Over the past fifteen years there has been a movement towards Open Access publishing. Open Access publishing describes a publishing model in which scholarly articles are freely accessible, with no barriers to accessing content. There are a number of advantages to sharing your work through Open Access journals. Unlike subscription-based publishing models, Open Access journals allow broad access to scholarly articles free of charge to the reader. In fact, studies have shown that publication in an Open Access outlet can increase the impact of your article and the number of times your work is cited by others (Holmberg et al. 2020; Kousha and Abdoli 2010).
There is a push by many institutions and funders of research to mandate the publishing of research in Open Access journals. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the European Commission are among those leading the charge. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to information sharing and transparency. We believe that published research resulting from our funding should be promptly and broadly disseminated. We have adopted an Open Access policy that enables the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.” (Bill & Melinda Gates Open Access Policy)
This statement captures the commitment of many in the Open Access movement. For individual researchers the question becomes: What should I consider when choosing an Open Access outlet for my work?
What are the different Open Access models?
There are a number of Open Access models to choose from when publishing your work. In the Gold Open Access model, published articles and all data are completely Open Access but publication using this model usually involves a fee. In the Green Open Access model, the author places their article in a repository for others to access. This is often done with preprint versions of articles where the final version is published in a traditional journal. In this case, the final version of the published article is not Open Access. There are also Bronze Open Access and Platinum Open Access models. In the first, no fee is paid but the publisher chooses to make the article Open Access. In the second, publications are made available to the reader for free and no fee is charged to the author. Finally, there is a Hybrid Open Access model, which refers to a traditional publication that allows authors to make their article Open Access for a charge. So what are the factors to consider when choosing to publish your article through an Open Access venue?
Which Open Access model should I choose?
One of the first decisions to make on your journey towards Open Access publication is to establish which model is best for you. If you have a specific traditional journal in mind for your publication, and believe this journal would enhance your curriculum vitae and put you in a better position for promotion or tenure, you should investigate whether that journal will allow you to place your article in an Open Access repository. There is typically an embargo period, i.e. the time between publication of the article and permission to make it Open Access. You can use the Sherpa Romeo Archive to search policies for specific journals of interest to you. Another route for you to take is to go straight to an Open Access journal that is reputable and suitable for your work.
How do I choose a reputable journal?
One of the major benefits of publishing in an Open Access journal is to increase the impact of your work by sharing your article with a broad audience. Choosing a journal that has an excellent reputation and broad visibility will increase this impact even more. Some Open Access journals have Impact Factors and some do not. The Impact Factor of a journal is simply a measure of journal performance and calculates the average number of citations that an article from that journal receives. Impact Factor has been one of the most commonly known approaches to measuring the performance of a journal. While it is useful to take the Impact Factor into consideration when choosing an Open Access journal, it should be evaluated carefully and weighed with other factors. If a journal is more recent, as is the case with many Open Access journals, it may not yet have an Impact Factor and this does not necessarily reflect the quality of the journal. Reading articles published in the journal you are considering is another great way to evaluate the quality of the publication. This is especially helpful for newer Open Access journals that may not have developed a large enough readership to receive a high Impact Factor.
High-quality journals, whether traditional or Open Access, gain a reputation which travels by word of mouth. Top-tier journals are known to researchers in the discipline of focus and so, if your colleagues and other researchers in your field are talking about a specific Open Access journal, it is worth considering for publication. In addition if researchers with a high reputation are publishing in a specific journal that is also an indication of quality.
Quality journals will also share details of a clear peer-review process on their website. So, visit the journal website and see how professional the website is and whether you can easily find confirmation of the peer-review process used by that journal. While on the website you should explore who serves on the editorial board. The make-up of the editorial board can provide you with information about the quality of the journal. Recognizable researchers with strong reputations in their field are a sign of a quality publication. You can also see whether or not the board members are active academics at reputable institutions.
What is the cost associated with publishing?
A number of Open Access journals charge a processing fee for publication. So it is important to know how much the fee is in case the journal you are choosing charges such a fee. Fees can range from about $2000–3000. However, not all Open Access journals charge such a fee. In fact, according to the Directory of Open Access Journals sixty-seven percent of peer-reviewed Open Access journals charge no fee.
If you have externally funded research and are publishing findings from that work, you should check and see whether any cost associated with Open Access publishing can be covered by the funder. Additionally, check with your institution to see whether they can cover the cost. Some institutions have a Read and Publish agreement with publishers, which means you can publish your Open Access article free of charge. For example, Springer publishers have Read and Publish agreements with many institutions and countries.
How can you recognize a predatory journal?
When you are seeking an Open Access journal for your work, make sure to avoid predatory journals. A few Open Access journals charge processing fees for publication, but fake or omit the peer-review process. In some cases, these journals try to keep the copyright for the scholarly article after publication. Although these journals are not the norm, it is wise to be careful in your selection. Using a directory like the Directory of Open Access Journals can help you avoid choosing such a journal. Predatory journals will often reach out through email and you can often tell that something is not as it should be by the informal tone of the email. You should also be suspicious if the journal requests payment of a fee before your article is accepted for publication.
There are many benefits to pursuing an Open Access venue for sharing your research. Beyond the fact that a number of funders are now mandating this approach to the sharing of research and data, as an individual researcher Open Access allows you to retain copyright of your work while sharing it with a broader community. Being equipped with the knowledge of how to choose the best Open Access model for you and guidelines for selecting a reputable Open Access journal will help you move forward on your Open Access journey.
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Holmberg, K., Hedman, J., Bowman, T.D. et al. Do articles in open access journals have more frequent altmetric activity than articles in subscription-based journals? An investigation of the research output of Finnish universities. Scientometrics 122, 645–659 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-019-03301-x
Kousha, K., & Abdoli, M. The citation impact of Open Access agricultural research: A comparison between OA and non-OA publications. Online Information Review 34, 772–785 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1108/14684521011084618.