"Predatory Journals": what they are and how to avoid them

A rigorously designed clinical research entails a huge investment in time and effort to be successfully completed. Thus, where to publish the study results is not a decision to be taken lightly. The research's visibility, ease of access, and effects on the scientific community and researchers’ reputation depend on the scientific journal chosen.

The number of publishers and scientific journals offering the opportunity to publish scientific articles has been growing steadily in recent years, driven by several factors, such as the ever-increasing use of the Internet, the development and spread of the Open Access journal publishing (i.e. unrestricted online access to articles published in scholarly journals), as well as the growing academic pressure to publish (the alleged “publish-or-perish” culture).

Unfortunately, this has also opened the door to the emergence of the so-called “predatory journals” or “pseudo-journals” that claim to be legitimate journals, but actually misrepresent their editorial practices, having profit as main goal (authors are forced to pay Article Processing Charges to publish). 

The term “predatory journal” is considered as having been coined in 2010 by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado. However, as stressed by Grudniewicz et al. in a recent comment published on Nature, a consensus on a definition of predatory journals is still lacking. Grudniewicz and the other co-authors have reached in a dedicated summit the following consensus definition: “Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.”

In a recent brief communication, Elmore SA and Weston EH outline several common features of predatory journals and provide helpful information on how to identify and avoid them.

As briefly stated above, predatory journals are characterized by the following:

  • Aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation. Predatory journals often contact potential authors by e-mail and repeatedly and aggressively solicit manuscripts, often promising fast-track publication.
  • False or misleading information on the journals’ website or e-mails, such as names often mimicking those of other well-known legitimate journals, incorrect or unverifiable impact factors, incorrect or contradictory contact details, misrepresentations of the editorial board (e.g. members not being real persons, or without credentials relevant to the journal’s topic, or with unverifiable affiliations), as well as misleading claims about the peer-review process. Of note, the false claims to provide an adequate process of peer review lead to the publication of articles with low-quality, inaccurate or deliberately false information on such predatory journals, thus spreading misinformation and undermining the scientific communication and progress. 
  • Deviations from best editorial and publication practices, such as those set out in the “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing”, issued by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME). Examples of such deviations include the absence of a retraction policy and the request to transfer the copyright for an open-access article at the time of submission.
  • Lack of transparency in the journals’ publishing operations (e.g. acceptance and peer review processes, Article Processing Charges, etc.), as well as regards contact details and editorial boards’ members, as mentioned above.

The authors’ recommendations to determine whether a journal or publisher is predatory include:

  • Distrust solicitations to publish sent by e-mail, especially when containing grammatical errors.
  • Check the journal’s real impact factor index and whether it is indexed in a reference database, such as Medline.
  • Thoroughly verify the information listed on the journal’s website, including but not limited to the journal’s name, editorial board and contact details, editorial standards, and publication procedure. Check also if the journal's peer review process, publishing fees and copyright policy are clearly stated.
  • Carefully check out the formal appearance of the journal and its published articles (e.g. spelling or grammatical accuracy).

Moreover, the authors provide a list of online resources for checking journal quality, such as the aforementioned DOAJ, WAME and COPE websites.
In conclusion, predatory journals are a global threat to scholarly and scientific integrity. 

Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that researchers become more and more aware of this ever-growing phenomenon and able to discriminate legitimate from predatory publishing. Moreover, authors should be cognizant of the negative consequences that may arise from submitting articles to predatory journals, such as loss of their reputation and/or their legitimate data and research results, as well as the risk of being accused of unethical publishing. 

PRINEOS team is available to fully support you in drafting and reviewing your scientific manuscript, as well as identifying the legitimate scientific journal that best suits your specific needs.


S.A. Elmore & E.H. Weston. Predatory Journals: What They Are and How to Avoid Them. Toxicology Pathology. 2020; 48(4):607-610. DOI: 10.1177/0192623320920209

A. Grudniewicz, D. Moher, K.D. Cobey et al. Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature. 2019; 576(7786):210-212. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y.