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Open Access: Evaluating OA Journals

A guide for researchers and authors who want to read or publish in open-access publications

Think. Check. Submit.

Beware of Predatory Journals

Predatory journals spam thousands of scientists and other researchers, offering to publish their work for a fee, without actually conducting peer review.

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, kept a list of these illegitimate journal publishers to help researchers avoid being taken in; he was forced to stop in 2017. An archived version of the last update of the list is here.  

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a list of quality, peer reviewed open access journals. DOAJ is co-author to the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing and journals included are expected to follow these principles. The DOAJ maintains a list of journals that have been accepted into or removed from the DOAJ.

Research on predatory journals from the Centre for Journalology.

Related article: “A paper by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel was accepted by two scientific journals.”  Dec. 7, 2014.  Details here

Peer Review

Peer-reviewed journals contain articles that are critically assessed by other experts and scholars in the field before the article is published. The peer review process offers the highest standard of scholarly scrutiny available in academic publishing.

Tips for Evaluating OA Journals

The following considerations, adapted from the St. Francis Xavier University Library and Heather Morrison's Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, may be helpful in assessing both Open Access and non-OA journals.

  1. Who sent you this call for articles?
    If it came from a stranger, you may wish to be more thorough in your evaluation of this publication. If it was sent to you by a friend or colleague, ask them what experience they have with this journal, and if they can vouch for its publishing standards.
  2. Who is the publisher? Is there full, verifiable contact information on their website?
    No address given on the website or misleading information about the country of origin are red flags.
  3. What is the publisher's mandate?
    Not-for-profit publishers are more likely to have the advancement of scholarship as a motive than making a profit.

  4. What is this journal/publisher's reputation among your peers?
    Is this journal recognized by your peers as being reliable and relevant to your area of research?
  5. Has this publisher/journal been identified as questionable by others?
    A quick online search may bring up exchanges about specific journals and publishers. See also the list of suspected predatory journals and publishers by U. of Colorado librarian, Jeffrey Beall archived here.
  6. For open access (OA) journals, is the publisher a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)?
    This organization is a recognized advocate and promoter of OA publishing and has produced a Code of Conduct for OA publishers. However, newer publishers may not yet be included, and OASPA membership alone may not be sufficient to ascertain reliability.

  7. Does the publisher have an archiving or preservation policy?
    Examples of established archiving services include Portico or LOCKSS.
  8. Is the OA journal listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)?
    Journals are required to meet a certain number of criteria in order to be included in the DOAJ (see selection criteria). In addition, the DOAJ announced in 2013 that it will add a "DOAJ Seal" for those with the highest standards, which will be a helpful tool in assessing journals. Note: There is a delay for new journals to be added to the DOAJ.

  9. Does the journal have an impact factor? How high is the impact factor?
    The most common impact factor is from Thompson-Reuters' Journal Citation Reports, but there are others, such as the Eigenfactor and the SCImago Journal Rank indicator. Impact factors are produced using several years' data, so these will not be available for newer journals. While the value of impact factors in general is debatable, beware of false metrics. See Beall's list of Misleading Metrics.

  10. What peer review measures are in place for this journal?
    The peer review process should be described on the journal's website, and should be consistent with the usual process in your field. In the case of a newer journal, you may want to contact members of the editorial board to ask about their peer review process.
  11. How qualified is the editorial board of the journal?
    The journal's website should list the members of its editorial board, as well as their academic credentials and affiliations. You should be able to verify that these people are credible editors for this discipline. (There have been cases where individuals have been added to a list of editors without their consent.)

  12. Is the journal indexed in major databases or index services?
    The journal's articles should be indexed in Web of Science or in your field's respected indexes (e.g. PubMed, CINAHL, ERIC, MLA International Bibliography). Inclusion in Google Scholar should not be taken as an indication of reliability. If the journal's website does not include this information, you can check Ulrich's Periodical Directory in the library reference section (Z 6941 .U55 REF).

  13. How many issues have been published since the journal started?
    The journal's publication record should be consistent and reliable.
  14. What is the journal's acceptance procedure?
    How long did it take for the journal to accept your paper for publication? (Immediate acceptance may be cause for concern.)

  15. Are the articles in the journal of the calibre you would expect?
    Are they on-topic? Are the article topics appropriate for the journal's thematic scope? Is the writing at the level that you would expect for a scholarly journal? Who are the authors? Are they all from the same institution or a small group? Have these articles been cited by reputable authors in reputable journals? (Citations can be followed in many databases and Google Scholar.)

    For more questions to consider, see Jeffrey Beall's Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers. 3rd ed. Jan. 1, 2015. If you have concerns about a particular journal or publisher, or would like to discuss a particular case, please feel free to contact your Subject Librarian.