Unscrupulous journal solicitations: What they are, what they do, and how you can protect yourself

Howard Brown, University of Niigata Prefecture; Melodie Cook, University of Niigata Prefecture


Recently, academics are receiving an increasing number of email invitations to submit papers. While some are legitimate announcements from reputable organizations, many are a new kind of spam from what Beall (2012) calls “predatory publishers” (p. 179). Basically, they track you down through the titles of your work and invite you to submit manuscripts. They promise quick turnaround and imply guaranteed acceptance. If you are a novice researcher, you might be flattered into submitting. However, you may find later that there is a hefty fee. We wrote this paper to help you identify suspicious solicitations so that you can avoid being duped.

Characteristics of suspicious solicitationsLooking at seven email solicitations received in 2012 from suspicious journals, we found the following commonalities:
Appeal to legitimacy with ISSN/indexes. All seven solicitations used various techniques to claim legitimacy. Two journals quoted ISSN numbers and all seven referred to themselves as internationally-oriented. Two also made a point of listing data bases in which they claimed to be indexed (including EBSCO, Proquest and Ulrich’s). Interestingly, we could not find them on those lists.
Peer review/open access. All of the solicitations stated that they were peer-reviewed and three gave a detailed explanation of the meaning of peer review. Four of the emails mentioned their status as open-access journals, and offered a detailed explanation of open access. By doing this, they seem to be targeting novice researchers for whom peer review and open access may be unfamiliar concepts. Legitimate journals will mention these things, too, but not in such detail because they don’t need to.
Inner circle affiliation. Four emails claimed legitimacy through association with countries in which English is the dominant language and the use of an inner circle variety of English as defined by Kachru (1992), specifically North America. Two e-mails listed a Canadian address and two claimed to have US roots. However, a tracking of the IP addresses of the emails revealed an interesting pattern: the three emails which did not claim an inner circle location did in fact originate in the US. However, the four emails which claimed a North American connection were actually sent from China.
Location. As mentioned above, the location of where these journals were published was unclear. Three listed no address at all, and two journals listed the same address in Canada (but when we tracked down a list of tenants of the building at the address, neither the journals nor the associated publishing company was listed). Another two emails gave inconsistent locations: one claimed that the journal originated from a location in Illinois but the mailing address listed at the bottom of the email was in California.
Scope. Often using the word multi-disciplinary, all of the solicitations cast a rather wide net. One called for submissions of “Basic and applied research, case studies, critical reviews, surveys, opinions, commentaries, essays, etc.” Another journal seemed interested in papers on “Literary criticism, translation studies, linguistics research, English teaching and Intercultural Studies, etc.” A third contained this amazing offer: “If you have other original and unpublished papers or books at hand which have not been published yet, please feel free to send them to us.”
For us, the use of etc. and at hand are telling. In other words, they’ll take anything!
Editorial issues. In three cases, the same person, or at least the same location, was found to be associated with multiple journals. One email soliciting contributions to a language teaching journal was written by an “editorial officer” (whatever that may be). The same name and job title were found in a solicitation for papers in pharmacy — a very large mandate for a single editor! For another journal, the website linked to in the email was found to be the home of 28 different journals ranging from agriculture to library and archival studies.
Speed. All of the solicitations promised a very fast turnaround. Three guaranteed a response from the editor within 3 days and all promised a quick response from reviewers. One said a review decision would be forthcoming “soon” while others were more specific, with estimates ranging from 2 to 5 weeks.
Language problems. All seven emails contained obvious spelling and grammar mistakes.
Implied acceptance. While all journals claimed to be peer reviewed, their language implied otherwise. Phrases like “We would like to publish your latest paper” and “Submit your manuscript(s) for publication” were used in all seven samples, implying automatic acceptance. One journal promised that “Everyone can read your article when it is published” (emphasis ours).
Flattery. Another commonality involved flattery. Two emails referred to one of us as “Doctor” in the salutation even though the title is incorrect. Three others referred to our expertise or the quality of previous work saying “I can tell from your work that you are an expert…” or “We are very interested in your paper”. Four email authors also claimed to have been impressed by a specific paper we published recently, although one of them made a spelling error when quoting the title of the paper. Another kind of flattery came through invitations for “Qualified and high profile researchers to join [the] editorial team”. Four of the emails invited us to not only submit papers, but also to become a reviewer, a sub-editor, or even in one case, a member of the board.
Fees. On the bottom line, all of these journals charge a publication fee. Two of the emails directly stated a flat fee. For the others, fees were found on the associated website. Some listed a flat rate; others a per-page price. Flat fees were around $200 while per-page prices could go as high as $50/page. In short, what these companies do is flatter you, promise you quick service and guaranteed publication in a legitimate-sounding journal. Once you have taken the bait and submitted, they charge you a hefty fee.

How you can protect yourself
Learning to recognize the common characteristics of a scam is recommended, and a quick Google search will often help determine legitimacy. An online search for the publisher mentioned in one of the emails revealed it was described in various places as super shady. One blogger, who was told it would cost $750 to publish his paper, offered his experience as an example of bait and switch. It is also good to know what the standards of the field are. While there are some, such as natural sciences, which do legitimately require contributions from authors to cover printing and distribution costs, applied linguistics is generally not one of these.
Matsuda (n.d.) offers a checklist of red flags. These points can help you spot an unscrupulous call for papers:

  • The email is unexpected.
  • The publisher is looking for papers from novice researchers, graduate students and others without a strong track record.
  • The review process is vague or does not involve established researchers from the field.
  • The journal has few published issues.
  • The journal has not published any works by established researchers.
  • Articles in the journal are not cited elsewhere.
  • Colleagues from the field are not familiar with the journal name or publisher.

Is it really so bad?So the journal is a bit sketchy. So what? In today’s competitive job market, a publication is a publication, especially if it is “peer reviewed.” Isn’t it worth the $200? The answer is a definite no. While publications in these journals may pass a cursory examination if listed on a resume, they will not stand up if you are short-listed for an interview when your references are being thoroughly checked. Because nothing ever disappears from the Internet, job-hunting sites now regularly advise people to be aware of their social media presence on-line. Just as your reputation could suffer as a result of those party pictures from college, so it could if you publish work in a journal of questionable repute.

Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489, 179.
Kachru, B. (1992). The other tongue: English across cultures. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Matsuda, P. K. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2013, from <dissoilogoi2.blogspot.jp/2012/01/choosing-reputable-publisher.html>.