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Academic Publishing: How It Works and Where You Fit

An introduction to the industry of academic publishing, how it came to be, and how it works now.

Avoiding Predatory Publishers

How to Figure Out Who You Can Trust


You may get an email from a journal or conference claiming to be legitimate, with known names on its masthead, offering you the chance to publish your work or present for a small fee. If it feels fishy, investigate further! Once your work is published anywhere, even in an illegitimate journal or conference proceeding, other publishers will not want to accept your article.

Predatory publishers will promise quick turnaround times but the articles they publish are poorly peer-reviewed or not at all, nor are the publications considered reliable by other researchers or promotion-and-tenure committees.

What is a Predatory Publisher?

A 2019 symposium of publishing societies, research funders, researchers, policymakers, academic institutions, libraries and others in the biomedical field developed the following definition to fully name the issue that had emerged in the 21st century (Grudniewicz et al., 2019):

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.

This symposium was guided by the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing (linked below).

For the Record

  • Lack of adequate funding does not determine if a journal is predatory.
  • Publishing open access does not determine if a journal is predatory.
  • Where a journal is published does not determine if a journal is predatory.
Investigate when you have doubts, but don’t assume a journal is predatory based on basic factors.

Further Reading

Investigate & Evaluate

When trying to assess the credibility of a potential publisher, dig deeper.


Investigate the WEBSITE

Visit the publisher website and look for the following (adapted from Grudniewicz et al., 2019 and Elmore & Weston, 2020):

  • False or misleading information
    • Does the website text have grammatical and spelling errors?
    • Can you actually read previously published articles?
  • Deviation from best editorial and publication practices
    • Does the journal publish articles too quickly?
    • Do articles get peer reviewed? Are peer review practices kept vague?
    • Does it list a journal impact metric that can't quite be verified?
    • Does it require that you sign a copyright agreement at the time of submission (rather than publication)??
      • ‼️ Don't do this. 
  • A lack of transparency,
    • Can you actually reach a human that works for the journal?
    • Does the journal have an actual physical address?
    • Consider looking up the URL in the WhoIs Domain Lookup to verify basic facts. For example: If a journal claims to be published in a particular country, is the website actually registered there?
  • The use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.
    • Such as repeated emails, a push to publish with no previous interaction with the journal, claims that they can provide reputable citations for a fee...
    • An open call for papers or submissions is normal, but an email from the journal editor directly to you asking you to submit a paper that they will then publish is not.

Investigate the PUBLISHER & EDITORS

Do an internet search for the publisher and editorial board.

  • If you can't find a mention of the journal beyond the journal website, that's a bad sign.
  • If the editors are never mentioned in connection with the journal beyond the journal website, that's a bad sign.


🛠️ Evaluation Tools

While there is no single, exhaustive list of trustworthy publishers, these tools can help you gather information as you come to your own determination.


Journal Directories

These journal directories include journals judged to be trustworthy after having met a set of criteria based on editorial practices and other factors.

Hijacked Journals 🚩

Retraction Watch hosts a volunteer-led effort to list journals proven to have been "hijacked", pretending to be legitimate. Does the journal you're wondering about appear on this list?

Consider looking up the website on the WhoIs Domain Lookup. Hijacked journals often use domains that look very similar to those of legitimate journals, but the domain registration information can show if the URL is actually registered to the journal publisher or not.

Credibility Assessment Tools

Checklists to review when making a decision.

Please Note

This guide aims to help researchers identify and avoid predatory publishers, but it should not be considered legal advice. The final responsibility for any publishing decision lies with the researcher themselves.