Getting Started with Open Access

Introduction

Open Access (OA) refers to academic literature that is available free of access barriers, and often free of copyright and licensing restrictions. 

This guide is designed to serve as an introduction to OA publishing for researchers interested in making their work more accessible.

What Does Open Access Mean?

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

Depending on the wishes of the author/creator, and the license applied, OA materials often provide various levels of permission for re-use, alteration, and/or modification.

Learn more: 

  • For an overview of open 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. Dr. Suber is Director of the Harvard Open Access Project.
Why Publish Open Access?

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, increasing the visibility of their work, and often their citation count.
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.

How to Make Your Publications Open Access

There are two main paths to making your work open access: publishing an article in an open access journal, or depositing a version of your traditionally-published article in an online repository.

Publishing Open Access

  • Publishing in an open access journal is also known as the "gold" model of open access. Open access journals typically charge the author a fee, called an APC, for publication. While APCs can be costly, these charges can often be negotiated into grants or other funding structures.
  • A similar option is publishing in a hybrid journal. These are traditional, pay-subscription journals that provide authors with the option to pay an APC to have an individual article published open access.
  • In either case, the open access article is immediately available for all to read - no expensive journal subscription, single-article charge, or interlibrary loan request necessary.

Depositing Your Article in a Repository

  • Even if your article was published in a traditional, subscription-based journal, most publisher contracts allow for a version of the article to be deposited in a disciplinary or institutional repository, like the NDSU Repository. This option, known as "green" open access, provides potential readers with another point of access to your work, outside the confines of the journal's paywall. Items in repositories are discoverable via Google Scholar and other tools that search for open access content (see resources, below). 
  • Deposit and archiving policies vary significantly between publishers. Your librarian can help you determine the archiving rights for your publications. The Sherpa Romeo database also allows you to look up policies by publisher or journal.

Open Access 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

Open Access Resources

Find Open Access Content

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)

Unpaywall

Open Access Button

Open Research Library

Funder and Publisher OA Policies

Sherpa Romeo - find publisher open access and archiving policies

Sherpa Juliet - find funders' policies and requirements on open access, publication, and data archiving

Related Guides

Academic Publishing and Author's Rights

Copyright

Data Management

Open Educational Resources

 

Acknowledgements

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.

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.