Consider This: The Predatory Publishing Problem, and How to Avoid It

By Janice Kung

By Janice Kung

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Researchers - including graduate students who need to meet program requirements or early career scientists applying for academic positions or working towards promotion or tenure - face increasing pressure to publish their work. While this pressure is a normal part of academia, it can leave researchers vulnerable to predatory publishers.

Predatory publishing, or deceptive publishing, is an exploitative academic publishing business model that charges publication fees (article processing charges, or APCs) to authors, but forgoes the quality peer-review and editorial processes that are expected of legitimate journals. APCs are a way for legitimate journals to fund journal operations such as administrative costs and website maintenance. The primary goal of predatory publishers is to generate revenue by misleading authors into believing that they are submitting to reputable journals. In 2014, there were approximately 8,000 active journals that had questionable practices (Shen). There have been efforts to push back. Earlier this year, the court ruled in favour of the Federal Trade Commission with a $50 million court judgment against OMICS International, a well known predatory publisher based in India, for its deceptive scholarly publishing practices (Kolata).

We are not immune to the threat of predatory publishing here at the U of A. As a researcher, your reputation may be at risk if your name is associated with a predatory journal, and having a publication in a predatory journal may impede career opportunities or promotion. Through institutional affiliations, the university's reputation is also on the line.

When research is published in a questionable journal, that work is lost since it cannot be published elsewhere. Predatory publishing generates research waste, including the financial costs to institutions and granting agencies that fund the research. On a larger scale, articles do not pass the rigours of peer-review and become mixed in with quality publications in the scholarly landscape. The difference is imperceptible to the reader.

Predatory journals use aggressive and unethical practices to encourage researchers to submit manuscripts. Finding a good home to disseminate your research is similar to buying a new car: it makes sense to do some research and check the specs before making a purchase. After spending tireless hours on your research and writing the manuscript, you should also take the time to review the specs of a journal. Here are some tips to help you evaluate whether or not a journal may be predatory:

Google the Journal Name - One of the fastest ways to evaluate a journal is to Google the journal name and "predatory journal." If there are posts that put the journal in a negative light, it's best to steer clear of that journal.

False Information - Journal level metrics are very attractive to researchers. Does the journal have an impact factor or other metric as an indication of their quality or prestige? Make sure you understand the metric and can verify its authenticity. If you're unsure, contact your subject librarian. We're here to help!

Quick Turnaround Time - In a study evaluating management and business articles, the average turnaround time (i.e. the length of time required for submitted papers to make it into publication) was 5.4 months (Rigby). This is not representative of publications in other fields of scientific inquiry, as every discipline is context specific, but it demonstrates the time and effort needed in the peer-review process where multiple revisions may be necessary. Predatory journals often advertise unrealistic turnaround times, which may be as low as a few days or weeks.

Generic Author Guidelines - Legitimate journals tend to have clear guidelines on how they would like manuscripts to be structured. Deceptive journals do not worry about such details. Additionally, the journal should provide transparent information for authors concerning all aspects of the publication process (i.e. peer-review and copyright information, APCs, how to withdraw or retract an article). If this information is unclear or absent, this could be a red flag.

Poor Copy Editing and Spelling Errors - The presence of spelling errors, broken links, or fuzzy images on the website could be warning signs of a questionable journal. Review some of the articles or issues that have been published. Do they look relevant to the discipline it represents? Would you be comfortable if your own research was among the publications that came before?

The pressure to publish leaves researchers vulnerable. Predatory journals are becoming more sophisticated so it is not always easy to avoid them. As an academic institution, we need to be diligent and keep colleagues and students informed about this growing problem.

For more information on how to evaluate questionable journals, the University of Alberta Library has created a guide with additional tips.created a guide with additional tips.


Kolata G. The Price for 'Predatory' Publishing? $50 Million. New York Times. April 3, 2019. Assessed December 1, 2019. Assessed December 1, 2019.

Rigby J, Cox D, & Julian K. Journal peer review: a bar or bridge? An analysis of a paper's revision history and turnaround time, and the effect on citation. Scientometrics. 2018;114(3):1087-1105. doi:10.1007/s11192-017-2630-5.10.1007/s11192-017-2630-5.

Shen C, Björk BC. 'Predatory' open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC Med. 2015;13:230. Published 2015 Oct 1. doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2.10.1186/s12916-015-0469-2.

About Janice Kung

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Janice Kung obtained her Master of Library & Information Studies degree at the University of Alberta. As a public services librarian at the U of A's John W. Scott Health Sciences Library, she provides teaching and research support to students, researchers, and faculty members.