Open Access Guide

Open Access, Defined

Open access is access to knowledge that is "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions." ("Open Access Overview," Peter Suber)

“Open access” is often used to refer to scholarly literature, such as journal articles, but the open access movement is committed to the global spread of open knowledge and encompasses open educational resources, open data, and open source software, among others.

Benefits to Open Access

  • Increases visibility and citation rates for research and scholarship. There is a demonstrated citation advantage for open access works.
  • Reaches more readers, including the public, practitioners, and all those who are not affiliated with institutions that can afford high subscription costs to databases and publications.
  • Protects author rights. Most open access publications allow authors to retain copyright or other rights to their work.
  • Supports compliance with grant funder rules, which require that articles, and sometimes data, produced from research funded through a grant, be shared openly.
  • Fosters global collaborations and discovery of intersections with others' research.

Open Access FAQs

Doesn’t open access infringe on copyright?

No, open access works within copyright law and actually encourages authors to retain and use their rights to their full extent.

Will I have to pay a fee for publishing in an open access journal?

It depends on the journal. Some open access journals are funded through article processing charges (APCs), or fees charged for publishing articles. In some cases, APCs can be paid by a funder or institution. Many other open access journals have alternate sources of funding, such as through institutional or society support, and do not charge APCs.

I had an article accepted in a journal, and my publisher has offered to make my article available open access for a fee. What should I do?

Some subscription journals also offer an open access option, making your article immediately openly available for a fee, known as an article processing charge (APC). These journals are known as hybrid journals because they contain both closed and open access articles. Making your article immediately open access allows you to benefit from the advantages of open access, including increased visibility and higher citation rates. However, you may want to weigh other factors, such as:

  • Do you have the funds to pay the APC readily available?
  • Does the journal allow you to share a version of your work openly, even if it does not allow immediate open access to the published version?
  • Does the journal make all articles open access after a certain period of time?

If, for example, you can immediately share a copy of your work in an open access repository like PubMed Central, then you may wish to opt out of paying for gold open access for this article and plan to use those funds to pay an APC to publish a future article in an open access journal.

I've heard that OA materials lack quality. Is this true?

There's nothing inherent in open access that connects to quality one way or the other. Some OA materials do lack quality, just as do some subscription-based materials. It is up to you to discern the quality of any material you use, regardless of whether it is open or closed access.

What are predatory OA journals?

Predatory OA journals charge authors publication fees without providing such services as peer review, editing, or production support. To avoid predatory journals, consult Think Check Submit for criteria to use to evaluate a journal before you submit. Think about:

  • Is this journal known in your field?
  • What other articles has this journal published? How is the quality?
  • Do you know anyone associated with the editorial board?
  • Does a web search for the journal name and the word "predatory" bring up anything relevant from credible sources?

If you have questions or concerns about a particular journal, you are welcome to contact the Gordon Library for assistance.

How can I make my work open access?

There are two main ways you can make your work openly available: publish in an open access journal, or share your work in an open access repository. See "How to Make Your Work OA" for more information.

I’ve already published articles in non-OA journals. Can I still make them openly available?

Yes, many journals and publishers will allow you to make your articles openly available, under some conditions, such as a specific version of your article (i.e., accepted manuscript) or after a certain period of time. See "How to Make Your Work OA" for more information.

Can’t I just upload my article to my ResearchGate profile or personal website?

Uploading your published article to a scholarly profile site or personal website may violate copyright. In most cases, when you sign a publishing agreement, you transfer the copyright in your article to the publisher and give up all your rights to share copies of your article publicly. Unless the publisher grants you specific permissions to share your article, you run the risk of receiving a takedown notice or even being faced with a lawsuit. 

Even if your publisher allows you to upload a copy of your article to your scholarly profile or personal website, it is better to upload a copy of your article to an open access repository instead. You can still link to the article in the repository from your scholarly profile or personal website, and you will benefit from all the advantages of an open access repository, including indexing by Google Scholar, long-term access, and the ability to export your data. Find out more by reading "A social networking site is not an open access repository."