publishers. 
  • Misleading Geographic Information in the Title:
    • A title might suggest that the journal is based in the United States or England, but in reality, the publisher might actually be based in India or China.
  • Unprofessional Website Appearance:
    • Does the website have a professional appearance? Are there typos? Are there advertisements?
    • Does the website include "About" information? If so, is the information that is provided sufficient? Do they seem to have a legitimate aim and scope? Is the journal sponsored or produced by a well-known, and well-respected organization, association, or academic institution?
  • Insufficient Contact Information: 
    • Do they provide full contact information including a physical address, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses? Be wary of journals that only provide a web contact form.
    • Do a Google search for the address and look at the street view. Does it look like the type of location from which a reputable publisher would operate?
  • Lack of Editors or Editorial Board:
    • Does the journal list the members of its editorial board on their website? 
  • Editors with No or Fake Academic Credentials:
    • Are these people recognized experts in the field with full credentials? Feel free to contact editors and ask about their experience with the journal.
  • Unclear Author Fee Structures:
    • Are policies regarding author fees easily located on the journals website? Is this information clearly explained? Do the author fees seem comparable to other reputable open access journals?
  • Bogus Impact Factors:
  • Invented Metrics:
    • Have you heard of the metrics the journal uses? Do other reputable journals use these metrics? Many predatory publishers use fake or invented metrics to fool you into believing they are a credible journal.
  • False Index Claims:
    • Where is the journal indexed? Can this be verified on UlrichsWeb?
  • Peer Review Process:
    • What is the journal's peer review process? Is this process clearly explained on the journal's website? Can you verify that this process is actually followed?
    • Be wary of promises of a speedy peer review process. Many predatory journals claim to have a rigorous peer review process when no peer review actually exists.
  • Lack of ISSN
  • ‚Äč"Instructions for Authors" Information is Unavailable
  • Evaluate Published Articles:
    • Are published articles available? Some predatory publishers don't actually make articles available on their sites.
    • Have numerous articles been published by the same author(s)? 
    • Do the article titles and abstracts seem appropriate for the journal? Do these articles seem well researched and based on sound science?
    • Feel free to contact past authors and ask about their experiences with the journal.
  • Publisher has a Negative Reputation:
    • Have you found documented examples that the journal or publisher has a negative reputation in reputable sources?
  • Author Fees:
    • Are the policies regarding author fees easily located on the journal website? Is this information clearly explained? Do author fees seem comparable to other reputable open access journals?
  • Use Common Sense:
    • If things just don't seem to be right, trust your instincts and stay away.