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.

Annotation 2019-09-17 070103

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: DOAJ is not inclusive

This is a myth.

One of the most common criticisms levelled at DOAJ, particularly over the last 5 years, is that the index is not inclusive enough; that its coverage is poor; and that it lists only a fraction of the open access journals that exist. Our research shows that many journals reported as “missing” from DOAJ have a failed application or have been removed for not meeting DOAJ standards.

It is true that DOAJ’s coverage is not complete but it does hold a very diverse set of journals from 130 countries. The top 10 countries with the most journals in DOAJ are a mixture from the global north and the global south.

Journals must apply to be indexed in DOAJ. They can be from any country, in any subject and in any language. We welcome enquiries from editors of journals who may not be sure whether or not they should apply to be indexed.

Thus far, we have rarely had to solicit applications, although that is what we will start doing in 2019. We will do this to: increase our coverage of non-English language journals, social science, humanities and arts journals, journals from the global south; and to increase coverage in key disciplines.


Where are all the open access journals?
We are often labelled as unreliable because we don’t index all open access journals. We would remind the community that we are not an index of open access journals but an index of quality, peer-reviewed open access journals – journals which meet our basic criteria, and sometimes more.

The question of inclusiveness has to be seen in relation to other indexing services. DOAJ lists 7798 quality open access journals that are not listed in either WoS or SCOPUS. Full results of our research, comparing DOAJ against 3 indexes will be published here soon.

Some other databases seem to trawl the internet for any evidence of a “journal” without really doing any filtering or quality assessment.

Here is just a selection of the many reasons why DOAJ does not index the sometimes thousands of open access journals that can be found in other databases. DOAJ does not index journals that:

  • have ceased publication
  • haven’t published anything for up to two years
  • are hybrid
  • use a definition of open access that is not the BOAI definition
  • require people to register to access content
  • apply embargoes on full-text content
  • do not perform effective peer review (we allow editorial review only for some arts and humanities journals)
  • do not have a confirmed ISSN
  • do not have an up-to-date, transparent editorial board

Other journals may have once been in DOAJ but have been removed for various reasons, particularly because they did not reapply when DOAJ enforced stricter entry criteria, or because their website no longer functions.

We will always work with publishers to help them get their journals into DOAJ and we welcome new applications at any time!

Picture credit: By Michael Johnson – originally posted to Flickr as ‘Apples & Oranges – They Don’t Compare’ CCBY 2.0