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The Writing Style of Predatory Publishers

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Measuring Impact: Libraries, Librarians, Instruction, and Institutions

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1259.1 - 24.1259.23



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Paper Authors


David Matthew Markowitz Cornell University

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David M. Markowitz graduated with a B.S. from Cornell University and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication. His research interests are deception, psycholinguistics, computer-mediated communication, and interpersonal communication.

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Jill H. Powell Cornell University Orcid 16x16

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Jill Powell is Engineering Librarian at the Engineering Library, Cornell University. She has a B.A. from Cornell and an MLS from Syracuse University. Active in the Engineering Libraries Division of the American Society for Engineering Education, she has served as Program and Division Chair. She is the library liaison to these departments: biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical and aerospace engineering.

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Jeffrey T. Hancock Cornell University

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Jeff Hancock is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Communication and Information Science at Cornell University, where he is also co-Chair of Information Science and co-Director of Cognitive Science. He is associate editor for the journal Discourse Processes. His work is concerned with how social and connective media affect psychological and linguistic dynamics, with a particular emphasis on deception and trust, interpersonal communication, and the psychological effects of online interaction. His research has been published in over 70 journal articles and conference proceedings and has been supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. His work on lying online and on social media has been frequently featured in the popular media, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, CBS and the BBC. Dr. Hancock earned his PhD in Psychology at Dalhousie University, Canada, and joined Cornell in 2002.

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The Impact of Writing Style on Predatory Journal WebsitesIn 2010, librarian Jeffrey Beall started a list of academic journals that allegedly use predatorypractices. Coined “Beall’s List,” (Beall, 2013) this working catalogue highlights over twohundred open-access journals that may feign editorial processes, peer-review, or otherprocedures of a reputable publisher. Given the recent attention to scientific misconduct (Fang,Steen, & Casadevall, 2012; Yong, 2012), an important question is whether there are methods todetect predatory publishers from authentic ones?In this study, we apply an automated language analysis technique from the social sciences toexamine how predatory and authentic journals differ in writing style from the About Us andAim/Scope sections of their websites. Compared to authentic journals, predatory journals usemore discrepancies, certainty terms, and positive emotions but fewer function words, articles,prepositions, quantifiers, and terms related to causality. These results follow recent patterns inthe deception literature (Pennebaker, 2011; Toma & Hancock, 2012), suggesting that languagefeatures may be useful when evaluating predatory versus authentic publishers.In addition to analyzing writing style, we analyzed meta-linguistic properties of predatorypublishers from the same database of journals. Compared to authentic publishers, predatorypublishers use more third-party email addresses, claim false impact factors, fake rapid peerreview, and simulate academic expertise. This is the first study to examine predatory publishingthrough an empirical lens and our results suggest that there are quantifiable linguistic and meta-linguistic differences between predatory publishers and those journals that seek to publishhonestly. REFERENCESBeall, J. (2013). Scholarly open access list of standalone journals. Retrieved September 30, 2013,from, F. C., Steen, R. G., & Casadevall, A. (2012). Misconduct accounts for the majority ofretracted scientific publications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the UnitedStates of America, 109, 17028-17033.Pennebaker, J. W. (2011). The secret life of pronouns: What our words say about us. London:Bloomsbury Press.Toma, C. & Hancock, J.T. (2012). What lies beneath: The linguistic traces of deception in onlinedating profiles. Journal of Communication, 62, 78-97.Yong, E. (2012). Nobel laureate challenges psychologists to clean up their act. Retrieved July20, 2013, from

Markowitz, D. M., & Powell, J. H., & Hancock, J. T. (2014, June), The Writing Style of Predatory Publishers Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23192

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