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Walt Crawford, in his article "Open-Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism," offers tips on how to spot questionable journals. The following is from his report. Start by going to the journal's website and answer these questions:
- Is there a clear statement as to article processing charges (APC) or other fees? This should ideally appear as a tab on one of the main menus; otherwise, look at Author's Guidelines or About the Journal. If you can't find a statement (and the journal isn't published by a society, governmental agency, academic institution, library, or self-identified volunteer group) or, even worse, if there is an APC but the site doesn't say what it is: STOP. Go elsewhere.
- Have you or your colleagues been getting repeated e-mail from the journal asking for articles -- especially if such e-mail has multicolored text? STOP. Go elsewhere.
- Does the journal or publisher's site make implausible promises (e.g. very short peer-review turn-around) or unlikely statements (e.g.a one-year old journal claiming to be tops in the field -- or any journal charging more than $100 claiming it has the lowest APCs)? STOP. Go elsewhere.
- If there is an APC, is it one you consider reasonable (and there are clear waiver methods)? If not, STOP. There are other places to publish.
- Do article titles over the past few issues make sense within the journal's scope -- or at all? If not, STOP. You're better off elsewhere.
- Download and read at least one article in full text (which almost always means PDF), preferably one you think you can understand. If the download process doesn't work, requires registration, or yields a defective PDF, STOP. Go elsewhere.
- Does the article look good enough for your tastes (that is, are the layout and typography acceptable)? Does it seem to be at least coherent enough to be in a journal you'd want to be associated with? If the answer in No to either question, STOP. Go elsewhere.
- During the process of navigating the journal site, looking at archives, and downloading a paper or two, have you been assaulted by ads (where you have to decide what constitutes "assaulted")? Is navigation difficult or taking too long? Is the download taking forever? If the answer to any of these is Yes, then you should probably STOP. Go elsewhere.
- Is the journal a going concern -- is it publishing a reasonable stream of articles (where only you can determine what's reasonable)? If not, pause. You're probably better off with another journal.
- Do the quality of English and the general appearance of the journal's site give you confidence in it's quality? If not, pause. You're probably better off with another journal.
- Does the same author show up over and over again within the past few issues? If so, pause. At best, the journal has problems. You're probably better off elsewhere.
- Check the editorial board for plausibility and to see whether these are real people.
- Check Retraction Watch (http://retractionwatch.com) -- but be aware that excellent journals have retracted papers and that most journals don't show up there.
- If there is an APC (and especially if it's a high one), is it going to a publisher you want to reward?...[I]s there another equally good OA journal that either has no APC charges, has lower charges, or is part of a publishing operation you'd rather support?
Walt Crawford, "Open-Access Journals: Idealism and Opportunism," Library Technology Reports 51, no.6 (August/September 2015):32-33.