Getting Started with Open Access


Open Access (OA) is a movement within the scholarly community to provide unrestricted access to scholarly research publications. This guide is designed to serve as an introduction to OA publishing for researchers interested in making their work more accessible.

Looking for more information beyond the basics? Check out our guides about Open Education Resources (OER), copyright, author's rights, and finding data and statistics. 


Portions of this guide were adapted from The University of Western Australia Information Services’ Open Access Toolkit, Boston College Libraries’ Open Access and Scholarly Publishing Guide, and Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

What Does Open Access Mean?

Open Access (OA) materials are freely and legally available online to access, download, copy, distribute, and print. OA materials include scholarly articles and books, book chapters, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations, and datasets.

While OA materials are meant to be open for others' use, some OA materials can be re-used, altered, and modified, while others cannot depending on the wishes of the author/creator.

Learn more: For an overview of OA access, see PLOS's How Open Is It?

For an in-depth understanding of the origins of the OA movement, read Peter Suber's Open Access in online. Dr. Suber is Director of the Harvard Open Access Project.

Who Does OA Benefit?

OA materials benefit everyone by removing barriers to access:

Authors: Publishing their work in an OA format provides the opportunity to cultivate a worldwide audience and increases the visibility of their work.
Instructors and students: OA allows teachers to bring current research into the classroom and saves students money.
Libraries: OA addresses the problem of the steeply rising cost of journal subscriptions.
Universities: OA increases the visibility of their researchers and their research, reduces their expenditure on journals, and advances their mission to share knowledge.
Public: OA provides taxpayers with free access to the results of research they helped fund, and helps to address inequities in access to research due to financial constraints or institutional affiliation.

OA Myths and Facts

Myth: Open Access (OA) journals are not peer-reviewed and are of low quality. Paying to publish in an OA journal is equivalent to vanity publishing.

Fact: OA journals, just like any other journal, may be peer-reviewed or not, depending on the journal policy. The fact that the journal is Open Access says nothing about whether it is peer-reviewed and just as with print journals, author's wanting to publish in them need to do their due diligence: Is it peer-reviewed? How influential or significant is the journal in my field? Is the journal a good match for what I want to publish?

Learn more: Peter Suber on Open Access and quality

Myth: If I want to publish OA I have to submit my article to an OA journal.

Fact: Most publishers now permit authors to deposit a version of their article in an OA repository such as an institutional repository or disciplinary repository regardless of whether the journal is OA or not.

Learn more: Guide to OA publishing types by Bill Hubbard of SHERPA/RoMEO

Myth: OA is a subversive movement that will ultimately undermine our copyright system.

Fact: OA uses copyright-holder consent to make works available freely and does not require the abolition or infringement of copyright law. One common way for copyright holders to permit open access use of their work is to use a Creative Commons copyright license.

Learn more: Creative Commons Licenses

Myth: All OA journals have large publishing fees.

Fact: Author-side fees are one business model for OA journals, but it is not the most common business model. Many journals are subsidized by universities or professional societies and do not charge author-side fees. Additionally, in some cases, OA fees may be waived or covered by funding agencies.

Learn more: OA Journal Business Models

Types of OA Publishing

OA publishing is not, unfortunately, straight-forward. Publishers tend to have different guide-lines about what an author can deposit in an OA archive. Below is a color-based system of categorization which has developed around the most common OA models. When authors archive their work, the most common places are in an institutional repository or a disciplinary repository like PubMed Central or arXiv.

Gold: Article is free for readers, but publication was financed by the author, a grant, or an institution.

Green: When author publishes, they can archive a pre-print (before article was refereed) or post-print (after the article was refereed).

Learn more: The NDSU Institutional Repository is an Open Access repository for work by NDSU faculty, staff, and students.

The Open Access Directory's list of discipline-specific repositories.

The SHERPA/RoMEO database provides publishers’ copyright policies regarding Open Access repositories.

For more information on author's rights and evaluating journals for publishing, please contact your subject librarian.