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Choosing an Open Access Journal: Avoiding “Predatory” Journals

Release Date: July 23, 2013
Category: Manuscript Writing
Author: Katherine A., Ph.D.

The rise of open access journals

The number of open access (OA) scientific journals is rapidly increasing, with approximately 10,000 OA journals indexed by the Directory of Open Access Journals as of 2013. OA journals provide readers with free and unrestricted access to their articles online. The recent rise of OA journals reflects a growing movement toward the open dissemination of all types of scholarly work (e.g., journal articles, working papers, research data, etc.) via the removal of financial and legal barriers. You may choose to publish your scientific manuscript in an OA journal so that your article can be more easily discovered and accessed by any interested reader. Also, several studies show that articles published in OA journals receive more citations than those published in traditional subscription-based journals, indicating that publishing your article in an OA journal may increase the impact of your work. Submitting your manuscript to an OA journal thus confers benefits to both you and your readers by potentially increasing the visibility, accessibility, and citation of your article.

OA journals and article processing or publishing fees

Most journals are largely funded by subscription fees paid by institutions (i.e., libraries and/or academic institutions) or individuals. These fees help offset the costs of editorial staff, handling manuscripts during peer review, copy editing, typesetting and formatting, print or online publication, and indexing of articles in citation databases (e.g., PubMed, Thomson Reuters Web of Science, SciVerse Scopus). In contrast to traditional subscription-based journals, OA journals do not charge subscription or pay-per-view fees. As such, the costs associated with article peer review and production must be covered by other funding sources, such as advertising or institutional subsidies. In many cases, these costs are also partly passed on to authors (or their employers or funding agencies) in the form of article processing or publishing fees, which may range from hundreds to thousands of US dollars per article. These fees are usually charged after a manuscript has been accepted for publication.

“Predatory” OA journals

Many OA journals publish articles that have undergone rigorous peer review, sound editorial decisions, and elegant typesetting, formatting, and online publication. Other OA journals, however, charge hefty article processing or publishing fees but add no value to the articles in return. Articles appearing in these “predatory” OA journals may have undergone little to no peer review, may be exact or near duplicates of articles published in other journals, may receive no professional formatting prior to publication, and may not be indexed in any major databases. Furthermore, these journals may exist only temporarily and make no commitment to long-term digital preservation, meaning that your published article could disappear at any time with no warning. The publishers of these “predatory” journals appear to be motivated by profit more than the dissemination of quality scholarly research. A growing list of suspected “predatory” OA journals and journal publishers is kept by Jeffrey Beall at the University of Colorado Denver (scholarlyoa.com), and he estimates that 5-10% of all OA articles are published by untrustworthy journal publishers.

Warning signs of “predatory” OA journals

With the recent explosive increase in the number of new OA journals, authors must take care to submit their manuscripts to OA journals that are trustworthy. When selecting an OA journal, consider the following warning signs of “predatory” journals.

  • The name of the journal is incompatible with its scope or does not accurately reflect its national base.
  • Researchers receive spam-like emails from the journal requesting article submissions or inviting researchers to serve on the editorial board.
  • The journal promises submission-to-publication delays that seem incompatible with the peer review process (i.e., a few days).
  • No individual is clearly identified as the journal editor.
  • The journal either has no editorial board or one that is comprised of individuals without appropriate expertise or credentials.
  • The journal website looks unprofessional or contains dead/incorrect links.
  • Articles published by the journal do not appear to fall within the journal’s scope.
  • Articles published by the journal are not indexed by any major citation databases.
  • Manuscripts are accepted for publication without peer reviewers’ comments being sent to the authors.
  • There is no mention of article processing or publishing fees until after a manuscript has been accepted for publication.

Choosing an OA journal

Publishing your scientific manuscript in an OA journal makes your article accessible to anyone with an internet connection, ensuring the widest possible distribution of your work. Studies show that OA journal articles are downloaded and cited more frequently than journal articles that exist behind a publisher pay wall. However, not all OA journals are equal. Some OA journals are published by reputable organizations and produce professional-quality, peer-reviewed articles. Other OA journals, however, may be “predatory” in that they exist primarily to make financial profit and add no value in return to the authors or the larger scholarly community.

To avoid being the victim of “predatory” journals, use caution when choosing an OA journal to submit your manuscript. All newly established journals take a few years to be indexed in major citation databases (e.g., PubMed, Thomson Reuters Web of Science, SciVerse Scopus) and to be issued an official impact factor (by Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports). Keeping this in mind, however, consider submitting your manuscript to an OA journal that has an established impact factor, is indexed by citation databases, or is published by a recognizable and reputable organization. If a journal is new or unfamiliar to you, perform an internet search to see whether others have written about any “predatory” practices of the journal. Check whether the journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org), which is a directory of scientific and scholarly journals that employ quality control mechanisms (i.e., peer review, stringent editorial decisions) for article acceptance. Evaluate the journal website, which should clearly post information about the editor and members of the editorial board and any article processing or publishing fees that will be charged upon manuscript acceptance. As you invest a great deal in conducting your research and preparing your manuscripts, take care to choose a reputable journal to showcase your work.

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