Safeguarding your scholarship in OA: What to look for and what to avoid

As open access publishing matures into an accepted (and in some disciplines, the standard) form of scholarly communication, it is more important than ever to be able to spot what Jeffrey Beall calls “predatory publications”, publications that accept article processing fees but fail to provide essential editorial services.  As academic librarians who have many years of experience helping faculty navigate this new landscape, we recommend using the following strategies for safeguarding your scholarship while pursuing open access options for your work.

Know the red flags. A number of tools already exist to help you identify low-quality and/or predatory publications. We recommend having one or more of the following guides handy when evaluating an open access venue for your work: Criteria for Determining Predatory Publishers (Beall, 2015); the Journal Evaluation Tool (Rele, Kennedy, & Blas, 2017); and the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing (Committee on Publication Ethics, 2018).

Steer clear of quick fixes. If there is one thing academic publishing is not, it’s fast. Beware of journals touting speedy turnarounds. The peer-review process is a time-consuming process, and with good reason. First, an editor has to review a manuscript to determine if the submission is a good fit for the journal. Then, scholars with expertise in the same domain must be sought out to provide a review of the manuscript. By the time a reviewer signs on, evaluates the manuscript, sends the manuscript back for revisions, receives the revised manuscript, and reviews the manuscript once more, several months — if not years — may elapse.

Beware of scope-bloat. Predatory publishers thrive on article processing charges, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that predatory publications tend to accept articles broadly within or across disciplines. This practice drives up the number of potential submissions—along with the journal’s potential profits. Journal titles should reflect a narrow research focus, for example, Veterinary Microbiology or Communications in Information Literacy.  If you look at a journal’s title or the description of its scope and think, “How can one journal cover all of these areas? You could dedicate an entire journal to each of the areas or topics this publication covers,” you might want to scrutinize the publication further before submitting your work.

Avoid publications with absent or deceptive affiliations. The editorial board is the heart of a journal and serves as a point of pride. After all, it should be comprised of experts from whom the publication, in part, derives its reputation. When information about the editorial board of a journal is sparse or missing all together, be cautious.

Keep an eye out for bogus metrics and false indexing claims. Beware of knock-off metrics—such as the global impact factor or the international impact factor—designed to mimic commonly-used metrics (e.g., journal impact factor). Familiarize yourself with the most-valued metrics in your discipline as well as the data sources from which they are calculated, and you’ll be able to spot a fake metric without difficulty.

Question simple submission procedures. Does the journal ask you to send in your submission via email or a simple web form? If so, consider this: even small journals, such as Urban Library Journal, are increasingly using journal management systems. While these systems can be pricey, the benefits are manifold. First, these systems are designed to streamline the publishing workflow, ensuring that your manuscript makes it through the review process without falling through the cracks. Second, many of these journal systems provide preservation mechanisms, ensuring that your work will be available and accessible for years to come. If the open access journal you are considering has not invested in a journal management system, you may want to consider whether you want to invest your scholarship in that journal.

Benchmark. Instead of trying to find out if a publication is “good” or “bad,” use existing information about a journal you already respect and trust to evaluate an unfamiliar open access journal. Two free tools for comparing metrics across print and open access journals are CiteScore and Scimago Journal and Country Rank.

Reach out. If you’re not familiar with a publication, reach out to colleagues. Ask fellow faculty if they are familiar with the journal to which you are considering submitting work; if they are, ask them about their experiences with the journal. If you have access to an academic or professional listserv in your discipline, query its members for additional insights and experiences.

Recruit a librarian. We might be a little biased when it comes to this tip, but we strongly recommend enlisting the help of a librarian at your home institution. While resources and services at academic libraries vary across institutions, there might just be subscription products—such as Journal Citation Reports or Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics—that can assist you in making an informed and confident decision when placing your manuscript. If you’re an independent researcher, locate and reach out to an academic library affiliated with a public university in your state. Although usage privileges differ by state, your residency status just might entitle you to access academic library resources and services at those institutions.

Review the work and trust your gut. Finally, trust your gut. If, after reading the work published in the journal, something still doesn’t feel right, honor your intuition and step away.


Danielle S. Apfelbaum is a Senior Assistant Librarian at Farmingdale State College, where she serves as the Scholarly Communication Librarian. Her primary responsibilities include but are not limited to assisting faculty and staff with navigating copyright, fair use, open licensing, and open access publishing. She received her Creative Commons Certification in October 2018.

Derek Stadler is an Assistant Professor at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, serving as the Library’s Web Services Librarian. His library research has been published in the Journal of Library Administration, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, and The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, an open access publication. Derek is also a co-editor-in-chief of the open access journal, Urban Library Journal.