Open Access

The Basics of Open Access

What is Open Access? Why is it important?


What is Open Access?

Open Access means making the results of research freely available online under a licence that facilitates responsible reuse. It is a global movement that aims to improve the way in which researchers share their research outputs by making it easier for other people to discover, access and apply the findings of publicly-funded research.


Why is Open Access important?

It benefits researchers

Making your research open means that it is much more likely to be discovered, expanding your potential audience and making it more likely that your work will be cited by other people.

A larger audience also means that it is easier for researchers from other disciplines to discover your work, opening up new opportunities for collaboration.

It benefits society

Making your research open enables access for people such as independent academics or researchers from less wealthy institutions, who cannot afford to pay for traditional forms of access to research (e.g. journal subscriptions and expensive monographs). It is therefore particularly beneficial for people in developing countries.

Open access research is more likely to be seen by decision-makers, such as business leaders or government policy makers, meaning that it is also more likely to influence decisions that affect many peoples' lives.

Using open licensing makes it easier for innovators and practitioners to apply research results, creating real-world benefits such as improvements to public services or development of innovative products.

It is required by funders

It is generally felt that publicly-funded research should be as impactful as possible, in order to ensure value for the public money that has been invested into it. As a result, many funding organisations now require that research outputs are open access.

Further details of the Open Access requirements for some key funding bodies are available in our Funder and REF Requirements for Open Access guide.


How to make your research open access

There are a number of different ways in which you can make your research open access. It mostly depends on whether you are dealing with a published output like a journal article or book chapter, or whether you are dealing with an unpublished output like an oral conference presentation or an exhibition.

Published Outputs: Gold Open Access

For published outputs, one way of making your research open access is to ensure that your work is freely available under an open licence directly from the publisher's own website. While some publishers are now exclusively open access, many others will normally give you a choice about whether or not to publish open access. In some cases, the publisher might have separate open access and subscription journals; in other cases, the publisher might operate "hybrid" journals, in which you can choose to make your specific article open access in an otherwise subscription-based journal.

A minority of publishers do not require any payment from authors in order to publish open access, as they receive financial support from elsewhere. In most cases however, choosing Gold Open Access will usually cost a lot of money. The library has some offset deals in place that can reduce the amount you need to pay, but RGU does not have a central fund to support Gold Open Access. Normally our recommendation is to choose Green Open Access instead.

If you decide to go with Gold Open Access, you should do the following:

  1. Decide which publisher to use. There may be a large number of factors to consider here, including the publisher's reputation, the quality of the journal and the cost of any Open Access fees (also called "article processing charges", or APCs).

  2. Check that you have funds to cover the APCs. It may first of all be worth double-checking whether any of the library's offset deals can help to reduce the costs. If no offset deal applies, or if it is only a partial discount, then you should refer to the terms of any external grants, to see whether there are any provisions for covering Open Access costs as part of your funding. If you are funded by one of the six charities in the Charity Open Access Fund (COAF), then you may be able to contact your funder directly to ask for more money to cover APCs, as RGU does not recieve an institutional COAF block grant. Otherwise, you should consult with your department to try and find the necessary money.

  3. Get published! Submit your work to the publisher as normal, making sure that you choose Gold Open Access (or the publisher's equivalent) if you are going with a hybrid journal.

  4. Upload your output to the university repository. Even if your work is open access on the publisher's website, it is still best practice to put a copy on OpenAIR as well. To find out more about OpenAIR, feel free to contact the publications team, and check out our guides on OpenAIR and Worktribe, the university's research information system.

Published Outputs: Green Open Access

For published outputs, an alternative way of making your research open access is to share a copy of your work under an open licence on an open access repository. Many universities have their own institutional repository - at RGU, ours is called OpenAIR. There are also some disciplinary repositories, such as PubMed Central or Europe PubMed Central.

While Green Open Access is free for you to use (unlike Gold, which usually requires payment), it often comes with some restrictions that are imposed by the publishers. The most common restrictions include needing to use the accepted version of your work rather than the published version, and needing to observe an embargo - normally ranging from 6 to 24 months in length - before the full text can be made publicly available.

If you decide to go with Green Open Access, you should do the following:

  1. Decide which publisher to use. There may be a large number of factors to consider here, including the publisher's reputation, the quality of the journal and whether their restrictions on Green Open Access will still allow you to comply with any funder requirements for Open Access. You can often find the details of publisher restrictions on the "self-archiving" section of their website, or in the SHERPA RoMEO database of publisher restrictions. The publications team are also able to check publisher restrictions for you, so feel free to get in touch at this stage.

  2. Get accepted! Submit your work to the publisher as normal. Once your work has gone through peer review and any resulting changes have been applied, the publisher should confirm final acceptance of your submission and begin preparing it for publication. The version of the document that you have at this stage is referred to as the "accepted manuscript", and is the version that you should generally use for Green Open Access.

  3. Choose where to share your output. At RGU, we strongly recommend making use of OpenAIR, our institutional repository. To find out more about OpenAIR, feel free to contact the publications team, and check out our guides on OpenAIR and Worktribe, the university's research information system. Make sure that you get your work onto the repository quickly, in order to comply with any relevant funder mandates. You can find more information on funder requirements in our Funder and REF Requirements for Open Access guide.

Unpublished Outputs

By "unpublished" outputs, we mean things such as images, videos, project websites, exhibitions, performances, artworks and research data (though research data can sometimes be published). In these cases, you just need to do the following:

  1. Ensure you have a digital record of your output. This will be one or more digital files that document your work, for example the transcript and/or audio recording of an oral presentation, the catalogue and/or video walkthrough of an exhibition, or a set of photographs detailing a physical object.

  2. Decide which open licence to use. Creative Commons licences are the most frequently used open licences and can be tailored to ensure that you are making your work as open as you want it to be. Check out our guide on open licensing for more information.

  3. Choose where to share your output. At RGU, we strongly recommend making use of OpenAIR, our institutional repository. To find out more about OpenAIR, feel free to contact the publications team, and check out our guides on OpenAIR and Worktribe, the university's research information system.


How to find and use open resources

All sorts of openly accessible materials exist, which you can find online and reuse for your own research or projects. For the purposes of this guide, open resources are grouped into three broad categories:

  • Open access research outputs - like journal articles, research data and other resources created by researchers during a project.

  • Open educational resources - like lecture slides, workshop plans and other resources created by academics teaching courses to students.

  • Openly licenced creative works - like images, audio and other materials created by anyone and shared online.

Finding Open Access Research Outputs

Open access research outputs are most commonly found in repositories and publisher databases.

  • Repositories

    There are a very large number of repositories accessible online. Some of them feature content associated with only one organisation - these are called "institutional repositories", for example RGU's OpenAIR. Some repositories are not associated with any particular organisation, but cater to a limited number of disciplines - these are called "subject repositories", for example PubMed Central for medical research, or Arxiv for various scientific disciplines. There are also repositories that harvest their content from many other repositories - these are called "aggregator repositories", for example CORE for global research papers or EThOS for UK doctoral theses.

    Most repositories should also be indexed by search engines like Google, so you can often find open access research just by doing a basic search online. However, if you want to search directly on a specific repository, then you can find a list of potential sources using the Directory of Open Access Repositories or the Registry of Research Data Repositories.

  • Publisher Databases

    Some publishers produce exclusively open access content, so their entire database will be openly accessible - for example, the PLoS or Hindawi databases. Other publisher databases will usually tag specific resources as open access, and should allow you to filter search results to show only those that are open access. Examples of these include Elsevier's ScienceDirect or Springer's SpringerLink.

    There is no single place to search for a listing of all publisher databases that have open access content. However, you can use the Directory of Open Access Journals or the Directory of Open Access Books to browse for a specific journal or monograph that is entirely open access.

Finding Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources (OERs) are most commonly found in repositories. These will usually be institutional repositories, and a single institution might have separate repositories for outputs and OERs, or it might use the same repository for both. Examples of institutional repositories that are specifically for OERs include the University of Edinburgh's Open.Ed and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare. The most well-used OER repository that is not associated with a single institution is the OER Commons.

Finding Openly Licenced Creative Works

There are various kinds of open licences (see our guide on open licences to find out more about these), which can be applied to content that is shared online. The most well-known are Creative Commons licences, which can be used for all kinds of content. Examples of creative websites that include content with a Creative Commons licence include Flickr, SoundCloud and YouTube

Flickr

Flickr is a website that allows users to share their photography and graphic designs under a licence of their choice. When searching on Flickr, you can filter the results by the type of reuse rights you need, or just browse all images under any Creative Commons licence. Additionally, the reuse rights for all images are displayed in icon format just below the image when viewing it in full.

SoundCloud

SoundCloud is a website that allows users to share music and audio files under a licence of their choice. When searching on SoundCloud, use the left-hand menu to filter by Tracks and then use the copyright symbol that appears under other filter options to select how you'd like to reuse the audio. Additionally, when content is added under a Creative Commons licence, this is displayed as part of the description when viewing the item's details.

YouTube

YouTube is a very well-known website that allows users to share video-based content, either under a standard (restrictive) YouTube licence, or under a more open licence. When searching on YouTube, you can filter the results to show only Creative Commons licensed videos. Additionally, the reuse rights for all videos are displayed in the video's details.

There is also a vast amount of "public domain" content available online - i.e. it is too old to be in copyright any more, or the creator has decided not to retain copyright and to make the resource publicly available instead. There are many databases of these - a couple of examples include the Wellcome Collection and Wikimedia Commons.

Using Open Resources

What you can do with an open resource depends on the licence under which it was originally shared. The specific terms of the licence will state whether you are allowed to share the resource, modify the content, or even to use the material for commercial purposes. You are usually required to acknowledge who the original creator was and where you got the material from - unless it is public domain, but even then it is a good idea to say where you found it originally. You can find more information about how open licences work in our Open Licensing guide.