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How to tell the difference between potential predatory and legitimate journals

In a previous article, I looked at the growing problem of predatory journals. Unlike reputable journals, predatory journals “bombard academics with spam emails, accept almost all submissions and overstate the rigour of their peer-review processes. They also often conveniently neglect to mention publication fees until late in the process.”

A new study1 published in the open access, open peer-reviewed medical journal BMC Medicine has carried out a cross-sectional comparison of characteristics of potential predatory, legitimate open access, and legitimate subscription-based biomedical journals.

From an analysis of 93 predatory, 99 open access, and 100 subscription-based journals, 13 evidence-based characteristics were identified by which predatory journals may potentially be distinguished from presumed legitimate journals.

These characteristics are:

  1. The scope of interest includes non-biomedical subjects alongside biomedical topics
  1. The website contains spelling and grammar errors
  1. Images are distorted/fuzzy, intended to look like something they are not, or which are unauthorized
  1. The homepage language targets authors
  1. The Index Copernicus Value is promoted on the website
  1. Description of the manuscript handling process is lacking
  1. Manuscripts are requested to be submitted via email
  1. Rapid publication is promised
  1. There is no retraction policy
  1. Information on whether and how journal content will be digitally preserved is absent
  1. The Article processing/publication charge is very low (e.g., < $150 USD)
  1. Journals claiming to be open access either retain copyright of published research or fail to mention copyright
  1. The contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliated (e.g., or

Researchers need to take note of these findings to help avoid publishing in predatory journals, with two of the paper authors advising in an associated blog post that:

Organisms die due to a lack of oxygen. We need a similar approach to these illegitimate entities. If they are cut off from receiving manuscripts they will cease to exist.

Source: Retraction Watch.


  1. 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.
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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