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Letter to the Editor

Selecting An Open Access Journal for Publication: Be Cautious

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Lilian Hoffecker, PhD, MLS
Marie Hastings-Tolsma, PhD, CNM, FACNM
Deborah Vincent, PhD, RN, FAANP
Heidi Zuniga, MA, MSLS


Nurse scholars and clinicians seek to publish their research and scholarly findings to strengthen both nursing science and clinical practice. Traditionally subscription-based publications have been the mainstay of knowledge dissemination. However, subscription costs have tended to restrict access to many journals to a small, specialized, academic community, a limitation that has contributed to the development of open access (OA) publications. OA journals have a powerful appeal as they allow greater access to scholars and consumers on a global level. However, many OA journals depend on an author-pays model that may lead to unintended and undesirable consequences for authors. Today, it is easier than ever to share scholarly findings, but authors need to be vigilant when selecting a journal in which to publish. In this article, we discuss the background of open access journals and describe key consideration to distinguish between reputable publications and those that may lead authors astray. We conclude that despite controversy and concerns related to publishing in OA journals, these journals do provide opportunities for researchers and clinicians to raise the profile of their work and ensure a robust, scholarly communication system.

Citation: Hoffecker, L., Hastings-Tolsma, M., Vincent, D., Zuniga, H., (December 4, 2015) "Selecting An Open Access Journal for Publication: Be Cautious" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 21 No. 1.

DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol21No01PPT03

Keywords: open access, nursing research, access to information, libraries, article processing charge, information services, peer review, publishing, nursing science

The Open Access (OA) model... and advancements in digital technology have dramatically changed the publication landscape... Nursing scholars are interested in disseminating their work to improve patient outcomes and enhance dissemination of findings to a wide audience. The subscription research journal has traditionally been the primary means for sharing research and scholarly findings. However, the cost to access these journals has prevented their availability to many scholars and clinicians especially those who are not affiliated with a major academic institution and library. The Open Access (OA) model for scholarly communication, and advancements in digital technology have dramatically changed the publication landscape in the last decade (see Table 1 for definitions of linked terms). An overview of the state of the field of the open access publishing model has been summarized through 2012 by Nick (2012a, b) and Suber (2012), however scholarly publishing models have continued to evolve.

Table 1. Glossary of Terms



article processing charge (APC)

A fee charged to authors and paid to OA publishers to finance the publication of an article in an author-pays model

author-pays model

One business model for OA publishing in which the author pays a fee to publish an article

commercial publisher

For-profit publishers including major scholarly publishers, such as Elsevier (, John Wiley and Sons (, and Wolters Kluwer (

gold open access

A type of open access model in which an article is published in a journal for immediate access

green open access

A type of open access model in which a paper, not necessarily published, is deposited in a publicly accessible digital repository


The process of verifying the accuracy of a journal article record and the assignment of meta-data to describe the subject and contents.  For example, the National Library of Medicine assigns Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) as part of its indexing process

open access publishing model (OA)

Unrestricted access and reuse of information, usually scholarly information

predatory publishing

A deceptive practice of publishing where the author is expected to pay an article processing charge but the article does not receive all the publishing services, most notably proper peer-review

scholarly communication

Communication used by scholars to share findings and comment on other researchers’ work.  It includes both formal channels, such as publications or presentations at professional meetings, and informal means, such as social media

traditional scholarly publishing model

A scholarly publishing model that involves subscription fees.  Authors do not pay to publish in this model, as they do in the author-pays model of OA publishing

Sources: Beall (n.d.); Open Access Oxford (2013); SPARC (2013); Sherpa, (n.d.); Suber (2012)

This article addresses one of the most troubling consequences of the open access model, specifically the proliferation of predatory publishing practices. We provide recommendations to nurse scholars and clinicians, especially those new to publishing, describing how they can recognize these questionable and troubling practices (Nickitas, 2015; Pierson, 2014). Predatory publishing, brought to worldwide attention by Jeffrey Beall and his blog Scholarly Open Access (Beall, n.d.), has become so problematic that the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) has issued a call-to-action warning authors of the pitfalls of OA publishing, and has published guidelines for ascertaining journal integrity (Kearney and The INANE Predatory Publishing Practices Collaborative, 2015). We supplement these guidelines with further recommendations using free resources readily available online or through an academic library. Our goal is to empower authors so that they can objectively assess the legitimacy of various publications.


This section will describe the history and status of the OA movement. We will also discuss OA business models and the potential risks of solicitations for manuscripts by OA journals.

The Open Access Movement

In contrast to most subscription journals that require a transfer of copyright to the publisher, many OA journals allow authors to retain ownership (copyright) of their intellectual property. Open access, or OA, is the free and immediate availability of research articles coupled with the intellectual property rights to transform and reuse them freely (SPARC, 2013). In contrast to most subscription journals that require a transfer of copyright to the publisher, many OA journals allow authors to retain ownership (copyright) of their intellectual property (Suber, 2012). Under these conditions, the author may distribute the article or reuse it without permission from the publisher.

As a movement, OA was formally recognized at a 2001 gathering of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (Chan et al., 2002); it is recognized today by many funding agencies worldwide, including the United States (U.S.) National Institutes of Health (2015), the Research Councils of the United Kingdom (2012), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (2013). All of these agencies require authors to deposit articles resulting from their funded research into publicly accessible repositories (ROARMAP, 2014), acknowledging that the academic community and the general public alike should have access to research information with few, if any, financial or technical obstacles (Pimm, 2014).

Today, there are two ways to deliver open access research information: via OA journals, known as gold OA, which is the focus of this article, and via open repositories called green OA (Suber, 2012). An important difference between the two is that gold OA journals, much like subscription journals, require peer-review of the articles before publication. Green OA articles do not necessarily undergo peer-review although some repositories such as the high-energy physics repository arXive, may moderate the submissions (arXive, 2015).

Open Access Business Models

In the traditional scholarly publishing model, libraries or individual subscribers pay a fee to publishers to receive access to the printed and/or digital journals; publishers rarely require authors to pay to publish (Suber, 2012). For OA journals on the other hand, there are several financing models (Crow, 2009) including funding through advertising or sponsorship, or support from external agencies and organizations. Examples of journals using external sources include: Nursing and Healthcare, which is financed by the Rural Nurse Organization; the International Journal of Nurse Practitioner Educators, supported by the University of North Carolina Greensboro; Hunter New England (HNE); and Handover: for Nurses and Midwives, funded in part by the Hunter New England Local Health District in Australia (Crow, 2009).

Many have expressed concern with the potential quality of papers in OA nursing journals and even outright deception in the peer-review process. The best known business model, however, and the one that has been susceptible to author misunderstanding, is the author-pays model. Publishers reverse the traditional model by charging authors a fee to publish while making the article freely accessible to the reader (Suber, 2012). The ease with which revenue can be raised through the author-pays system and the availability of user-friendly publishing software has led to a proliferation of new OA publishers and well over 10,000 journals on virtually every specialty (Directory of Open Access Journals, 2015). Many have expressed concern with the potential quality of papers in OA nursing journals and even outright deception in the peer-review process (Crowe & Carlyle, 2014; Dyer, 2015). Predatory publishing practices have been of such concern to nursing journal editors that the International Academy of Nursing Editors and its member editors have felt compelled to publish commentaries on these deceptive practices (Kearney and The INANE Predatory Publishing Practices Collaborative, 2015).

Problems with the current peer-review process are not limited to OA journals (Manchikanti, Kaye, Boswell, & Hirsch, 2015) prompting scholars, editors and publishers to consider alternative methods. Recently, different peer-review models have emerged. These models include post-publication peer review in which articles are critiqued after they are published to inform readers of the quality of the articles (Swartz, 2013; Amsen, 2014); compensation of peer-reviewers (Collabra, n.d.); or open peer review where anyone can see reviewer comments (Biomed Central, 2015b).

Solicitations to Publish

Nursing scholars today may find their email inbox filled with solicitations from unfamiliar publishers asking them to contribute a paper. They may mention almost as an aside that a fee, sometimes called the article processing charge (APC), is required. It can be flattering to be invited to submit a paper. In the academic publish or perish environment in which faculty and other clinical scholars are under intense pressure to publish, the temptation to submit a paper may be irresistible. Table 2 reports the experiences of two of the authors of this article who accepted an invitation to submit an article, but experienced questionable practices. Unfortunately, this report is not unlike other reports in the literature (Predatory publishing companies, 2015).

Table 2. A Cautionary Tale of Publishing Peril

We recount the experience of two of the authors, who submitted a manuscript to an OA journal with unacceptable editorial practices that caught them off-guard.

The two investigators planning a submission had conducted their research on a tight timeline. They needed to publish the findings to support a grant application with an imminent deadline. They decided that it would be advantageous to publish in an online, open access journal that was targeted to a relevant specialty group and that promised rapid review and publication. This had immediate appeal to the investigators, who were hoping to have the manuscript published by the time the grant was submitted for review. However, they had not previously published in an OA journal and relied on their experiences with traditional journal practices during this publication process. Several problems emerged during the review and publishing process:

  1. Submission Process: The journal detailed a page of requirements and obligations related to submitting work during the online submission process. Anxious to move forward, the authors clicked the agreement without carefully reading the entire document. Unfortunately, the agreement stated that once a submitted work was accepted, the journal owned the rights to the work in question. The authors’ failure to thoroughly read the fine lines was a rash and costly mistake.
  2. Publication Fee: The fee for publishing in this online, open access journal was quite expensive. The publisher indicated rates were negotiable for authors from an underdeveloped or developing country, or if the fee was negotiated prior to manuscript submission. The research of these two authors was unfunded and they failed to negotiate the publication fee prior to submission. When the manuscript was accepted, the journal refused to negotiate the cost. The journal provided no phone contact information and several emails to the editorial office went unanswered. However, once monies were sent, the editors replied promptly to queries.
  3. Author Rights: The authors attempted to withdraw the article. However, in the fine print on the requirements and obligations agreement was the statement that authors relinquish all rights to a manuscript upon submission to the journal, not upon the journal’s acceptance for publication. In contrast, the more common publishing practice is for authors to relinquish rights after the manuscript has been accepted for publication, rather than when the manuscript is initially submitted. When the authors submitted their work to this journal, they relinquished all of their rights to the work and could not submit it elsewhere, even if they withdrew it or the publisher declined to publish it. To have the article published, the authors needed to pay the publishing fee.
  4. Peer Review Process: The submitted manuscript was evaluated by two reviewers. However, a reviewer’s name was clearly, but inadvertently, visible to the authors in one of the reviews. Although there are new peer-review models, including open peer-review (see the section on “Open Access Business Models”), in this case, showing a reviewer’s name indicated lack of good editorial control and poor publishing practices. Peer reviews have often been double blinded, so that the author does not know who completed the review, and the reviewers are not privy to the author(s)’ name(s) or other identifying information. This is customary because a review that is unblinded may be subject to bias (e.g., bias related to an author’s reputation) (Voight & Hoogenboom, 2012).
  5. Editing Process: The editorial office provided little or no help. The electronic submission was sloppily reorganized by the journal’s editorial office to meet the layout requirements of the journal. This resulted in the use of different fonts throughout the work, combining parts of the manuscript text in an illogical manner, and introducing incorrect grammar. The authors exchanged numerous emails with the assigned editor in futile attempts to have corrections made. It became clear, however, that support from a journal that printed in English, but was headquartered in a country where English was a second language, presented significant problems.

A common but misleading assumption is that all OA journals by definition have low peer-review standards while all traditional journals adhere to exacting criteria. Solicitations for manuscripts through mass emails, while seemingly suspicious, are not as a rule nefarious. The same easy publication software and journal management systems have also led to many new legitimate publishing start-ups (Laakso et al., 2011). A common but misleading assumption is that all OA journals by definition have low peer-review standards while all traditional journals adhere to exacting criteria.

Key Considerations

How can a scholar distinguish between a fresh, unknown but authentic publication, and one that exposes potential authors to publishing deception? The well-known blog, Scholarly Open Access, is Beall’s (n.d.) watch-list of journals and publishers that he considers suspect or outright fraudulent. While convenient, it should be noted that a single individual compiles the list; its currency and perpetuity rely solely on one person's ability to update it.

Our recommendations include resources for authors themselves to use to assess the legitimacy of a given journal (Table 3). These resources are not new resources, but they may not be widely known among nurse scholars. For the most part, the suggested actions are relatively easy to undertake. Many steps are essentially procedures for evaluating the veracity and transparency of claims displayed on the journal website or communicated by the editors or other representatives. Most of the resources we recommend in Table 3 are freely available, but a few are subscription-based and found primarily through a library.

Table 3. Resources for Judging the Quality of Open Access Journals

Cumulative Index for Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Database Coverage List (EBSCO, 2015b)

CINAHL provides indexing for journals from nursing and allied health. While CINAHL is a subscription database, the associated journal title list is freely available.

Committee on Publication Ethics, COPE (2015)

COPE is a forum for editors and publishers to discuss all aspects of publication ethics. The website includes a list of members.

Open Access Scholarly Publishers  Association,  OASPA (2015)

OASPA sets standards for quality among open access publishers. The website includes a list of members.

PubMed (National Library of Medicine, 2015)

PubMed includes 24 million citations of biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.

Scopus Journal Title List (Elsevier, 2015c)

Scopus provides indexing for journals across broad academic and scientific disciplines. While the database is a subscription resource, its list of indexed journals is freely accessible.

Thomson Reuters Master Journal List (Thomson Reuters, 2015a)

Web of Science provides indexing for journals across broad academic and scientific disciplines. While the database is a subscription resource, its list of indexed journals is freely accessible. Journal Citation Reports provides the Impact Factor metric for Web of Science journals.

Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory (2015)
Note: Ulrichsweb is only available through a subscription

Ulrichsweb is a database of bibliographic information on over 300,000 periodicals including research journals. Use Ulrichsweb to confirm or determine indexing of a journal (e.g. in PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, etc.). Ulrichsweb can be found at academic libraries or by asking a librarian for help.

WorldCat  (OCLC, 2015)

WorldCat searches the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide.

We also describe eight strategies below. These strategies may be complemented by consultation with an academic librarian who can assist with the selection of a high quality, reputable journal. Many academic libraries now administer open access funds, grants used to help authors finance the APC. Librarians commonly check the legitimacy of journals to assist authors in avoiding unprofessional and/or fraudulent publishers. Although academic librarians are particularly knowledgeable about scholarly communication and are likely to be the ones most familiar with the resources noted here, hospital and public librarians may also be of assistance. The following sections describe actions to take and tools for authors to use to help authors identify reputable journals.

Confirm the Journal ISSN

The ISSN or International Standard Serial Number (2013) is an eight-digit identification number assigned to periodicals, such as magazines, newspapers or journals, which helps to distinguish publications with the same title. It is usually reported as two sets of 4 numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g., 1234-5678). Lack of a displayed ISSN is not necessarily an indication of fraud but displaying a number that cannot be verified or a number assigned to another journal is clearly a deceptive practice. WorldCat (OCLC, 2015), an open global library catalogue, is a quick and easy way to check the ISSN.

Confirm the Indexing of the Journal

...if the journal claims it is indexed in a database, but you cannot find evidence of it, then it is best to avoid the journal. Many journals indicate on their websites that they are indexed in one or more major databases, such as the U.S. National Library of Medicine PubMed database (National Library of Medicine, 2015), the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) database (EBSCO, 2015a) , or the Elsevier Scopus database (Elsevier, 2015a). These and other comparable databases are very selective in their decision to index a journal. The National Library of Medicine for example, selects only 20-25% of titles its committee reviews for indexing in PubMed (National Library of Medicine, 2014). Indexing in PubMed or other major databases indicates that the publication has been reviewed and has passed a stringent level of scrutiny. On the other hand, if the journal claims it is indexed in a database, but you cannot find evidence of it, then it is best to avoid the journal. An author can check each database individually, or examine the Ulrichsweb Directory (Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory, 2015) to verify indexing in multiple databases at once. Ulrichsweb is a fee-based resource to which many libraries subscribe.

Confirm Membership in the OASPA or COPE

The OASPA, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (2015), is a publishing industry organization focused specifically on OA publishers, the membership of which is based on a review of the publisher's editorial policies and actions. Even after admission for membership, publishers are subject to suspension or expulsion if the board finds the publishing company did not appropriately comply with the OASPA Code of Conduct (Redhead, 2013). Because of high standards, membership in the OASPA is an indication of the integrity of the publisher's editorial conduct policy. COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics (2015), admits editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals as members and has similar ethical standards as the OASPA, but it is not restricted to OA journals.

Verify the Displayed Impact Factor

If the journal reports an impact factor, confirm that it is the metric computed by Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports or JCR. If the journal reports an impact factor, confirm that it is the metric computed by Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Reports or JCR (Thomson Reuters, 2015b). There are other measures with almost the same name, but only the JCR Impact Factor is based on Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science, an academic database with selective indexing policies.

Verify the Editors and Select Authors

Before submitting a manuscript to an OA journal, the author should determine the standing of the editor. Authors should check other journals of the publisher to determine if the same editors appear on multiple journals. When the name of an editor is found on multiple journals addressing different subject areas, an author should investigate the journal more thoroughly (Kearney and The INANE Predatory Publishing Practices Collaborative, 2015). Likewise, the journal should be perused to ascertain who is publishing in the journal and the status of those authors within the discipline. There should be evidence that authors are recognized specialists in the field.

Review the Journal's Website

Authors should examine the journal’s website and note if there is use of verbatim language found on another publisher’s website. Authors should examine the journal’s website and note if there is use of verbatim language found on another publisher’s website. A search in an Internet search engine of a paragraph from the author guidelines or information about peer-review can be performed. Although publishers may reuse the same wording for their own journals, direct quotation of long passages by a different publisher without attribution to an original source could indicate plagiarism.

Ascertain the Timeline for the Review

Scholarly journals generally do not promise that the peer review process will be completed in only a few days. The publishing process can be lengthy, and peer-review, which all scholarly articles must undergo, can take weeks if not months. Elsevier, a major commercial publisher states the peer review process is usually completed within 80 days (Elsevier, 2015b), while Biomed Central, a prominent OA publisher, reports a timeline of up to two months (Biomed Central, 2015a). Scholarly journals generally do not promise that the peer review process will be completed in only a few days. A few days is unrealistic and an indication that the paper will not receive robust review.

Review the Publishing Agreement

Publishing an article in a journal involves a legal contract having specific requirements (see A Cautionary Tale in Table 2). Read carefully the conditions for copyright compliance, checking authorization both for distributing an article to researchers, students, or the public, and also for the reuse of the article or portions of it (e.g., tables and figures) for coursework or a presentation. Finally, look carefully at policies for the APC and make sure the author is expected to pay only after the paper is accepted.


Today, it is easier than ever to share scholarly findings, but authors need to be vigilant when selecting a journal in which to publish. Today, it is easier than ever to share scholarly findings, but authors need to be vigilant when selecting a journal in which to publish. Despite the controversy and concern over OA, there is substantial pressure from multiple stakeholders, including scholars, funding agencies, governments, and the public, to transform how the information access occurs (Albert, 2006 ; Schloman, 2006). Such demand will no doubt influence continued growth of OA journals, but with improved requirements to meet clearly defined standards. Funding strategies for sustaining the OA publishing concept are also likely to evolve further with the imperative for the content to be freely accessible to a wide audience without barriers; to be able to adapt and re-analyze works; and to prioritize papers demonstrating cost-effective, widely accessible approaches to health care (PLOS Medicine Editors, 2013).

Internet availability and the OA system have created untold opportunities for scholars across the globe (Nick, 2012b). Nowhere has the growth been as rapid as in the biomedical and health fields (Laakso & Bjork, 2012), offering valuable learning and publishing opportunities for nurse researchers and clinicians. This is especially so in low and middle income countries where the need for evidence-based information is great (Matheka et al., 2014). With careful choices and due diligence, the OA movement affords nurses the ability to raise the profile of their work, and ensure a robust scholarly communication system.


Lilian Hoffecker, PhD, MLS

Dr. Hoffecker has worked at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus as a research librarian for twelve years. Prior to librarianship, she worked as researcher and educator in physical anthropology and taught anatomy at the University of Chicago. She currently specializes in searching the health care literature in support of systematic reviews and meta-analyses on many topics including those in the nursing sciences. Dr. Hoffecker also focuses on scholarly communication and the coordination of an open access fund. In this role, she has become familiar with both the benefits and the problems associated with open sharing of research results in today's digital environment.

Marie Hastings-Tolsma, PhD, CNM, FACNM

Dr. Hasting-Tolsma is Professor and Midwifery Researcher at the Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas, Texas and a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. She conducts outcomes and translational research related to nurse-midwifery practice. She became interested in issues related to open access publishing while serving as a United States Fulbright Scholar to South Africa (2012-13) where access to scholarly materials was notably more difficult. Dr. Hastings-Tolsma served as Co-Editor for a specialty issue in an open access journal highlighting many of the issues described in this manuscript. Despite numerous publications, Dr. Hastings-Tolsma has personally experienced several of the pitfalls described in this manuscript and has worked with accomplished colleagues who have been unaware of concerns that can arise when publishing in open access journals.

Deborah Vincent, PhD, RN, FAANP

Dr. Vincent has recently retired as an Associate Professor and Nursing Curriculum Consultant from the University of Arizona College of Nursing. Her research focus is on using innovative nursing practice models, such as culturally-tailored diabetes prevention programs, as a means of decreasing costs and improving health outcomes. She became interested in open access publishing after serving as a guest editor for a special edition of an open access journal.

Heidi Zuniga, MA, MSLS

Ms. Zuniga is the digital resources librarian and senior instructor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She directs the Health Science Library’s digital repository, manages access for electronic resources, and serves on the editorial board for a library journal. Ms. Zuniga assists with the coordination of an author fund for open access journals and is currently working on strategies for responding to data-sharing mandates. As a result of this work, Ms. Zuniga became interested in the mechanisms that enable open access and in the positive and negative impacts of open access on scholarly communication. She was previously the Electronic Resources Librarian at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY.


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© 2015 OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published December 4, 2015

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