At it’s most simple, ‘open access’ is the idea that anyone should be able to read and reuse scholarly works free of charge.
The open access debate is sometimes framed as an all-or-nothing, take it or leave it kind of deal. But those in favour of OA are not necessarily in favour of forking out huge APC’s to OA or Hybrid publishers. Likewise, those with concerns about OA are not necessarily happy with big publishers making massive profit margins by paywalling taxpayer-funded research.
But rather than arguing for one business model or another (a task I’m vastly under-qualified to do), I simply want to remind researchers that in the mean time, we can make all of our work openly accessible entirely for free (for both authors and readers), with minimal effort, all while publishing in whatever journal we want.
Whats in it for me?
The obvious question is ‘why bother to make my research accessible?’ and for researchers, there are several compelling reasons:
1. Openly accessible articles are cited earlier and more frequently than those behind paywalls.
Pretty straightforward. If everyone can find and read your work then you would expect this to be the case. Paywalled articles can only be read by researchers who have access through their institution. This excludes large numbers of workers, and especially those from developing nations.
2. Converting your data, code, presentations, notebooks and reference libraries into extra research outputs means you get more credit for the work you’ve already done while helping other workers to reproduce or build on your work (and you potentially receive even more citations).
Whether its uploading presentations to figshare, throwing your code on Github, or even uploading pre-prints to your chosen pre-print server, these extra outputs can be proudly displayed on your website or CV. For PhD students in particular, this is a great way to demonstrate the quality of your work while it is going through the publishing process.
And lets not forget the power of altmetrics: Any effort you put in to increasing your research exposure is an asset to your career, even if you’re not interested in academia at all. Getting your name out there and connecting with other people creates opportunities.
3. Your work can have broader societal impact when used by governments, NGOs, non-profits, citizen science initiatives, community groups, and everyday people.
True, as a private citizen, you may have no personal interest in reading scholarly articles. But what about the many interested people that do? And what about the doctors/teachers/local government representatives in your area? Published research findings can be applied to professional development and evidence-based governance. We all benefit when decision-makers are more-informed and when professionals are better trained to deliver crucial public services.
4. Most researchers I’ve met have no objection but simply don’t know how
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that most researchers do what they do in large part because they are curious about the world around them and they want to share the results they find with other like-minded people. I think it’s important to remember that most research is behind a paywall because the authors are unaware of their right to self-archive their outputs, they don’t know how to do it, or they have too much on their plates already.
How do I make my articles freely available?
Academics need to conform to administrative expectations about what quality research looks like (for example by publishing a certain number of articles in journals with a certain impact factor). So in my view, researchers should be able to publish wherever they need to publish in order to conform to these constraints, advance their careers, or even just to get a foot on the academic ladder. Instead of relying on (high APC) OA journals, my advice is this:
Deposit your post-print in your institutional repository (and make it open to the public).
However, publishers normally require an embargo period before you can upload post-prints to institutional repos or networks like ResearchGate. If this is the case:
Self-archive the post-print on your personal website.
Both of these approaches are called Green OA. Let’s break it down.
Post-print: The version of your manuscript which has been through peer review and has had feedback incorporated, before the publisher typesets it. This is identical to the version of record minus the formatting.
Self-archiving: The act of uploading a manuscript to a personal website or repository and making it available for download.
Personal website: I’ve written a guide for setting up a personal website on the WordPress.com platform in less than 10 minutes. If you pay USD$5/month you get a custom domain name, or you can use a free plan which has some restrictions attached (e.g. your domain name will be mydomain.wordpress.com, and WordPress will display some ads on your site).
Luckily, all the big publishers allow self-archiving on personal websites (although even here there are sometimes embargoes such as the 6 month one required by Nature Publishing Group, but this is definitely not the norm). You can check policies for the journal on the SHERPA/RoMEO database, a searchable index of publisher and journal copyright policies including a simple summary of what you’re allowed to do with the post-print. I’ve never seen a journal that forbids self-archiving post-prints no matter what, but there may be a few. It’s also worth noting that some funders require you to deposit articles in publicly accessible databases after publication, so make sure the journal yo uare publishing in allows those requirements (or amend your copyright transfer agreement to retain certain rights – this opens up all sorts of possibilities).
“But no one will bother to search for my website”
Here’s my favourite part: If you self-archive your post-print in a repository or a personal website then Google will index the pdf and link to it in Google Scholar search results. Usually it will achieve this within a couple of weeks of you self-archiving the text.
For personal websites, all you have to do is follow some basic guidelines:
- the full text of your paper is in a PDF file that ends with “.pdf”,
- the title of the paper appears in a large font on top of the first page,
- the authors of the paper are listed right below the title on a separate line, and
- there’s a bibliography section titled, e.g., “References” or “Bibliography” at the end.
This takes care of discoverability nicely: Google scholar is the search engine of choice for people looking for free journal articles. If someone is looking for free research which you’re providing, they will likely find your post-prints.
Can’t I just email my paper to people who request it?
True, most journal agreements state the authors can email a copy to their colleagues if requested. When I was doing some background research for this blog post, I was not aware of this fact, and it was a major point of confusion for me. After all, none of the five largest publishers state this in their public-facing webpages on sharing and copyright. I even emailed Wiley and asked for clarification:
And Wiley came back with the following:
Not sure about you, but I would conclude I can only email the full-text of my paper to colleagues if it was part of teaching or training at my institution, or a grant/thesis/doctorate.
It turns out many journals do allow you to email the full-text out, but you’ll only find this in the copyright transfer agreement you sign as part of the publishing process. I’m still not sure why publishers have very different sharing policies to the journals they publish.
Even so, sharing your post-print online once is a lot easier than emailing your paper to everyone who requests it. Especially if people can’t see your email address in the first place:
Frustrating how many Nature (publishing house) journals don’t allow you to contact the corresponding author of a paper anymore without having an account. Corresponding author contact email is often the only way many people can get a copy of the paper outside the paywall
— Dr Manu Saunders (@ManuSaunders) June 15, 2018
What do you think?
Hopefully I’ve shown you how to make your work freely accessible without having to incur extra costs, or sacrifice your choice of journal.
Just self-archive your post-prints!
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think of this post. Are your lab members aware of the issues around copyright? Do they know they can self-archive? Why or why not would you consider doing this yourself? Please let me know in the comments.