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What is Open Access?


"Open-access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder." (Peter Suber, A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access)

Open Access (OA) initiatives take advantage of modern communications technology to make relevant and up-to-date scholarly information more accessible and affordable to the public worldwide. As a result, OA publications enjoy a wider audience. Studies in many fields show a correlation between OA publication and increase in citation-count.

OA initiatives also acknowledge the public's right to access the findings of research that is paid for by their taxes. Many major publicly-funded granting agencies (for example the US National Institutes of Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the National Research Council) have adopted OA policies requiring that the results of funded research be made freely available in an OA repository.

The "Open" in OA literature is part of an ecosystem that includes open educational resources, open data, and open source software (i.e. Zotero, Eprints, Pressbooks).

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Green, Gold, and Diamond OA publishing

Open Access (OA) is a mechanism to promote the availability of peer-reviewed scholarly research. Authors who wish to make their work OA can do so by following one of these paths:

  • DIAMOND Road: Authors publish in a fully OA journals free of charge for both authors and readers. Diamond journals tend to be community-driven by academics and their associations. Find out more about Diamond OA.
  • GOLD Road: Authors can publish in a fully OA journal or in a subscription journal that has an Open Access option (for a fee).
  • GREEN Road: Authors can publish in any journal they choose and then deposit a version of their work in a repository, such as Spectrum. Most publishers allow authors to self-archive a version of their work in a repository (typically not the publisher's PDF), however, some publishers impose an embargo period. The Sherpa/Romeo database can be used to verify a journal's self-archiving policy.
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Publishing in trusted Open Access venues

Open Access journals and books are legitimate and beneficial methods of scholarly communication. Unfortunately, there are some publishers who may implement unethical practices and take advantage of authors. In particular, some Open Access publishers abuse the Open Access Gold Model in which the author pays for the publication of their article or book/book chapter.

These publishers tend to campaign aggressively for academics to submit thier research, charge authors high fees (often hidden at first) but do not offer sufficient quality control or a thorough editorial process.  Many of them accept papers without an appropriate editorial board or peer review process, often including works with poor writing and low-quality content.

These sub-standard research outputs can reflect poorly upon high quality research papers that are displayed alongside them. They can also offer scholars incorrect or misleading information upon which they might build their research, weakening scholarly communication and research as a whole.

How to assess an Open Access journal or Open Access book publisher

Before publishing an Open Access book or book chapter, or in an Open Access journal, there are certain factors that should be considered to determine whether the publisher/journal adheres to ethical publishing standards. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Did the publisher send you an un-solicited invitation to submit an article for publication?
  • Does the journal's or publisher's name sound very similar to a well-known or reputable journal or publisher?
  • Is the scope of the journal overly broad?
  • Are the credentials of the editorial staff provided?
  • Does the publisher promise an accelerated editorial process?
  • Is there minimal (or non-existent) peer review and/or copy-editing?
  • Are listed impact metrics or database indexing verifiably true?
  • Can you submit your article without first transferring your copyright?
  • Are you required to pay an article processing charge (APC) before your article is accepted? (Note that it is conventional practice for Open Access journals to charge APC's only upon acceptance.)

Resources to help you assess an Open Access journal or Open Access book publisher:

Getting help or finding out more

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Further information about Open Access

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