Tips for Evaluating Journals (OA or otherwise)

The following guidelines may be helpful in assessing journals with which you are unfamiliar (whether these are open access or non-OA journals).

  1. Who sent you this call for articles? If it came from a stranger, you may wish to be more thorough in your evaluation of this publication. If it was sent to you by a friend or colleague, ask them what experience they have with this journal, and if they can vouch for its publishing standards.
  2. What is this journal/publisher's reputation among your peers? Is this journal recognized by your peers as being reliable and relevant to your area of research?
  3. Has this publisher/journal been identified as questionable by others? A quick online search may bring up exchanges about specific journals and publishers, which may either confirm or allay suspicions you may have. 
  4. Does the journal have an impact factor? How high is the impact factor? The most common impact factor is from Thompson-Reuters' Journal Citation Reports, but there are other impact factors, such as the Eigenfactor and the SCImago Journal Rank indicator. Impact factors are produced using several years' data, so these will not be available for newer journals. 
  5. What peer review measures are in place for this journal? The peer review process should be described on the journal's website, and should be consistent with the usual process in your field.
  6. How qualified is the editorial board of the journal? The journal's website should list the members of its editorial board, as well as their affiliations. You should be able to verify that these people are credible editors for this discipline. (There have been cases where individuals have been added to a list of editors without their approval.)
  7. Is the journal indexed in major databases or index services? The journal's articles should be indexed in Web of Science or in your field's respected indexes (e.g. PubMed, CINAHL, ERIC, MLA International Bibliography). Inclusion in Google Scholar should not be taken as an indication of reliability.
  8. How many issues have been published since the journal started? The journal's publication record should be consistent and reliable.
  9. Are the articles in this journal of the calibre you would expect? Are they on-topic? Are the article topics appropriate for the journal's thematic scope? Is the writing at the level that you would expect for a scholarly journal? Have these articles been cited by reputable authors in reputable journals?
  10. If it is an open access (OA) journal, is the publisher a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA)? This organization is a recognized advocate and promoter of OA publishing. However, newer publishers may not yet be included, and OASPA membershiph alone may not be sufficient to ascertain reliability.
  11. If this is an OA journal, is the journal listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)? Journals are required to meet a certain number of criteria in order to be included in the DOAJ (see selection criteria). In addition, the DOAJ announced in 2013 that it will add a "DOAJ Seal" for those with the highest standards, which will be a helpful tool in assessing journals. Note: There is a delay for new journals to be added to the DOAJ.

A note regarding authors' fees:  A large number of non-OA publishers and approximately half of OA journals charge a page fee to authors who publish in their journal. This is true of legitimate and questionable journals alike. However, journals' submission guidelines should clearly detail the fee structure for such costs.

Further Reading:

Assessing New Open Access Journals from “The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” by Heather Morrison in Vancouver, BC

Evaluating Open Access Journals from the University of Western Ontario Libraries

Assessing Journal Quality, an extensive guide produced by Boston College University Libraries

If you have concerns about a particular publisher, or would like to discuss a particular case, please feel free to contact your Liaison Librarian.