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Illegitimate & Predatory Publishing: Legitimate vs Illegitimate Publishers

A guide to assist in the identification of illegitimate and predatory publishing.

How to Avoid Illegitimate & Predatory Publishers

  • Non-Western publication houses are NOT automatically predatory, despite some evaluative sites listing geographic publication as criteria. Go through these steps with all publishers, regardless of origin.
  • English grammar errors on publisher or journal websites are also not an immediate indication of predatory publishing, but when examining humanities or social sciences journals that originate in English, it might be a warning sign.
  • Badly designed websites are also not necessarily an immediate indication of predatory behavior, as long as they do not restrict you from getting essential publisher information. 
  • Don't worry if the journal doesn't appear to be in every single one of these databases, but do be concerned if it seems to absent from most or all of them.
  • Sometimes new or smaller journals are not fully indexed, but it is still safe to be wary.

Open Access Does Not Mean Predatory

Because many predatory publishers take advantage of the growing interest in Open Access publishing, a lot of people are understandably confused about how to identify a legitimate Open Access Journal from an illegitimate one. 

Open Access is a business model for publishing. Here is a basic definition: 

Open Access refers to a publication (journal, book, etc.) that is free to read, reuse, and redistribute

When a publication is Open Access, that means that anyone in the world can access the publication, reuse the material for their own work to build on, and redistribute the publication (for example, in teaching). 

Open Access is often contrasted with Subscription or Paywalled material, where a payment is needed to read the publication, and further sharing by a reader is restricted because the publisher owns copyright. Some Open Access journals charge authors a fee, called an Article Processing Charge (APC), meant to offset the lost revenue that the journal would have gotten from subscriptions. Open Access journals still adhere to the rigors of scholarly publishing by offering peer review by professionals in the field, editorial guidance from recognized scholars, and professional levels of editing and presentation. 

Some illegitimate publishers co-opt the Open Access model by charging these Article Processing Charges, but fail to adhere to the rigorous standards of scholarly publishing. Many do not do peer review, or do so only on a superficial level. Many illegitimate journals are run by an editorial board of people from mixed disciplines who do not possess the expertise required to create a quality journal. These journals are akin to vanity presses where authors pay to have their work published, but the work itself is not professionally reviewed or vetted in any way. 

Finding a Quality Open Access Journal

Directory of Open Access Journals logoTo find a good quality Open Access journal, we recommend the Directory of Open Access Journals. This is an index of quality Open Access journals vetted by an international team of volunteers. Journal requirements, peer review systems, APC costs, and editorial board information are visible on each entry. Look for journals with the DOAJ Seal - these adhere to the highest standards for Open Access publications. 

Trusted Open Access Publishers:

There are many good Open Access Publishers. Below we list some resources for identifying them - mostly scholarly publishing organizations that carefully vet their membership. This is not a comprehensive list! Have a suggestion for a publisher to add? Let us know! 

Think, Check, Submit!

Think Check Submit logo

Think, Check, Submit is perhaps the most efficient guideline for detecting a predatory publisher, and is an invaluable guideline for deciding if, where, and when to publish any scholarly work.

Think, Check, Submit is available in the following languages:

Arabic | Catalan | Chinese (Simplified) | Chinese (Traditional) | Czech | English

French | Greek | Indonesian | Japanese | Kazakh | Korean | Italian | Lithuanian  

Portuguese | Romanian | Russian | Spanish | Ukrainian | Tamil | Thai 


Evaluating a Publisher: Legitimate Vs. Illegitimate

Step 1: Database Search

Journal Databases:

Evaluative Open Access Databases:

Step 2: 

If your journal did appear in some of the databases, be sure to investigate the journal's website as thoroughly as possible. 

  • CHECK THE TIMELINE: If journals claim to accept articles for publication very quickly, they might have a compromised peer review process. Proper peer review and editing, regardless of the original quality of your work, will take several weeks minimum.
  • EXAMINE THE CONTENT: Go through the website archive and go over a few of their published articles. How is the quality of the work? Are there consistent mistakes or works broadly off the stated scope of the journal? How well does the journal archive its material?
  • REVIEW THE FEES: Check the website for information on what fees they expect you to pay. A legitimate journal often clearly lays out how much publication will cost and what this money is being used for in the publication process. Submission fees are NOT standard, but publication fees can be. If the fee also varies largely from standard publication fees for your discipline, that's a warning sign.
  • RESEARCH THE EDITORS: Predatory publishers have a habit of listing academics as members of editorial boards without their permission, not allowing academics to resign from editorial boards, and occasionally appointing fake academics to editorial boards. Search the editors online, and see if they exist. If they do, check to see if they list the journal on their personal website or CV. 

Example Email from a Predatory Publisher