Myth-busting: all open access journals can be listed in DOAJ

This is a myth.

People think that DOAJ exists to index all open access journals. A journal can only be indexed if it passes all of our criteria.

The Directory of Everything Open Access

The Directory of Everything open access would be a wonderful thing but of how much use would it be? DOAJ understands that users want: advice on where to publish; guidance on the reputation and credibility of a journal; peer-reviewed open access content published by quality journals. We serve a community who are interested in finding places to publish or read research for DOAJ-approved journals.

Of course, there are arguments that seeing all the open access research is better than only seeing a selection of it, but for sites which do this, where are the quality filters? In fact Unpaywall, which does aim to show as much open access content as it can, suggests to keep using DOAJ as the quality filter.

What defines an open access journal anyway?

And herein lies the problem. There are many grades, shades and colours of open access but only some of those are recognised by DOAJ. DOAJ takes its lead from the definition of openness and open access as described by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI):

By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

 There are many journals which have open access content in them but not all journals, or the articles in them, adhere to this founding definition of open access. Therefore a user will not find these journals or articles in DOAJ. Equally, open access articles from ceased journals are not included. Hybrid publishing is another example. Hybrid publishing is full of problems and there are concerns of double dipping. Essentially, hybrid publishing goes against every statement from the BOAI definition above so, from the beginning, DOAJ decided not to include hybrid journals.

DOAJ compared to SCOPUS and Web of Science

In an attempt to understand the number of OA journals which are not in DOAJ, we have recently started a detailed analysis of the journal lists of the 3 most used indexing services: SCOPUS, Web of Science (WoS) and DOAJ. As all 3 services serve to list quality journals according to a set of similar criteria, we would have expected these lists to overlap to a large extent.

However, when looking at the list of OA journals listed in DOAJ, SCOPUS and WoS[1], we found huge differences. Where DOAJ listed 12,582 journals (as of January 2019), SCOPUS listed 5920 journals and WoS only listed 4485 journals.

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Image by Tom Ojihoek

The reason for these discrepancies lies in the differences between the criteria for acceptance into each index; the differences in inclusion processes–DOAJ relies very much on action by the publisher to provide data–and the differences in update frequencies of each index. For instance, we found that many of the journals listed in SCOPUS but not in DOAJ had either not submitted applications to DOAJ or had submitted applications that were rejected. In other words, many of the journals that DOAJ is apparently lacking (but which are listed in SCOPUS or WoS) do not fulfill the DOAJ criteria while others are not listed in DOAJ because they simply did not apply.

Of the massive number of journals in DOAJ but which are not in SCOPUS or WoS, many are non-English journals from the Global South meaning that DOAJ’s coverage is greater, more diverse and more truly represents the global nature of open access.

It is clear from these data that not all open access journals can or should be in DOAJ.

Bruns, A., et al., 2019. ISSN-Matching of Gold OA Journals (ISSN-GOLD-OA) 3.0, Bielefeld University. DOI: 10.4119/unibi/2934907 We are very grateful for the work done by Bruns et al and that their raw data was available for us to analyze.

Myth-busting: Journals must meet the DOAJ Seal criteria to be indexed in DOAJ

This is a myth.

There is a common misunderstanding that for a journal to have its application accepted and be indexed in DOAJ it must meet all the criteria for the DOAJ Seal. There is an assumption, born out of that misunderstanding, that journals in DOAJ without the Seal are of inferior quality. This is also a myth.

What ‘Indexed in DOAJ’ means
Being indexed in DOAJ means that a journal application has passed our editorial review. Editorial review consists of an investigation by the DOAJ Editorial team and our volunteers who have researched whether or not the journal and its publisher do what they claim to do on the journal site and in their application to us. The investigation consists of checking all of the 50+ answers in an application to make sure that the information on the website is easy to find, clearly and accurately presented and matches the application. The editorial board is scrutinised and sometimes members of the board are contacted and their institutional connections verified, their work on the board is confirmed and which other boards that member sits on.

Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal adheres to high levels of quality in its publishing services and services to authors and users, including: peer review, licensing terms, a strong open access statement, a fully functional editorial board and more. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal is a trusted open access journal and, in fact, many do meet one or more of the Seal criteria.


What the DOAJ Seal means
The DOAJ Seal is a stamp of quality. Journals that are awarded the Seal have verified that they correctly fulfil all seven criteria that DOAJ has chosen specifically as indicators of a Logo for the DOAJ Seal.clear commitment to open access best practices, of high levels of commitment to publishing standards and best practices, and that the open access model they adhere to is the most open.


The Seal has been allocated to just over 10% of the journals accepted into DOAJ since 2014. In some cases, the Seal has been withdrawn because the journal can no longer fulfil all seven criteria.

Journals cannot apply for the DOAJ Seal. The Seal is awarded after careful assessment of the journal website. If you think that your journal qualifies for the Seal, you should contact us to have it assessed.

It is important to remember that, whether they have the Seal or not, all journals in the DOAJ have met our criteria for inclusion as trusted, quality, open access journals.

Myth-busting: DOAJ indexes “predatory” journals

This is, of course, a myth.

Some people are afraid to use DOAJ because they believe that it lists questionable (“predatory”) journals. DOAJ started to clean up its index in 2014. DOAJ was the first service to define the standards aimed at preserving the quality and trustworthiness of a database of open access journals. Today, DOAJ’s standards are the unofficial gold standard for open access journals.

Raising the bar
Early in 2013, DOAJ’s team decided that the problem of questionable journals—at that time proliferating from India in particular—needed to be tackled.  DOAJ’s inclusion criteria were not adequate enough to filter out journals of dubious character. By October 2013, the three countries with the most journals in DOAJ were the USA, Brazil and India. In December 2013, the number of journals in DOAJ passed the 10 000 mark for the first time: the number of journals from the “USA”* (1247) and India (652) had risen sharply and faster than any other country.

Work on a new set of criteria for inclusion in DOAJ started in early 2013; this was developed, reviewed by the Advisory Board and eventually sent out for public consultation in June 2013. After extensive development work, the new application form built around the criteria was made live in March 2014. The new criteria, a work that had involved the whole open access community, increased the DOAJ application form from just 17 questions to today’s 58.

At that point, every single journal in DOAJ was made to reapply under the new criteria, to be re-indexed. This was more effective at improving the level of quality in DOAJ than we could ever anticipate.

*A typical questionable publishing trait is to pretend that a journal is registered in Global North countries, particularly the USA.

Effective criteria
DOAJ has developed rigorous checks to ensure a very high level of quality of every journal in its index.

One of the most effective checks, which delivered considerable changes in the geographic distribution of journals in the database, is insisting that a journal is listed in the country that its business activities are carried out.

Compared to other indexes that are often cited in research on scholarly publishing and open access, it is safe to say that DOAJ is probably the cleanest and most reliable, especially in the context of questionable publishing. To back up that statement, DOAJ is carrying out its research, comparing some well-known indexes. More details on that will be published here very soon.

Joint initiatives
To highlight its approach to creating a list of quality journals, to reinforce its position on questionable publishing and to emphasise the importance of standards as an effective tool to helping to identify good journals, DOAJ co-authored the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice, first released in December 2013.

DOAJ is also a founding organisation of the innovative campaign, Think. Check. Submit.

Old stains are hard to wash away
The problem of questionable publishing is vastly exaggerated. For those who still insist that DOAJ is filled with questionable journals, we would ask you to take a closer look at the database today, review our criteria and read the research on both the problem of questionable publishing and how prolific it isn’t.

If you do think that a journal in DOAJ is questionable, however, please report that journal to us so that our Questionable Publishing team can review it.

Why do we ask applicants to wait 6 months before they apply again?

When we reject an application, the rejection email contains details about why the application was not successful and usually tells applicants that they must wait 6 months before submitting another application for the same journal to us. Why do we do this?

One reason is that it is an attempt to discourage repeat applications, made in haste, and we get many, many of those. Repeat and duplicate applications clog up the system and take our dedicated volunteers and team away from those applications which need some time spent on them. (In 10 months alone, DOAJ received 221 duplicate applications!)

The other reason is that many of the recommendations that we make in our rejection emails, recommendations made to help journals meet our criteria, take time to implement. Adding words to a website isn’t enough. Changes need to be implemented properly, communicated to stakeholders, tested, and managed. Some changes will require other parties to implement changes too. This all takes time. After the 6 months has passed, we welcome a new application but we ask that the journal website demonstrates very clearly that our recommendations have been put into practice and our editorial team will be very careful to check that all our recommendations have been implemented.

How to submit a complete and quality application. A Webinar on the DOAJ.

This invitation is for Scholarly Journal Editors/Publishers/Librarians/Other, in the southern and eastern African regions, to attend a webinar on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
About DOAJ
The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) – launched in 2003 at Lund University, Sweden – is a centrally, publicly and internationally available community-curated list of high quality open access journal titles across all disciplines. It aims to be the starting point for all information searches for quality, peer-reviewed open access material.
About the webinar
The webinar will try to address the requirements a high quality, scholarly journal should adhere to, as well as the process involved to be acknowledged through being recorded in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).
Date: Friday, 12 August 2016
Time: 09:00-10:00 SA Time (UCT + 02:00) (Time Zone Converter)
Venue: Virtual via your Chrome/Firefox Internet Browser. More details to follow once you have registered for the webinar.
Requirements: Stable Internet, most recent version of Chrome/Firefox Internet Browser, Sound
Costs: None
Please register by 10 August 2016, by completing the following online form:
We are looking very much forward to you joining us for this webinar, in trying to address quality in scholarly journal publishing in the southern African region.

DOAJ to assist Research4Life with ensuring the inclusion of quality open access publishers

Research4Life and DOAJ  announce a working partnership that will help to ensure that the users of Research4Life will have access to the largest possible array of open access journals from publishers following a quality standard. The partnership will also help reinforce the importance of peer reviewed open access material. The partnership reinforces the work that both organisations are already doing, and creates useful new synergies.

Research4Life is the collective name for the four programmes – HINARI, AGORA, OARE and ARDI – that provides low- and middle-income countries with free or low cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online. For some time now the content team at Reasearch4Life, coordinated by Kimberly Parker of the World Health Organization, has seen an increasing amount of requests from open access publishers, particularly in the developing world, wanting to have their content included in the Research4Life programme portals which reach 8000 institutions spread over 100 low- and middle-income countries. The Research4Life team performs some basic checks on what content is included into its database and they are already sifting these applications to establish legitimate journals –  work which has synergy with what DOAJ is doing in this area. Kimberly said: “We were already using DOAJ listings as a touchstone in assessing conformance with publishing standards; however, we hadn’t formalized the approach nor included in our replies to any publishers we turned away that they should review the DOAJ application requirements and work to fulfil them.”

The DOAJ Team is expert in assessing and identifying quality, genuine open access journals and has been reviewing applications from publishers for over 11 years, developing extensive criteria aimed at promoting best practice and transparency in academic publishing. Those criteria form the basis of the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, a joint statement first published in 2013 and now widely used as a benchmark for quality, peer reviewed publishing.

The partnership between Research4Life and DOAJ will be an exchange of information and services.

  • From 1st December 2015, Research4Life will only include open access journals that are indexed in DOAJ. Journals requesting to be included in the Research4Life programmes must be indexed in DOAJ first.  Over the coming year, the legacy open access journals in the Research4Life database will also be reviewed to confirm they are indexed by DOAJ.
  • Research4Life and DOAJ will collaborate on communicating with publishers not indexed in DOAJ referring them to the DOAJ application form.
  • Research4Life will include the DOAJ Best Practice statement in its Authorship Skills training module aimed at authors from the developing world.

Lars Bjørnshauge, Managing Director of DOAJ, said: “I am happy that DOAJ can partner with Research4Life in dealing with the problem of questionable publishers. We know that researchers from developing countries, under the pressure of the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome, are strongly encouraged to publish in “international journals” but this tradition, along with the selection bias of publishers based in Western Europe and North America, make it difficult for researchers from the developing world to be published in journals published in/out of Western Europe and North America. This has opened up a market for questionable and unethical publishers. Despite that the content provided by our two organizations is, to a large extent, based on different access and business models, I find it of utmost importance that all involved do everything possible to prevent researchers being caught and exploited by publishers, who are basically only providing invoices to the author, but no quality control and dissemination services”.

‘Indexed in DOAJ’ versus ‘the DOAJ Seal’

I need to clarify what being indexed in DOAJ means and how the Seal is related to that, and how the reapplication process works.

There is a common misunderstanding that only journals that get the Seal are “indexed in DOAJ”, that only Seal journals are quality, peer reviewed open access journals. This is incorrect. ALL journals in DOAJ have been approved as quality, peer reviewed open access journals. The whole DOAJ list is the approved, community-curated list of reputable journals!

  1. What ‘Indexed in DOAJ’ means
    Being indexed in DOAJ means that a journal has passed up to 4 stages of independent and objective, manual review. It means that the journal has been investigated by our Editorial team who have researched whether or not the journal/publisher does what they claim to do on the journal site and in their (re)application to us. During the investigation, the DOAJ editors go through the pages on a journal’s site to make sure that all the information presented to a user is easy to find, clearly and accurately presented and easy to understand. The editorial board is investigated, and sometimes members of the board are contacted and their institutional connections verified, their work on the board is confirmed and which other boards that member sits on. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal adheres to high levels of quality of its publishing services and services to authors and users, including: peer review, licensing terms, a strong open access statement, a fully functional editorial board and more. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal is a good open access journal, a trusted open access journal.
  2. The reapplication process
    DOAJ upgraded its requirements for journals to get into DOAJ. The upgrade, which covered all new applications, was made live in March 2014. This meant that there were about 9000 journals already in DOAJ—accepted into DOAJ between 2003 and 2013—that had been accepted under less stringent requirements. We require that every one of them upgrades their information with us. To make it easier for users to see which journals have been accepted under the new criteria we added a green tick next to them. Journals without a tick next to them still have to be reviewed against the new criteria. Note however that even journals that have no tick against them have been manually reviewed and accepted into DOAJ as being reputable.If a journal is in DOAJ, it is on the list of approved and reputable journals.
  3. The DOAJ Seal
    The DOAJ Seal, think of it like this: journals that have the Seal are journals that adhere to outstanding best practice; journals that don’t have the Seal are good, trusted journals adhering to best practice. The Seal has been allocated to a handful of journals accepted into DOAJ since 2014. Journals that are awarded the Seal have answered ‘Yes’ to 7 questions that DOAJ has chosen specifically as indicators of an extra high and clear commitment to open access best practices, of extra high levels of commitment to publishing technologies, and the most ‘open’ form of open access. Importantly, the journals that DO NOT have the Seal still adhere to high levels of quality required for indexing in the DOAJ, especially those journals that have a green tick. No Seal DOES NOT mean low quality, non peer reviewed, questionable, ‘dodgy’, ‘scammy’.

I hope that this helps. DOAJ spends all of its time improving information on reliability, trustworthiness and accuracy. DOAJ also spends a lot of time ensuring that questionable journals do NOT get into the directory. DOAJ is already doing that work for you so that you can be exactly sure what levels of service you can expect when you choose a journal to submit to, to recommend to faculty, to read research in.

As ever, if you have any questions, leave a comment or get in touch!

DOAJ Seal is now live on the site

The DOAJ Seal is now live. Although DOAJ has been indicating which journals get the Seal since March 2014, the Seal is now displayed alongside those journals that qualify. Look for this symbol:

DOAJ_Seal_logo_mediumWe’ve also added a DOAJ Seal facet to the search so you can see all the Seal journals together.

Journals that adhere to an exceptionally high level of publishing standards and best practice are awarded the Seal as recognition of those efforts. The Seal is awarded to a journal that fulfills a set of criteria related to accessibility, openness, discoverability, reuse and author rights. It acts as a signal to readers and authors that the journal has generous use and reuse terms, author rights and adheres to the highest level of ‘openness’. The Seal has nothing to do with the scholarly quality of the material published in the journal.

To qualify for the Seal the journal must:

  • have an archival and preservation arrangement in place with an external party such as CLOCKSS, LOCKSS, Portico;
  • provide permanent identifiers in the published content such as DOIs;
  • provide article level metadata to DOAJ;
  • embed machine-readable CC licensing information in article level metadata;
  • allow reuse and remixing of content in accordance with a CC BY, CC BY-SA or CC BY-NC license;
  • have a deposit policy registered in a deposit policy directory such as SHERPA/RoMEO;
  • allow the author to hold the copyright without restriction.

To date, 88 journals have qualified for the Seal and we hope to see that number increase steadily.