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Open Access

Learning about Open Access (OA), OA journals, and where to find OA

What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) refers to the practice of making scholarly research articles freely available to the public. With the use of open licenses, OA allows for widespread dissemination of knowledge and facilitates further research and collaboration. For an article to be labeled OA, it must be free of charge to the reader, immediately accessible, provided in a digital format, and free of most copyright restrictions. 

Radical circle showing the elements of Open Access

Free of Charge

OA articles are royalty-free literature and are completely free to the public. That is, the authors nor the publishers do not expect payment in exchange for people to use or access the material. Journals that provide free articles for a limited time, or provide free articles that are partly restricted, are not OA. When OA articles are published, they are free indefinitely and in its entirety. 

Immediately Accessible

If an article is OA, it is accessible without any sort of restrictions. Articles only accessible via a sign-in, a request form, or a rental agreement do not constitute OA. Clicking on an article's DOI should lead to a direct connect to the full-text article. For example, the link below is a DOI, and clicking on it will lead directly to the source without any sort of additional requirements. 

Provided in a Digital Format

An electronic format is required in order for OA articles to have immediate access. Some open journals, in addition, may publish their works in print, but they must have an electronic version available as well.   

Free of Most Copyright Restrictions

Unlike traditional copyright, OA articles use Creative Commons licensing. This type of licensing is less restrictive than traditional copyright, and it allows the public to retain, reuse, and redistribute the article as long as they provide credit to the original author(s). Some Creative Commons licenses are more restrictive than others, so it is important to check the license to see what is permissible. 

Is Open Access the Same As Open Educational Resources?

While Open Educational Resources (OER) are very similar to Open Access, they are different in some minor ways:

Open Educational Resources

Open Access

Primarily comprises textbooks, courseware, and educational media Primarily comprises scholarly articles and data

Aims to promote and encourage open education

Aims to promote and encourage open research
Target audience is teachers, faculty, and students Target audience is researchers
Provides more freedom to revise, remix, and amend material Provides less freedom to revise, remix, and amend material

Essentially, all OER are Open Access, but not all OA is OER. While both are free and instantly accessible to the user, OER allows a bit more flexibility to modify the content to better fit the needs of particular students. Despite their slight differences, OA and OER both aim to provide free access to materials in order to foster communication, creativity, and growth. 

Green vs Gold OA

In order for OA articles to be accessed, they often need to be hosted by an OA journal. OA journals are scholarly hosts or publishers that provide free, unrestricted access to its content online. Generally, OA journals often fall into two categories: Green and Gold. When researching, it may not be apparent which articles are associated with a Green or Gold model. However, it can be helpful to know the differences between them: 

  Green Open Access Logo  Green Open Access   Gold Open Access
Location Often located in online, self-archived repositories. Published in open-access journals.
Peer Review Articles mostly likely have been peer-reviewed and are in "post-review" or "pre-print" versions. May be missing copyediting and typesetting present in a published article.  All articles have been peer-reviewed, edited, and typeset by the open-access journal that is publishing it. 
Embargo Period Some articles need to forgo green publication until a certain timeframe has elapsed. This depends on the publisher's policies.  Access is immediate upon publication. 
Cost to Authors Free to authors as open repositories often do not charge deposits of work.   May require article processing charges (APCs) to cover costs. 

In general, Gold Open Access is often viewed as the "gold" standard because it is immediately accessible and has been peer-reviewed and released in a published format. However, in order to cover the costs associated with the publication, article processing charges (APCs) are often applied. APCs can vary in price, depending on the publisher, and may be unaffordable to some authors seeking publication. 

Other Types of OA Journals

Hybrid Open Access

Hybrid combines some elements of traditional Gold models of publication. Essentially, if an article is selected by the publisher, the authors will have the option to make it Goldprovided they pay for the article processing charge (APCs). However, the journal itself is still subscription-based, so readers will still have to pay a subscription fee, even if the article is OA. This model has drawn criticism as publishers are collecting fees from both the APCs and subscriptions. This practice is heavily frowned upon in the open access community.

See Plan S's essay for more information regarding the problem of Hybrid Journals: 

Diamond Open Access

While this type of model goes by many names (platinum, non-commercial, cooperative, community-controlled, etc.), it functions like the Gold model, but does not charge authors with APCs. However, since this type of publication relies on either grant or charity funding, the list of diamond journals and articles is relatively small compared to other models. Below are some examples of Diamond OA journals: 

Predatory Journals

A predatory journal is a publication that exploits the academic publishing model for profit. These journals often charge authors high APCs without providing proper editorial or publishing services. If they offer peer review, it is often a rushed and shallow process. Since these journals are more interested in profiting off of APCs and less on quality control, these journals can often lead to subpar publications or even false research. Researchers should be cautious when considering submitting their work to such journals.

Before submitting, check with the Beall's List to see if the journal has been potentially flagged as a predatory journal. Note that a journal on the Beall’s list does not guarantee a journal to be predatory: