19 March 2015

Tip of the Week! How to Assess the Quality of Open Access Journals

Source: "Which way to go?" Waldec on Flickr
Are you an aspiring author venturing out for the first time into the world of Open Access journal publishing? This landscape can be confusing if you are not familiar with any of the titles out there. Where should you start your search for a relevant and reputable journal that is a good fit your research?

As I have mentioned in past blog posts, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a useful resource to use either for identifying relevant open access journals in a particular field of inquiry or for locating OA articles of interest.  Recently, the DOAJ has initiated a series of steps to weed out any questionable and poor quality journals that have been represented in its database to date.  The ultimate aim is to improve the overall reputation of open access journals as credible vehicles for publication.

Searching for journal titles in DOAJ is one means of assessing OA journals.  But aspiring authors can also take advantage of various lists of quality criteria to undertake their own assessments of journals that they come across or of publishers that send email solicitations inviting them to submit articles to them.

Here are a few examples:

1. The most well-known list was the now defunct Beall's List, the author of which was considered somewhat controversial because he maintained a "blacklist" of what he termed "Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers & journals."  That said, as this article notes, his assessment criteria could be used as a "starting point for thinking about the hallmarks of predatory publishers and journals."

2.  Walt Crawford undertook a lengthy investigation of OA journals, both those flagged on Beall's List and those represented in the DOAJ database (see here, here and here).  Based on his research, he developed his own list of suggested steps authors can take to identify an appropriate OA journal (these have been reproduced below in an appendix).

3.  Here is a shorter, easier-to-reference set of "Open Access Journal Quality Indicators" that was developed by librarians seeking to help their faculty identify high quality OA journals.  This article discusses how they came up with their indicators.

[added Oct. 2015] Finally, to learn more about the actual landscape of "predatory" open access journals, read this recent study.

Appendix: Steps for an Author to Take to Find the Right OA Journal

Source: Crawford, Walt, “Journals, ‘Journals’ and Wannabes: Investigating The List,” Cites & Insights, vol. 14, no. 7 (July 2014), pp. 23-24 (note: hyperlinks have been added)

“1. Look [Journal X] up in the Directory of Open Access Journals (doaj.org). Not there? Look for another journal…which you can do quite nicely at DOAJ: it’s got thousands of ‘em. A keyword or subject search should yield many more candidates.

2. If it is in DOAJ, take advantage of the listing to learn more about the journal and to explore the journal’s site. Note that, for those journals with APCs, DOAJ may provide a more direct link to the APC policy than the journal’s own site (although I’d argue against publishing with any journal that hides APCs). Thus, steps 3-9, using links and info from DOAJ.

3. Do the quality of English and the general appearance of the journal’s site give you confidence in its quality? If not, go back to step 1, looking for another journal.

4. If there is an APC, is it one you consider reasonable? If not, go back to step 1.

5. Is the journal a going concern—is it publishing a reasonable stream of articles (where only you can determine what’s reasonable)? If not, go back to step 1.

6. Do the article titles over the past few issues make sense within the journal’s scope? If not, go back to step 1.

7. Does one author show up over and over again within the past few issues? If so, I’d be inclined to go back to step 1.

8. 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, go back to step 1.

9. 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 is “No” to either question, go back to step 1.

Steps 1-9 really shouldn't take more than 2-5 minutes (maybe a little longer to read the article). If [Journal X] still looks like a candidate, you may be done— or you may want to do two more steps, one in DOAJ (or, rather, on the journal’s site), one elsewhere.

10. Check the editorial board for plausibility and to see whether these are real people.

11. Check Retraction Watch—but be aware that excellent journals have retracted papers and that most journals don’t show up there.”

Tagged Tips.

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