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Criteria to determine quality open access scholarly journals

3 Dec 2015 - 10:30

OpenCon 2015, a conference on open access, open education and open data for students and early career research professionals, was held in Brussels on 14-16 November. Jill Claassen attended an “unconference” (a session where participants suggest topics to be discussed) chaired by Dr Mike Taylor, entitled, “Crowdsourcing an alternative to Beall's List”. This session occurred after a presentation by Cenyu Shen, a doctoral student from Hanken School of Economics, Finland, who shared her research findings on ‘predatory’ publishers. This research, which she co-authored with Bo-Christer Björk, is published in an article: ‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics.

A list of what might be considered highly questionable, predatory open access publishers has become synonymous with the librarian, Jeffrey Beall, who has drawn up a list called, “Beall’s list of predatory publishers”. This list has been viewed as the “black list” of open access publishers, which researchers should avoid. Richard Poynder mentioned in his recent blog that since 2011, Beall’s list has increased from just 18 publishers to 693, this is a 3,750% increase in publishers on the list.

Knowing that there is a “blacklist” of possibly questionable publishers, researchers may be tempted to use this list without considering what the criteria is that is used to determine the “predatory” nature of a publisher. Shen and Björk’s research showed that many researchers in the developing world were authors from journals on this list (particular Asia and Africa, which contributed three-quarters of authors) and that the majority of publishers on the list were based in Asia (27.1%),  with some developed world publishers giving Asia or African physical addresses. Because of this kind of research, highlighting the flaws in Beall’s list, the open access publisher, MDPI was removed from the list 28 October 2015

What are the action points that I took away from this session at OpenCon2015? As librarians, we can mention Beall’s list in scholarly communication training or on the websites we host as a list that has potentially questionable open access publishers on it. However, it must be stressed that this list is not a definitive list and should be used with caution. It would be more important to raise awareness with researchers the criteria they should use when selecting where to publish their research. This checklist or criteria should supersede Beall’s list.


The checklist of choosing a trusted journal is available on the website, Think. Check. Submit. and is endorsed by a number of representatives across the publishing industry, including the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Some of the criteria mentioned in this checklist are:

Is it listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals?

This Directory (DOAJ) is known as the “white list” of open access journals and is the starting point for all quality, peer-reviewed open access journals. In June 2015, the DOAJ published a revised list of principals of transparency that open access journals have to meet, in order to be included in this “white list”.

Is it clear what fees will be charged?

Publishing fees should be stipulated on the website for potential authors to find prior to submitting the manuscript for review.

Is the editorial board easily contactable?

The editorial board should be recognised experts in the subject areas. Their names and email addresses should be available on the journal website. The editorial board should not come from the same institution.

Is the peer review process clear?

Peer review has to take place amongst experts in the field who are not on the editorial board. The peer review procedure should be available on the journal’s website.

Researchers should go through the entire checklist first before they submit an article to an open access journal.

Shen and Björk mentioned: “Predatory publishers are causing unfounded negative publicity for Open Access publishing in general”. However, as librarians we can play a significant role in assisting researchers to find credible open access journals by creating an awareness of the established criteria used to identify quality journals.

Written by Jill Claassen
December 2015