Open Access Publishing: A Quick Guide
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Open Access Publishing: A Quick Guide


Table of Contents

Funders, universities, and research institutions have been striving to make research freely accessible to the public for over two decades. Their efforts have been driven by several factors: peer pressure, institutional goals and objectives, compliance requirements—and a sense of moral obligation to share knowledge.

A recent study revealed at least 28%, approximately 19 million, of all scholarly literature is Open Access. With this portion only expected to increase, now is as good a time as any to develop a basic understanding of Open Access publishing.

This guide is designed to provide you an overview of how Open Access works, giving you a solid grasp of what is involved and the benefits that can be reaped. We also highlight some of the most common questions surrounding Open Access publishing, helping you make more well-informed choices.

What is Open Access?

Open Access is the process of offering permanent, unrestricted, and free access to scholarly literature. The goal is to allow interested parties to freely access, view, download, and build upon research without any or minimal legal implications.

The benefits of Open Access

The benefits of Open Access publishing


The characteristics of Open Access academic output:

  • There are no access barriers to the content apart from a working internet connection.
  • There are minimal restrictions with regard to reproduction and reuse.
  • The content can be freely accessed by anyone across the world in its entirety.

What is Open Access publishing?

Open Access publishing caught on in the early 2000s. Three major declarations came during this time — Berlin, Budapest, and Bethesda. These declarations proposed that scholarly publications should be free to read and reproduce for all concerned, with appropriate citations. The proposals outlined that Open Access publishing should focus on unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving of scholarly literature.

Presently, you have academic journals that are fully Open Access and some that work on a hybrid model. While fully Open Access journals publish scientific literature with liberal copyrights, hybrid journals offer a combination of both restricted and Open Access publishing.

What are Open Access journals?

Open Access journals are scientific journals that have limited financial, legal, or technical barriers to access. The publishers won't charge readers anything to read the journal or individual research articles in most cases. Anyone can freely access — read, download, copy, distribute, print, search for the information within, or use papers for educational purposes — as far as it fulfills the prescribed legal conditions.

Open Access journals like MDPI levy authors a certain sum, otherwise known as the Article Processing Charge, to support themselves. These charges are often paid for by the authors' institutes or research funding bodies. Such journals are mostly Gold Open Access.

Most Open Access journals are available only in digital format as the aim is to improve visibility and accessibility. The wait time between acceptance and publication is also shorter for such journals.

Launching an Open Access journal was definitely tricky, but it is only just a little less so today. Check out this article where we discuss the essentials an aspiring publisher will have to take care of to get your journal off the ground.

Before we move on, here are a few best tech tools you can use to run and grow your Open Access journal on a shoestring budget.

  • Website builder - Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace
  • Domains - Godaddy
  • Journal management systems - OJS, Scholastica, Coko’s PubSweet, and Highwire Press’ BenchPress
  • Register for DOI - Crossref
  • Typesetting - SciSpace
  • Output conversion to JATS XML - SciSpace
  • Open Access directories and indexes - SciSpace, MEDLINE and DOAJ

Here's a list of fully open access journals by different publishers:

Why does Open Access publishing matter?

Typically when your faculty members or researchers publish articles in journals, the ownership lies with the publishers. Neither the institution nor the author can claim ownership of the same. Suppose the institution wants to host a copy of the article, they will have to pay a subscription fee for the journal.

Open Access articles tend to have higher visibility and impact
Open Access research articles have higher visibility and impact

This is why the Open Access movement has gained prominence over the last two decades. By shattering the access barriers associated with research sharing, the campaign hopes to:

  • Maximize research visibility and impact and also boost the citation count.
  • Help researchers own the copyright to their work with a CC-BY license and ensure people worldwide can access research for free.
  • Eliminate delays so that new researchers can build on the insights gleaned and take it further forward.
  • Make sure the data and insights are accessible to policymakers and other decision-makers.
  • Increase the ROI of research by ensuring the research output and insights are widely available.

The mechanics of Open Access publishing

Copyright regulations mean it is not always possible to make the published version freely accessible. But the good news is that you can still make other versions of the manuscript widely available.

Let's review the different manuscript versions and the various Open Access publishing models in existence.

Typical publishing workflow for an academic journal article
Typical publishing workflow for an academic journal article


The publishing process can be confusing. There are different manuscript versions that are used — pre-print, post-print, and published — which can be used to classify a research paper based on its current state in the publication process.

1. Preprint

It is the original version of the manuscript submitted to the publisher. While it is common for authors to share the document with peers for validation and minor edits, it wouldn't have gone through formal peer-review, editing, or formatting.

2. Post-print

The version of the manuscript has gone through a formal peer-review process, and the author has made revisions based on the feedback received. It is otherwise called Accepted Author Manuscript (AMM).

3. Published

This is the post-processed version of the manuscript that is professionally edited and typeset by the publisher.

As an author or researcher, you might wonder which Open Access publishing model to choose: traditional, hybrid, or open access? Here's a quick breakdown of all the different models:

1. Gold Open Access

In Gold Open Access publishing model, the author must pay the publisher an Article Processing Charge (APC) while submitting the manuscript. Sometimes the author's affiliated institution or a funding body may pay this charge on their behalf. But unlike traditional journals, the reader won't be levied any sum to access or download the publication.

2. Green Open Access

This publishing model allows authors the freedom to submit and archive a version of their manuscript in a repository. The repository could be a discipline-specific one such as arXiv or the institution's repository that the author is affiliated to. Readers will access and download the entire content without paying any charges. If the manuscript has been published in a journal, the author will have to wait till the embargo period is over to archive it in the repository.

3. Diamond Open Access

This model involves the publishing of research articles in journals that are entirely free. Neither the authors nor the readers have to pay any charges. Typically, these journals are community or institution-driven initiatives where they take the help of volunteers to process and put together the journal.

4. Delayed Open Access

It involves the publisher making the manuscript freely accessible to everyone on their website after the initial embargo period. Readers will be able to download the article without paying charges.

5. Hybrid Open Access

This publishing model is prevalent with traditional publishers where the authors have the option to make their individual research articles (not the entire journal) immediately Open Access by paying an Article Publication Charge. The critical thing to note with hybrid journals is that once you pay the charge, you will get the article's copyright. The processing charge tends to be higher than that of Gold Open Access.

6. Bronze Open Access

This publishing model primarily refers to the practice of making articles widely available without having any open license attached to them.

7. Gratis Open Access

Here, the publisher has the option to make papers free to read at no charge to the author — usually for marketing and promotional activities. The Gratis Open Access may not be permanent. This is not considered as 'true' Open Access.

8. Libre Open Access

This is a blanket term for 'true' Open Access. The paper is made available under an open license, allowing it to be shared and reused, depending on which license is used.

open access publishing methodology
Open Access Publishing Methodology


Talking about Open Access licenses, let’s move on to Creative Commons:

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide a licensing framework for everyone looking to share their creative and academic work for free. It ensures that people can freely download, reuse, distribute, and build upon your work with proper attribution.

 Six different Creative Commons license types
 Six different CC license types

Types of CC Licenses

  1. CC BY: You must credit the creator.
  2. CC BY-SA: You must credit the creator, and any adaptations you build must be shared under the same terms.
  3. CC BY-ND: You must credit the creator, but no derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted.
  4. CC BY-NC: You must credit the creator, and the work should only be used for non-commercial purposes.
  5. CC BY-NC-SA: You must credit the creator. The work should only be used for non-commercial purposes. Any new adaptations you create must be shared under the same terms.
  6. CC BY-NC-ND: You must credit the creator, but the work cannot be used commercially. Neither are you allowed to make derivatives or adaptations of the work.

What is Open Access archiving?

Open Access archiving is a way to preserve and make your research accessible to everyone. While some publishers allow you to archive the published version of your article, others only let you archive the preprint version of your academic research article.

Open Access Archiving with SciSpace
Open Access Archiving with SciSpace

The potential impact of archiving your Open Access journal articles:

  • Long-term availability and accessibility
  • Minimize or eliminate the risk of digital decay
  • Protect knowledge from disasters and calamities
  • Drive visibility and research impact
  • Provide unrestricted access to knowledge to everyone with an internet connection

Types of archives

There are three options for archiving your Open Access publications:

1. Dark Archive

Dark archives are digital storage facilities that cannot be accessed by the public. They serve as failsafe repositories for preserving published journal articles. Popular dark archives include CLOCKSS, LOCKSS, and Portico.

2. Light Archive

Publicly and openly accessible to all digital readers, a light archive is a repository for scholarly articles. Such repositories can be subject-specific, like Cogprints (Psychology, Neuroscience, etc.), Engrxiv (Engineering), or RePEc (Economics).

It also includes repositories built by universities and research institutions to host their research corpus and other forms of scholarly output.

Examples: IIT Madras Repository, eScholarship by the University of California, etc.

3. Dim Archive 

A combination of the previous two models, in Dim Archive, scholarly content is accessible to a wide range of users, but some content is restricted to certain organizational custodians. The restricted content cannot be accessed by all internet users but can be released publicly if required or requested. This model is generally used when a journal needs to be preserved with limited access.

What is Plan S?

Plan S is an initiative that aims to make scholarly output resulting from public-funded research fully Open Access immediately so that they are free to read and reuse. It requires that from 2021, all research articles from public-funded research should be published in Open Access compliant journals and repositories immediately without any embargos.

Currently, the initiative is backed by 26 organizations, including the likes of Science Europe, UK Research and Innovation, World Health Organization, European Union, among others.

You can achieve Plan S compliance by:

  • Contributing your articles to Open Access journals or platforms
  • Uploading the article in full on an Open Access Repository
  • Publishing your article or paper in a journal under a transformative agreement
Requirements for plan S compliance in one page
Requirements for plan S compliance in one page


What is an Open Access Mandate and should you have one?

An Open Access mandate refers to a policy adopted by a funder, institution, or the government which necessitates researchers to make their research articles public. This can be done via two routes: Green Open Access or Gold Open Access.

Universities that have adopted Open Access mandates include Harvard University (the first to do so), MIT, ETH Zurich, University of Liege, and University College London. Harvard University has also developed a model policy language document for institutions looking to implement an open access policy for their faculty.

Open Access Mandates Worldwide Distribution


Article Process Charges paid for Open Access Publishing [2021]
Article Process Charges paid for Open Access Publishing [2021]


Why are most university mandates not mandates?

Many institutions do not force authors to make their publications and research output Open Access. They merely 'encourage' authors to do so. It is up to the author to comply with the mandate or not. Moreover, they have the choice to opt out by stating a reason.

The reason why institutions grapple with ensuring compliance is two-fold. The process is labor-intensive and segregated at the moment. Plus, there is no strong incentive for researchers to comply with institutional mandates. For example, mandates issued by funders tend to be more potent as they can stop research funding — a pretty strong incentive for compliance.

The struggle for compliance is more common in the U.S. than in Europe. Universities in Europe have made Open Access mandates an administrative function and "mandatory". In contrast, implementation in the U.S. is still more by faculty consensus and "encouraging."

Mandatory Open Access requires the immediate deposit of the author's preprint or final version of the publication in the institute's repository. This condition cannot be waived.

Surprisingly, evidence suggests that researchers favor policies that make it mandatory to self-archive publications in institutional repositories.

The challenges involved in implementing these mandates

The benefits of Open Access mandates are numerous for both researchers and institutions. However, as many institutions will attest, adopting them comes with its own set of challenges that can deter implementation and compliance.

Last year, the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) held an executive roundtable titled "Rethinking Institutional Repository Strategies." The participating institutions revealed that implementing an Open Access policy requires a lot of institutional overhead.

Several scholarly communications librarians have reiterated this. Setting up an institutional repository, making it indexable, bearing APC costs, maintaining dedicated staff for Open Access mandates, and tracking compliance are cited as some of the reasons for this overhead.

Wellcome, the first research funder to introduce a mandatory Open Access policy, recently announced that it will be reviewing its Open Access policy to move to a full Open Access world and reduce associated costs.

The compliance with their policy is over 75%, which is pretty impressive. However, this has resulted in increased costs, primarily attributed to increased APCs.

They reveal:

"In 2015–16, Wellcome spent £5.7 million delivering this policy, and we know from COAF data that 71% of APCs go to funding hybrid Open Access; articles which are published in a subscription journal but can be made Open Access on the payment of a fee.

The same economic challenge faces institutions as well. APCs are high and eat into a significant portion of academic budgets. Add to that the complexity involved in motivating researchers to comply, allocating human resources to check associated metadata manually, tracking submissions, and making them indexable.

Significantly, the COAF data also reveals that the average APC for a hybrid Open Access article (£2,209) is 34% higher than the average APC for an article in a fully Open Access or Gold Open Access journal (£1,644)."

They are consequently planning to do away with publication in Hybrid journals and mandate publication in fully Open Access journals.

The same economic challenge faces institutions as well. APCs are high and eat into a significant portion of academic budgets. Add to that the complexity involved in motivating researchers to comply, allocating human resources to check associated metadata manually, tracking submissions, and making them indexable.

Whether or not your institution has an Open Access Mandate, creating an online repository makes meeting your Open Access goals much more straightforward. It is a great way to enable access, gain visibility, increase competitiveness and improve international standing.

Of course, there are constraints and challenges involved, such as securing the funding, hiring technical experts, dealing with complex workflows, and managing copyright issues. But it gets a lot easier when you have the right solution by your side.

What is the role of repositories in Open Access publishing?

Every top university out there has an Open Access institutional repository. Granted that it helps universities and educational institutions fulfil their fundamental obligation of disseminating knowledge, but that's not all. It plays a crucial role in boosting citations and downloads.

Institutional repository and Open Access
IIT Madras Institutional Repository

1. Offers greater control

You can assert greater control over a repository that your institution maintains. Institutions can decide everything from what can be uploaded, what format to be used, to the branding aspects of the repository website. It also reduces the power imbalance in the publishing industry, as institutions do not have to depend upon publishers to make their content widely available.

2. Acts a centralized platform

An Open Access institutional repository aggregates your institution's research corpus and grey literature in one place. It ensures that each piece of content is neatly categorized based on the author's name, co-contributors involved, content type, keywords, department, and other details. Any visitor will be able to find what they are looking for in minutes.

3. Makes it easier to meet Open Access Mandates

With universities setting up Open Access policies and the arrival of initiatives like Plan S, there is a greater push toward making public-funded research widely available. The best way to meet these requirements is to have an institutional repository.

4. Open up PDFs hidden behind paywalls

Many publishers allow authors to freely archive their publications in repositories of affiliated institutions. So, suppose you have a repository solution that can track and identify embargo dates, determine what version can be made Open Access, and more. In that case, you will be able to open up publications locked behind paywalls easily.

Open Access advocacy in your institution

Now that you have a fundamental understanding of Open Access publishing, the next question is how do you promote it in your institution to get greater 'buy-in' for the Open Access movement from all the stakeholders: deans, librarians, researchers, and students to the local community?

1. Reach out and support the local community

Work closely with schools and educational institutions in the vicinity to create Open Educational Resources for the local community. Assist local charities, museums, and galleries in digitizing their archives and making sure the local records and knowledge are safeguarded and available to be accessed publicly.

2. Reward top repository contributors

To encourage repository participation, you can tap into their competitive spirit and need for recognition by instituting monthly and yearly awards for top contributors. Recognize members who contributed the most manuscripts, who had the most downloads and citations, and so forth.

3. Set up an Open Access publishing fund

Open Access journals typically charge authors a specific fee for submissions. This fee may stop faculty and researchers from opting for Open Access journals. To avoid this situation, the institution can set up a dedicated Open Access Publishing fund and bear it on behalf of researchers and faculty.

4. Make copyright detection as easy as possible

Faculty and researchers are often reluctant to deposit their manuscripts in Open Access institutional repositories because they are unsure about copyright rights. Get a repository solution that supports copyright detection to fix this problem. It enables your faculty or staff to find out exactly which version of a manuscript can be made freely available.

5. Join Open Access advocacy organizations

Join international Open Access advocacy organizations and consortiums such as SPARC and be at the forefront of furthering the Open Agenda. They offer a policy framework to structure your Open Access initiatives and support member institutions with research insights, direct campus visits, workshops, webcasts, and much more.

6. Make Open Access a part of campus activities

Allow the scholarly communication office to work closely with student and faculty liaisons to ensure Open Access is part of the curriculum and campus activities.

7. Share your repository content online

Send email alerts to community members each time a deposit is published. Alternatively, you can curate the best Open Access articles of a week and send them as part of the weekly newsletter. As for social media, share links to new deposits with a 2-line summary and relevant hashtags. Set up a dedicated handle for your repository, or use your library’s official handle.

8. Get distinguished faculty to participate

An easy way to get over the initial hesitation is to get one or two distinguished faculty members from each department to participate in these Open Access initiatives. It will give you much-needed credibility and help you gain word-of-mouth traction.

Wrapping up

Hopefully, the guide has helped you gain a fundamental understanding of Open Access publishing and principles. Now, it is time for you to start incorporating and implementing the various practices and strategies and work towards building a world where access to scientific knowledge is democratized.

If you wish to share the article with your peers, we suggest you download the PDF version of this Open Access Publishing eBook. All you have to do is click here and right-click 'save as' upon opening.

Next Steps

If you are looking for a repository solution to complement your Open Access publishing initiatives, check out our University Suite. It gets much easier to run an Open Access repository when hosted on SciSpace. With its integrated writing and publishing tools, copyright detection technology, streamlined deposit and approval workflows, and search-friendly indexing, you will be able to manage and showcase your scholarly output seamlessly.

Before you go: You may be interested in trying out SciSpace if you are interested in scholarly writing and publishing. Researching, writing, and publishing literature can all be done with this service.

SciSpace provides researchers, universities, and publishers with all the tools they need. There are over 200 million research papers in our research repository across multiple disciplines with search engine optimized abstracts, a publicly visible profile that highlights your expertise, a specially designed collaborative text editor, 20,000+ journal templates, and much more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What are the pros and cons of Open Access?


• Leads to greater exposure and wider research impact

• More chances to participate and influence policy making

• Improved visibility and readership enables you to get more citations

• More opportunities to make money from your expertise


• Leads to greater exposure and wider research impact

• More chances to participate and influence policy making

• Improved visibility and readership enables you to get more citations

• More opportunities to make money from your expertise

2. Difference between Open Access and subscription journals?

In Open Access journals, there is no cost involved to access and read the journal by the public — the authors or institutions cover the cost.

In subscription journals, the public has to subscribe to the journal by paying a fee to access and read — the reader covers the cost.

3. How does Open Access publishing work?

If the author submits to Open Access journal:
Submission → Peer review → Pay Article Processing Charges → Immediate Open Access via publisher

If the author submits to subscription based journal:
Submission → Peer review → Self archive on webpage/repository → Immediate Open Access (after embargo period) via self archiving or via publisher, based on the OA model

4. What are the types of Open Access?

• Gold Open Access — The author must pay the publisher an Article Processing Charge (APC)

• Green Open Access — Authors can archive a version of their manuscript in a repository, and readers can read and download it from the repository.

• Diamond Open Access — Neither the authors nor the readers have to pay any charges.

• Delayed Open Access — Readers can read and download from the repository after the embargo period.

• Hybrid Open Access — Open Access by the publisher (subscription-based journal) after paying Article Processing Charge (APC)

• Gratis Open Access — Publishers optionally make a paper free to read at no charge.

5. Why is Open Access Important?

By reducing restrictions to your work, Open Access Publishing provides a number of advantages. A few advantages include -

• There are no restrictions, and it is visible to everyone on the globe.

• More citations to your work

• You are free to share your research with anybody with no limits or paywalls.

• Make a wider impact outside of your institution.

6. What are Open Access databases?

Open Access database contains collections of Open Access papers and journals from all subject areas, made freely available to readers. Few popular Open Access databases are -

• Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

• ScienceOpen


• OpenDOAR

• Paperity

7. Are Open Access journals peer reviewed?

A rigorous peer review process is used in high-quality Open Access journals. This signifies that independent peers have evaluated the quality, validity, and relevance of an article in the area. Other, lesser-known journals do not go through peer review.

8. What is an Open Access publisher for a scholarly journal?

Open Access publishers in the scholarly community are responsible for adapting the transformational publication model. These publishers make scientific publications and research papers openly available, allowing anybody to access and read the resources freely.