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Spot the difference: How to recognise predatory journals

It is not always easy to identify predatory journals. In this blog post, we aim to provide you with a set of tools to help you make an initial assessment of journals.

Characteristics of predatory journals

There are several characteristics that indicate that a journal is a predatory journal. However, it is important to note that the presence of any single criterion does not necessarily mean that a journal is predatory. Furthermore, such a list of criteria can only serve as a guideline for evaluating journals. If you still have doubts about the reliability of a journal after the first check, you will find further ways to check below.

The following criteria may indicate predatory journals

  • The journal's website has spelling errors and poor grammar.
  • A free provider is used for the email address. (gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.)
  • The contact address does not exist or leads to a different address than the one given in the contact details.
  • The journal brags about questionable, misleading or non-existent metrics.
  • The publisher of the journal publishes a large number of journals with similar titles in many different research areas.
  • The journal promises an unusually fast publication process. ("too good to be true")
  • The journal cannot be found in any known database of scholarly journals, but a long list of indexes such as catalogues and websites is provided.
  • Editorial board members do not exist or have been listed without their consent.
  • The journal does not allow retraction of submitted articles.
  • The APCs are particularly low in order to encourage as many authors as possible to publish there.
  • Manuscripts are accepted by email only, not through an online system.
  • The publisher of the journal sends individual invitations to researchers to publish in the journal.

This List of characteristics was adapted from "Questionable Publishers and Journals: Characteristics" (Jönköping University Library) (16.01.2024)

Tools to check the trustworthiness of a journal

A checklist that many will already be familiar with is "Think. Check. Submit.". This helps researchers to categorise a journal in terms of its trustworthiness. It is best to include the criteria listed there in your considerations.

The DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals - lists peer-reviewed, quality-controlled open access journals. Journals must actively apply to be listed in the DOAJ. The criteria to be met are publicly available on the website. DOAJ also publishes a list of new entries and departures. The DOAJ is therefore also a good source of information for checking the reliability of journals.

A database that is not freely available is Cabells Predatory Reports or Cabells Journalytics. Cabells Predatory Reports has a clear and transparent set of criteria against which journals are screened and regularly evaluates the journals listed. Your library may have licensed Cabells for its own researchers. TU Graz Library, for example, offers its researchers free access to Cabell's Predatory Reports.

We do not recommend the black list compiled by the US librarian Jeffrey Beall more than ten years ago, known as Beall's List. The criteria used to classify journals as predatory are not published. They are therefore not transparent or comprehensible.

Predatory or just low quality?

In addition to predatory journals, there are also journals that have one or more "predatory" characteristics but are not predatory. These are usually journals that have no intention to deceive, but whose quality does not meet the usual standards of a scientific journal. Even if they are not classified as predatory, you can ask yourself whether you want to publish in such low-quality journals. You don't need a predatory journal to damage your reputation.

When in doubt, ask your library!

If you are still unsure whether journals meet quality standards, it is best to contact your library. There you will find experts who will be happy to check journals in detail for you. Researchers at Graz University of Technology can contact the library's support team by e-mail: service.bibliothek@tugraz.at.

Useful links

Characteristics of questionable publishers and journals
"Think. Check. Submit"

Michaela Zottler is a librarian at TU Graz. She helps researchers and students finding literature and is happy to answer questions about scientific publications.
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