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Understanding Predatory Publishers

The objective of this guide is to help VDOT personnel learn what "predatory publishers" are, how to evaluate publisher integrity and ways to protect yourself, your rights and your professional reputation.

Types of predators

There are four common types of predatory publishers, and they are characterized by different behaviors:

Computer with evil eyes.Phisher

Lures you in with promises, then charges large fees after your paper has been "accepted." Publication fees are usually not openly disclosed, and after acceptance phishers may demand payment even though no paperwork has been signed.

Image of a criminal's head.Impostor/Hijacker

Poses as a well-established journal or as a publication associated with a well-known brand or society. Often these journals tack on an extra word to an existing journal name such as "Advances," "Review," or " Reports" or create websites that appear to be affiliated with another publication.

Image of a horse.Trojan Horse

Has a legitimate-looking website, often with impressive lists of publications, but upon closer inspection nothing is what it seems. The journals are empty shells or worse, populated by stolen or plagiarized articles.

Image of a unicorn.Unicorn

Too good to be true! These publishers may in fact be legitimate businesses that aren't providing good products or customer support/service. Common problems may include no archiving policy (meaning your publication could disappear at any time); missing or ill-defined peer review criteria; and possible publishing ethics violations.

Identifying a predator

Deciding if a publisher is predatory can be a subjective process. It often comes down to your evaluation of the publisher's practices versus your expectations of the publisher. Although not fool-proof, the 13 warning signs that follow are evidence based and serve as a good starting point in deciding if a publisher is predatory.

Warning Signs

Adapted from Shamseer et al. (2017). Potential Predatory and Legitimate Biomedical Journals: Can You Tell the Difference? A Cross-Sectional Comparison. BMC Medicine, – 15:28. DOI:

  1. The journal's scope of interest includes unrelated subjects alongside legitimate topics.
  2. The journals website contains spelling and grammatical errors
  3. Images or logos are distorted/fuzzy or misrepresented/unauthorized.
  4. The website targets authors, not readers (i.e., publisher prioritizes making money over product).
  5. The Index Copernicus Value (a bogus impact metric) is promoted.
  6. There is no clear description of how the manuscript is handled. 
  7. Manuscripts are submitted by email.
  8. Rapid publication is promoted, and promised.
  9. There is no article retraction policy.
  10. There is no digital preservation plan for content.
  11. The APC (article processing charge) is very low (e.g., <$150)
  12. The journal either retains copyright of published research or fails to mention copyright.
  13. Contact email address is non-professional and is not affiliated with the journal/publisher (e.g.,, or

Other Warning Signs:

Publishing costs and fees are not openly disclosed or easy to locate.

It's standard practice to let authors know the cost of publication before manuscript submission. This is part of the OASPA Code of Conduct.

The peer-review process is not clearly explained or is not to discipline standards.

Beware of promises of quick peer review as this can be the mark of a publisher that values profit over quality. There is concern that papers submitted to journals that advertise this type of service are not actually providing peer review.

Advertises a Journal Impact Factor but doesn't have one.

VTRC researchers have access to Journal Citation Reports, a subscription database at the University of Virginia that includes tools for journal evaluation, using citation data taken from over 8,000 journals in the areas of science and technology. It is used to find impact factors. It takes only a moment to check!

The publisher or journal's name is suspiciously similar to other well-known publications.

For example: Nature Advances might seem to you to be associated with Nature Publishing Group and the well-known journal Nature, but is it? If you're unsure, it's a good idea to check the publisher's website and make sure both journals are published by the same group.

Resources to check for suspicious activity:

If all else fails . . . 

You can try contacting a member of the editorial board of the journal, seek a second opinion from a peer with publishing experience, or ask a librarian for help.

Recommended Reading:

"I Sold My Undergraduate Thesis to a Print Content Farm" (Slate Magazine)

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