Predatory and questionable publishers - OA Publishing Guide - Maastricht University


Open-access publishing is becoming increasingly prevalent in scholarly communication, driven by the need for greater accessibility and transparency in research. The open-access model allows unrestricted access to academic literature, which is particularly important due to the growing volume of published research. Open access has become more popular due to the desire to make research funded by public funds more available, the increased visibility and impact of open-access articles, and the potential for faster knowledge advancement.

However, the rise of open access has also raised concerns about the model’s sustainability, its potential impact on authors in lower-income countries, and the need to ensure the quality of research through peer review. As the scholarly publishing landscape continues to evolve, scholars need to be aware of these issues and engage in open and transparent dialogue about the future of scholarly communication.

Definition and Types of Predatory and Questionable Publishing Practices

Predatory and questionable publishing practices exploit academics with aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation. These practices prioritize self-interest over scholarship, lack transparency, and deviate from best editorial and publication practices. As a result, these practices corrupt the scholarly record, threaten the credibility and integrity of research, and promote pseudo-researchers.

Unfortunately, the open access paradigm has fueled predatory publishing, allowing it to profit from article processing charges. Moreover, these practices can contaminate information with fake data, making it difficult for researchers and policymakers to distinguish between legitimate and predatory publications. This can have severe consequences for public policy.

Definitions of predatory and questionable publishing

There is a spectrum of publishing practices, ranging from trustworthy and high-quality to low-quality, fraudulent, and malicious. This guide distinguishes between predatory publishers and questionable practices when discussing these practices. The Risk Table below includes a table reflecting this spectrum and categorising publishing practices.

Predatory publishing refers to publishers or journals that exploit the open-access publishing model for financial gain without providing the necessary editorial services or quality control.

Librarian Jeffrey Beall introduced predatory publishing in 2010 to describe a publisher that “unprofessionally abuses the author-pays publishing model for their profit”. This definition was related to the open access’ pay to publish’ journal model, which was still relatively new in the mid-2000s, and the fraudulent initiatives that arose with it. Since then, predatory publishing has been commonly used within the scholarly community. However, the debate on its use and a clear and comprehensive definition remains.

Building upon Beall’s short definition, a recent report found, “Predatory journals solicit articles from researchers through practices that exploit the pressure on researchers to publish. Features
of predatory journals, include rapid pay-to-publish models without rigorous peer review, fake editorial boards falsely listing respected scientists, fraudulent impact factors, journal titles that are deceptively similar to those of legitimate journals, paid review articles that promote fake science, and aggressive spam invitations to submit articles, including outside of a researcher’s expertise.”

Questionable publishing encompasses practices that may not be inherently predatory but still raise concerns about the credibility and reliability of published research. This includes journals with low editorial standards, lack of peer review, or excessive publication fees.

Questionable practices can be defined as publishing practices of poor quality, breaching research integrity or ethics, and harming authors (financial, reputational) and the quality of their published work (scientific rigour, accuracy).

Questionable practices can be deliberate, with a significant imbalance between profit and services, or they can result from errors and ignorance on the part of the publisher (e.g., ignorance of standard practices, inexperience in the editorial and peer review teams of a journal, publishing staff errors, and more).
Whether intentional or not, publishers who engage in questionable practices can harm scholars, institutions, and the quality of their publications professionally.

Several factors can increase scholars’ vulnerability to predatory and questionable publishing activities. These factors include unfamiliarity with the publishing landscape, the ‘publish or perish’ pressure in scholarly career-making, research evaluation criteria based on quantity instead of quality, and requirements to comply with open-access policies from institutions and funders.

The evolution of terminology

The term “predatory publisher” was created in 2010 to describe unethical publishing practices. However, the term has been criticized for suggesting that there are always “victims.”

Some organizations have shifted away from using “blacklists” to identify problematic journals. For example, Cabells now uses a “Predatory Reports” approach to avoid discriminatory implications.

The goal is to identify the spectrum of predatory publishing, recognizing that there may not be a clear distinction between “reputable” and “untrustworthy” journals. The evolution of terminology reflects ongoing efforts to address these issues more nuanced and inclusively.

Best practices and industry standards

How does the scholarly publishing community respond to predatory initiatives and questionable practices?

Four international organisations representing scholarly publishers have collaborated to identify principles of transparency and best practices in academic publishing. These journal content, practices, and organisation principles are set out in a joint statement on Principles of Transparency and Best Practices in Scholarly Publishing. By following these principles, publishers can avoid questionable practices.

Best practices can also be translated into checklists for scholars. A journal that does not tick the boxes should lead to suspicion. The website Think. Check. Submit. is an initiative that helps to prevent scholars from submitting to predatory publishers.

University Librarian Jeffrey Beall was the first to systematically record journals and publishers that he found to be ‘predatory’ and established the Beall’s List. This initiative (active until 2017) aimed to catalogue and raise awareness about journals that were – based on Beall’s criteria – “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open access journals”. Newer initiatives such as Predatory Reports and the paid subscription service Cabells also produce lists of potentially predatory journals to try and prevent scholars from submitting to them. Note that these lists should be used carefully. How and why journals are added to (and removed from) these lists is not always transparent. There is an ongoing debate in the scholarly community and publishing industry about the criteria used to mark journals as ‘predatory’ and the legitimacy of publishing these lists.

Finding the journal you want to submit to listed as potentially predatory means, you should (at the very least) proceed cautiously.  

Most internationally recognised and trusted indexation services are transparent about the criteria used to evaluate journals. For example, in 2023, Clarivate – the company behind the indexing site Web of Science – delisted 50+ journals from coverage in their citation index. After periodically re-evaluating the journals indexed in the database, these journals failed to meet their 28 quality criteria for inclusion.

In some cases, however, actions like a journal changing its title (for legitimate reasons not affecting the quality or content) can also affect its inclusion in or removal from indexing databases. This is why using multiple sources is essential when checking journal trustworthiness.

Despite all preventative measures, research support staff still regularly hear from authors who have accidentally submitted an article to a predatory journal or have encountered questionable publishing practices.

Consequences and impact

Submitting articles to predatory journals or using a publisher that delivers questionable editorial and peer review services can severely affect the academic credibility of the published record and you as a scholar.

Scholarly publications that do not undergo quality peer review risk being published with unreliable content. High-quality peer review assesses the validity of academic findings and improves the quality of a scholarly publication.

The dissemination of scholarly publications with poor or fake peer review or completely lacking peer review can allow misinformation to enter the published scholarly record and undermine the validity of academic research. Note that you have a responsibility, too, if you act as a peer reviewer, to be honest and ethical and refrain from working for journals that do not apply the required quality standards to their publications.

How can submitting to and publishing with a predatory or questionable publisher affect you?

A significant risk of submitting an article to a predatory or highly questionable publisher is the loss of control over your work. There is little stopping a predatory publisher from posting (publishing) your work online, even without your permission. Also, known predatory and questionable journals and their contents are actively excluded from most internationally recognised (citation) indexes. This means that colleagues won’t find your article, and you may need help counting a publication in professional evaluations or listing it in grant proposals. This is especially troubling for early career researchers for whom an individual article can form a significant portion of their published output. In addition, predatory publishers commonly demand payment despite your request to withdraw your article.

On top of the potential reputation and financial damages, dealing with a predatory publisher can be very stressful personally.

Trustworthy publishers may refuse to consider work already published online, even in a predatory journal, and withdrawing your article from a predatory journal can be very difficult.

Characteristics of Predatory Publications

When it comes to recognising predatory publishers and questionable practices, there are two overall guidelines to follow:

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

This phrase is commonly associated with fraudulent webshops but applies to publishing, too. For scholarly publishing, this applies to the costs of publishing open access but, more importantly, to the length of the peer review process. Rigorous peer review takes time, and it is doubtful that a journal can maintain high-quality standards if it promises publication within mere days or weeks from submission.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Even when publication pressure is high, there is always time to ensure that your intended publication venue is one you will not regret. Authors can use the journal quality indicators below to conduct their investigation. Properly evaluating the quality of a journal is well worth the time and effort spent. Support staff in many university libraries have experience helping authors assess journal quality and avoid predatory and questionable publishers.


Features of predatory journals

Scope of the journal

The journal’s scope is essential in determining whether editors or reviewers possess the necessary expertise to correctly evaluate an author’s article.

If this scope is narrower, the journal may aim to publish as many articles as possible and potentially care less about quality. Journal publishing articles that fall outside of its scope indicate questionable publishing practices.

Special issues / guest-edited collections

For authors, special issues can be attractive as the scope is often narrowly defined and explicitly targets an audience of researchers working on the same subject.

Some journals produce excessive special issues annually, possibly even encompassing most articles. They also offer a higher likelihood of acceptance and a speedy publication process, which comes at the expense of quality.

Each issue needs (guest) editors and many reviewers; the pool of reviewers per discipline is manageable. This leads to rising concerns about maintaining proper peer review standards.

Mimicking famous journals

Some predatory journals try to lure authors by pretending to be another journal, usually one well-known within a particular discipline.

Before submitting, carefully check the journal title, contents, and website.

If a title is notably similar to another authoritative journal within your field but looks odd or shows unexpected changes (e.g. a different publisher), you may be dealing with a predatory publisher.   

Website, author recruitment and article solicitation

A predatory publisher’s website can look professional. Some larger predatory publishers devote considerable time and effort to making their websites attractive. It is difficult to rely on website appearances alone to identify predatory journals.

However, there are specific website characteristics that are particularly suspicious:

  • The website is heavily focused on the author and not on the reader. Article access requires a lot of navigation, and while carefully selected articles are highlighted, the bulk of articles are much more hidden behind layers of menus.
  • The website contains (an unusual amount of) grammar/spelling errors, chaotic layout, flashing elements, etc.
  • More information is needed about essential aspects of the journal, such as charges, the editorial process, copyright, and publishing licences.
  • References to ‘author perks’—such as rapid review, super quick publication times, relatively low open access fees, and easy article acceptance—are prominently featured.
  • The publishing company address or telephone number does not exist, cannot be reached, or is shared by other companies. Journal email address domains are non-professional (e.g. Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail)


Article Solicitation

Both legitimate and questionable journals solicit researchers to submit manuscripts.

Be critical of unexpected invitations, especially from journals you have never published in.

Author solicitation becomes suspicious when it is overly aggressive (e.g., many emails), there are very few barriers to starting a special issue (e.g., any topic welcome, offering free publication for editors and authors), or you are invited to contribute to a topic that doesn’t correspond to your area of expertise.

Predatory publishers often refer to many ‘author perks’, like short publication times, low open access fees, and easy acceptance

Hidden or unclear article processing charges (APCs)

Predatory journals often charge low APCs but may need to be more transparent about the total costs.

Editors and editorial boards

Check the list of editors and the editorial board for experts in your field.

Editorial boards of predatory journals often list fake names or researchers who are not editors.

Occasionally, experts know about their participation but must be aware of the journal’s questionable nature.

If in doubt, contact one or two editors/board members and ask about their experience with the journal. Editors and board members of good quality journals usually respond promptly and professionally to author enquiries.

Indexing and Metrics

Being registered in esteemed databases or acknowledged by renowned organisations indicates a journal’s trustworthiness. Various organisations perform some level of quality check before including journals or publishers in their listings.

  • The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a database that indexes full open-access journals. Before including journals in its database, the DOAJ conducts a quality check.
  • Major databases such as Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed, PsycINFO, or commonly used databases in your field use inclusion criteria for their indexes and periodically remove suspicious articles and journals from their register.
  • The Commission on Publication Ethics (COPE) provides leadership and guidelines on publication ethics and practical resources, including flowcharts on handling publication ethics issues. Publishers need to comply with quality criteria to become a member of COPE.
  • The Open Access Scholarly Publication Association (OASPA) is a community of organisations that encourages and enables open access as the predominant communication model for scholarly output. Publishers must comply with quality criteria to become members.

It is important to note that inclusion in such databases or registries is not a foolproof quality indicator. In the past, some suspected and proven predatory journals have been found indexed in major databases.

In addition, it may take several years for new but trustworthy journals to be included in these databases. Check the organisation’s website for its most current and accurate listings.


Be careful when considering a citation metric list journal’s website.

Metrics can be verified using the databases that produce them. For example, Impact Factors can be verified using the Web of Science, and CiteScore can be verified using Scopus.

It is very easy for predatory publishers to post fake or meaningless metrics on their websites, such as Index Copernicus Value.


A high-quality open-access journal ensures that the rights for use and reuse of content at the article level are clearly stated with a licence on each article.

Most journals use the Creative Commons licence for this purpose, although sometimes other licences may be used.

These rights must be adequately indicated, both on the website and during the submission process.

Persistent identifiers

Persistent identifiers, like the Digital Object Identifier (DOI), are essential for articles to be findable and accessible.

Nowadays, almost every digital journal uses such identifiers to ensure their content is easily found.

Check if published articles have such an identifier assigned to them in the journal.

Quality of the peer review process

A robust, high-quality peer review process is essential for accurate and scientifically sound publishing. The type of peer review used by the journal should be clearly stated on the journal’s website and adhered to in the editorial process.

The peer review process can vary in quality and thoroughness, even with journals that are not intentionally deceiving authors but are still of questionable quality. Some questionable journals have very high acceptance rates or put pressure on reviewers or even editors to accept a manuscript despite flaws.

Authors can find the quality of the review process challenging to assess, but it provides essential information on a journal’s trustworthiness.


  • Make use of your professional network. Do your colleagues know the journal? Are they optimistic about it and about the thoroughness of their peer review process?
  • Have you or your colleagues ever conducted a peer review for this journal?
  • Check the journal’s correction and retraction history on Retraction Watch.
  • Information about journal policies regarding the peer review process can be found in the Transpose database.
Length of the peer review process

The length of the review process can vary between disciplines, but it can’t take a mere couple of days.

You should expect the process to take several weeks. In most cases, this is (much) longer.

If a journal actively promotes rapid review times, it is highly likely that this speed comes at the expense of quality or that this is a predatory journal offering fake peer reviews.

You can check the peer review speed on SciRev, Journal Guide, or the publisher’s website.

The contents of the reviewer's report

Aside from the length of the review process, if you have unwittingly submitted your paper to a predatory journal, you can often recognise questionable review practices by the nature of the reviews themselves.

Overly short reviews or those that contain only comments on grammar and formatting should be treated with caution.

Conferences and Proceedings

Predatory practices can extend to conferences and proceedings, not just journals.

Characteristics of predatory and questionable conferences

Predatory conferences are organized primarily for profit, with little to no legitimate peer review or academic oversight. They often have misleading names, use flattering language to solicit speakers, and charge high registration fees without providing meaningful academic value.

  • Lack of peer review:
    Predatory conferences typically need a more rigorous review process for submitted abstracts or papers. Instead, they allow anyone who pays the registration fee to become a speaker, regardless of the quality of their work.
  • Misuse of speaker names:
    Predatory conference organizers may list prominent researchers as keynote speakers or on the editorial board without their knowledge or consent.
  • Questionable publication of proceedings:
    Some predatory conferences claim to publish the proceedings in journals, but these may be low-quality or predatory publications owned by the conference organizers.
  • Aggressive marketing tactics:
    Predatory conference organizers often use spam emails and other aggressive tactics to solicit participation, targeting early-career researchers and those unfamiliar with the landscape of academic conferences.
  • Lack of transparency:
    Predatory conferences typically provide little to no information about the organizers, peer review process, or other vital details that would allow participants to assess the event’s legitimacy.

In summary, the predatory practices seen in scholarly publishing can also extend to the conference and proceedings domain, undermining the integrity of academic discourse and potentially damaging the careers of researchers who unknowingly participate in these events. Awareness and vigilance are crucial to avoid falling victim to these exploitative practices.

Checklist for Evaluating Journals


A step-by-step guide for assessing the credibility of journals

1 Check the journal’s inclusion in reputable directories

  • Look for the journal’s presence in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), indexes high-quality, peer-reviewed open-access journals.
  • Verify if the journal is listed in other reputable indexing services, such as Web of Science, Scopus, or PubMed. This indicates that the journal has undergone quality checks.

2 Evaluate the transparency of the journal’s policies

  • Examine the journal’s website for information about the peer review process, editorial board, and publication fees.
  • Look for clear and detailed policies on copyright, digital preservation, and retractions.
  • Ensure the journal’s aims and scope are clearly defined and align with your research interests.

3 Scrutinize the editorial board

  • Verify the credentials and affiliations of the editorial board members.
  • Ensure the board comprises recognized experts actively participating in the journal’s operations.
  • Check if the editorial board members have confirmed their involvement with the journal.

4 Assess the journal’s reputation and impact

  • Look for the journal’s impact factor or other bibliometric measures if available.
  • Consider whether the journal is well-known and respected within your academic community.
  • Assess the quality and relevance of the articles published in the journal.

5 Consult trusted resources and your professional network

  • Use checklists and guidelines from organizations like COPE and INANE to evaluate the journal’s credibility further.
  • Seek advice from experienced colleagues or librarians who may be familiar with the journal or publisher.

By following this step-by-step guide, researchers can more effectively identify credible and legitimate journals for publishing their work, helping to maintain the integrity of the scholarly record.

Red Flags and Warning Signs

It is important to note that just because a journal displays some questionable characteristics doesn’t necessarily mean it is predatory. These characteristics may stem from unintended errors or communication gaps. However, even if these errors or flaws are not deliberate, it is still advisable to reconsider publishing in such a journal if you are uncertain of its ability to help you publish a high-quality article. It would be best to never compromise on the quality of the peer review process.

Risk Table

The linked guide contains a Risk Table that provides an overview of common publishing characteristics and their severity level in determining whether a journal is at high, medium, or low risk of being considered predatory or questionable.

Click the Full-Screen button in the navigation bar to access the table directly.

What should you do if published in a predatory journal?

Your article has ended up in the hands of a predatory journal, either by your submission or by being taken from elsewhere online. What can you do now?

Withdrawing your work or requesting the publisher remove it from their website can seem daunting. There are steps you can take to find help and increase your chances of stopping a predatory journal from publishing your article.

A predatory publisher may publish your article online without your permission. Once published, they are not guaranteed to remove it from their website. Speak to your employer or support network to investigate your options.

Support network
At any stage in your career, and for many reasons beyond publishing, building and maintaining a professional network of peers, supervisors, and other contacts who can provide advice and support is vital. This should also include becoming familiar with (legal) support from your institution. This can be a supervisor, librarian, research support staff member, or legal advisor. These colleagues can also help you establish whether a journal is predatory or questionable. Your institute can support you via this network if you need advice on interacting with the publisher.

Keep all associated communications with suspected predatory publishers (emails, screenshots, invoices, etc.). Be transparent with editors if you later submit similar or derivative versions of this article to a trustworthy journal.

Action plans

Quick Action Plan

In general

  • Prevention is the best action. Be cautious and avoid sending your work to a predatory or questionable publisher.
  • Maintain a good network of peers and support contacts whom you can ask for advice.

After the fact (Your article has been submitted or already published online by a predatory publisher)

  • The first step is always to alert your support network, including legal affairs, and ask for help.
  • Taking immediate action can help achieve the desired result. Accept that this process may take a long time and that you may not be able to publish the article elsewhere.
  • In coordination with legal affairs, use clear language and firmly state you are withdrawing your article or demand its removal from the journal/website.
  • Do not pay a predatory publisher or sign any agreements with them.
  • Keep all associated communications (emails, screenshots, invoices, etc.). Be transparent with editors if you later submit similar or derivative versions of this article to a trustworthy journal.


You worry that your work has been submitted to a questionable publisher
  • Alert your support network at your institute about what has happened. This way, your institute can support you if you need advice on interacting with the publisher.
  • Communicate politely but firmly with the publisher that you wish to withdraw your article and do not permit them to publish it. You do not need to state that the journal may be predatory. There should be no fee for withdrawing your article, and no payment should be made to the publisher.
  • If the publisher does not comply with your request, speak with your institute’s librarian or legal team to determine the appropriate next steps.
Your work unexpectedly appears in another journal
  • Similar to the steps above, start with informing your support network.
  • If the work is already published under copyright (or with any other type of licence with restrictions, e.g. CC BY NC) elsewhere, contact the original publisher to determine what steps can be taken to take the copied article offline.
    • Remember, if your original article was published under an open licence (e.g. CC BY), it may be reused as long as the original is appropriately cited and attributed. If the citation is not included, request that the new publisher add this.
    • If the new publisher does not comply with your request to add the correct citation, speak with your institute’s librarian or legal team to determine the appropriate next steps.


You have published, signed a copyright agreement, and paid for an article in a journal you now realise is predatory or questionable

The options for resolving this are limited.

You can try to retract the article.

Alternatively, you can leave it and decide whether or not to include the publication on your CV (e.g., with a note that it has not been thoroughly peer-reviewed).

It is important to note that your article may not be submitted as a new article to another journal without risking self-plagiarism.

Speak to your support network for advice.

Your name unexpectedly appears on the editorial board of a journal
  • Alert your support network about what has happened. This way, your institute can support you if you need advice on interacting with the publisher.
  • Communicate politely but firmly with the publisher that your name (and any other identifiers) must be removed from the publisher’s website.
  • If the publisher does not comply with your request, speak with your institute’s legal team to determine the appropriate next steps.



Why is it essential to inform your institute?

Reporting the incident is essential for several reasons. A key reason is to ensure that other parties involved (e.g. co-authors, your supervisors) aren’t surprised later when you need help or the publisher contacts them.

Reporting the incident can also help prevent other colleagues from making a similar mistake and spread awareness of predatory publishing and specific questionable or predatory publishers. How the case unfolds can help support staff and academic colleagues learn how to respond to similar cases in future.

Staff and colleagues at your institute can give practical advice on what to do next. Contact with a predatory publisher can be frustrating, emotional, and even intimidating. It is essential to keep emotions in check when communicating with the publisher. Having your support network help write communications to the publisher with you or discuss the next steps can help ease the burden of communicating with the publisher.

Legal help is often available through your institute. Employers are usually required to support employees with legal advice or assistance. Your institute’s legal team may have experience writing official complaints to external organisations such as publishers. In some cases, groups have been acting against particular predatory publishers. Check with your institute to find out if there are other complaints about particular publishers and whether you can participate in any group actions.

Further actions you can take:

  • Leave (anonymous) reviews about your experience on sites such as SciRev.
  • Share your experience with colleagues to help prevent others from making a similar mistake or support peers experiencing similar problems.


I’ve survived my brush with predatory publishing. What can I do with my article now?

After your experience with a predatory or questionable publisher, you’ll still want to publish your research in a trustworthy journal.

If the article was posted online by a predatory publisher, publishing it in a reputable journal would be challenging. Most legitimate journals are unlikely to consider an article already available on another publisher’s website.

Nonetheless, it may still be worth trying. Speak to a librarian at your institute for help. Consider posting your article as a preprint and inviting open peer review.

You can still submit your article if the predatory publisher does not post your article online.

In this case, be transparent with the editors of the new journal you are submitting to. Let the editors know before or after submission that your article was submitted elsewhere and what happened. Some editors may wish to see evidence of what happened with the previous submission (emails, review reports, etc.). Remember that predatory publishers may post your submitted article online long after your last contact.

More information

For this section on Predatory and Questionable Publishing Practices, we used parts of the guide “Predatory and Questionable Publishing Practices: How to Recognise and Avoid Them” as our primary source.

View or download this guide


Braak, P., van Gorp, D., Hukkelhoven, C., & de Roo, T. (2024). Predatory and Questionable Publishing Practices: How to Recognise and Avoid Them. UKB – Dutch Consortium of University Libraries.

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