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Open access

This article introduces what we mean by open access and why this is important for research.
An open orange padlock used to represent open access.
© University of Hull. Open access benefits image and ALT text from Kingsley & Brown (CC-BY)

The Open Access movement dates back to the early ’00s, although discipline-specific initiatives began earlier. One of the first formal declarations of the movement’s principles was the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002), defining “world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds” as a public good.

“Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (Peter Suber, 2004)

When considering scholarly communication, open access is a very good thing. If the content is published with open access, it ensures a broader audience can be reached – without the need for expensive journal subscriptions or printed books.

Benefits of open access

Routes to open access research

The two most commonly-used routes for authors to publish their work with open access are known as the ‘gold’ and ‘green’ models:

  • Gold – publishing your work on a platform which provides immediate e-access for everyone, free of charge, with a licence that permits re-use. Publishers can recoup their costs through a number of mechanisms: payments from authors or their institutions (known as article processing charges, or APCs), or through advertising, donations or other subsidies. Some publishers operate a ‘hybrid’ model, with open and paywalled articles on the same platform.
  • Green – providing open access to the author’s final manuscript or published output in a searchable archive, commonly known as a repository, maintained by the author’s institution or a scholarly society/professional body. Worktribe is the institutional repository for the University of Hull. The publisher may impose an embargo on open access to the file, normally in a range of 6 to 24 months after the date of publication.

For early-career researchers, Gold OA can sometimes feel like yet another barrier to getting published: if your research is not externally funded, or your budget is very constrained, paying an article processing charge may be impossible. It’s important to remember that you can widen the potential audience for your publications through cost-free Green routes. Share the url for the record of your work, so that readers who don’t have access to the published version can read your accepted manuscript.

The UK Government’s research funding body Research England uses the REF to encourage authors and their institutions to choose Open Access routes to publication wherever possible. For REF2021, authors were required to deposit their accepted manuscript in their institutional repository within 3 months of acceptance, to be made open as soon as permitted by the publisher. Rules for the next REF have not yet been published, but all the signals indicate the OA criteria will be maintained.

While OA is a positive development for public access to research, it does not mean the public will access it! Academic articles can be dense and difficult for non-specialists to read. Authors may need to consider how they can disseminate their research in an understandable format. Read on to find out more about public scholarly communication.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

© University of Hull. Open access benefits image and ALT text from Kingsley & Brown (CC-BY)
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