Do not fall prey to predatory journals and publishers

Journals and publishers are said to be predatory when they mislead researchers about fees and misrepresent their editorial boards and reviewers with the intent of making a profit. Like legitimate open-access journals, predatory journals charge publication fees to authors eager to be published, but unlike legitimate Open-Access journals, they have questionable or non-existent peer-review.

Predatory journals often have inconspicuous or official sounding names (Lancert instead of Lancet, Canadian Journal of Medicine instead of Canadian Medical Association Journal [CMAJ]). These journals tend to solicit submissions and offer editorial board membership by mass mailings. They may exaggerate their impact factor (verifiable in Web of Science) and promise authors rapid publication, undermining the peer-review process. Their websites may have spelling or grammar mistakes, and their contact addresses may be non-professional or unaffiliated with their publication (@gmail or @yahoo).

How can I avoid predatory journals when searching for articles online?

The best way to avoid predatory journals is by searching indexes and databases like Medline (PubMed or other platforms like Ovid, ProQuest, etc), Embase or Web of Science. Predatory journals are rarely indexed in reputable databases.

If you are looking for open-access articles, you can use the Directory of Open Access Journals, which requires journals to follow the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing before being included in the directory.

Although Google Scholar can be a useful tool for finding new content for your research, it has been known to include predatory journals. If you have found an article through Google Scholar, it is good practice to double check if it can be found in other more reputable databases.

How can I check if a journal or publisher is predatory?

You may have already been contacted by a journal inviting you to submit your manuscript, become a member of their editorial board, or attend an unknown conference tangentially related to your discipline. It can be difficult to determine whether these are legitimate communications. Here are some questions to ask when in doubt:

  • Have you or any of your colleagues heard of this journal before?
  • Can you easily identify and contact the publisher, by telephone, email and mail?
  • Does the publisher charge a fee for publication? If so, can you easily find this information and understand what the fees are for?
  • Does the journal explain clearly the type of peer-review it uses?
  • Is it included in a reputable index (Medline, CINAHL, and Web of Science)? If not, is it part of the Directory of Open Access Journals?

For more information, see the Think Check Submit checklist or ask a librarian. Your hospital librarian can help investigate the legitimacy of the journal in question.

Be aware that once your research appears in a fraudulent journal, it may be difficult to have it removed and published in a legitimate journal. There will be no proper evaluation of your paper which could affect your scholarly reputation. Furthermore, publishing in a predatory journal can have a negative impact on your professional career by affecting funding decisions, hiring and promotion eligibility.

Further reading

Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K.D., Bryson, G.L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., . . . Lalu, M.M (2019).
Predatory journals: no definition, no defence. Nature, 576(7786), 210-212.

Chambers, A. H. (2019).
How I became easy prey. Science, 364(6440), 602.

Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Maduekwe, O., Turner, L., Barbour, V., Burch, R., . . . Shea, B. J. (2017).
Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC Medicine, 15(1), 28.

Sorokowski, P., Kulczycki, E., Sorokowska, A., & Pisanski, K. (2017).
Predatory journals recruit fake editor. Nature, 543(7646), 481-483.


McGill Library. Avoiding illegitimate OA journals.

Think. Check. Submit.

Identifying and avoiding predatory publishers: a primer for researchers (2015 PDF hosted by the Internet Archive).

CARL now recommends How to Assess a Journal: A.K.A. How not to publish in an undesirable journal (2017)

Published May 4th, 2017; updated August 6, 2020 .