F1000Research (Jul 2018)

What is a predatory journal? A scoping review [version 1; referees: 2 approved, 1 not approved]

  • Kelly D. Cobey,
  • Manoj M Lalu,
  • Becky Skidmore,
  • Nadera Ahmadzai,
  • Agnes Grudniewicz,
  • David Moher

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7


Read online

Background: There is no standardized definition of what a predatory journal is, nor have the characteristics of these journals been delineated or agreed upon. In order to study the phenomenon precisely a definition of predatory journals is needed. The objective of this scoping review is to summarize the literature on predatory journals, describe its epidemiological characteristics, and to extract empirical descriptions of potential characteristics of predatory journals. Methods: We searched five bibliographic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, Embase Classic + Embase, ERIC, and PsycINFO, and Web of Science on January 2nd, 2018. A related grey literature search was conducted March 27th, 2018. Eligible studies were those published in English after 2012 that discuss predatory journals. Titles and abstracts of records obtained were screened. We extracted epidemiological characteristics from all search records discussing predatory journals. Subsequently, we extracted statements from the empirical studies describing empirically derived characteristics of predatory journals. These characteristics were then categorized and thematically grouped. Results: 920 records were obtained from the search. 344 of these records met our inclusion criteria. The majority of these records took the form of commentaries, viewpoints, letters, or editorials (78.44%), and just 38 records were empirical studies that reported empirically derived characteristics of predatory journals. We extracted 109 unique characteristics from these 38 studies, which we subsequently thematically grouped into six categories: journal operations, article, editorial and peer review, communication, article processing charges, and dissemination, indexing and archiving, and five descriptors. Conclusions: This work identified a corpus of potential characteristics of predatory journals. Limitations of the work include our restriction to English language articles, and the fact that the methodological quality of articles included in our extraction was not assessed. These results will be provided to attendees at a stakeholder meeting seeking to develop a standardized definition for what constitutes a predatory journal.