Open access (OA) scholarly journals allow unrestricted, free access to published articles to anyone with Internet access. Unlike conventional paywall or proprietary publishing, the reader pays nothing, though the author may instead pay a fee.
The proliferation of open access journals began in the early 2000s. Together with the need for researchers to publish more and publish faster, OA has grown increasingly popular.
Many researchers are torn between publishing in open access and traditional journals. But OA publishing benefits researchers, science, and the public alike. This article outlines the 11 top reasons you should go open access. It draws on real-life examples and existing evidence.
What you’ll learn in this post
• 11 good reasons to choose open access for your research.
• How open access encourages transparency and collaboration.
• Ways that choosing OA publication doesn’t always mean you sacrifice impact and prestige.
• How OA still lets you get credit for your work.
• A way to recommend suitable, knowledgeable peer reviewers the next time you submit a scientific manuscript for publication.
1. OA increases accessibility and visibility
Publishing your article in an OA journal helps you increase the accessibility and visibility of your research. This is because more people worldwide will be able to access your work.
A Springer Nature white paper analyzed 70,000 articles published in hybrid journals and found OA articles were downloaded an average of 1.6 times more by university-based readers. And general readers downloaded them four times as often than non-OA publications.
We still can’t undeniably state, however, that OA publishing leads to more citations. One study found an “open-access citation advantage,” with OA articles receiving 18% more citations than the average. Likewise, 43 out of the 58 studies examined by Frontiers’ Policy Labs confirmed the existence of an OA citation advantage. Importantly, recent studies provided definitive proof of a citation advantage.
However, the publication’s field may also play a role in the correlation between OA and scientific impact. For instance, OA articles in OA ecology journals have citation advantages in that citations accumulate over time and are independent of the economic status of the citing authors’ country.
But this isn’t the case for increased citations in, for example, civil engineering.
2. You can be published faster than in traditional, gated journals
The speed from acceptance to publication is a key factor determining researchers’ decisions about where and how to publish.
Science authors need to publish widely to:
- Secure funding
- Get promotions
- Ensure their findings are still relevant
OA journals publish much faster than traditional journals without compromising review quality.
For example, PeerJ Publishing promises it only takes 30 days to the first decision across all subjects. Likewise, the all-OA journal PLOS ONE claims that the handling academic editor makes the first decision in about 43 days. Of course, the time frame for the final decision will be longer.
3. Your research will have a faster and wider impact
If you publish open access, you can reach a broader audience faster. This includes educators, policymakers, and the general public. Most of them can’t access costly journal subscriptions.
Examples of faster and wider impact include:
- Researchers can quickly expand existing research with “tolerant” licenses such as CC BY (more on this later on).
- News outlets and journalists can easily reference your research in press releases and online.
- Readers can share your article on social media for others to read, in full, broadening its potential audience.
- More than 38,000 Springer Nature open access articles have been cited in global policy documents. These include citations by the United Nations, WHO, and the World Bank.
- One scholar secured wider popularity by publishing an open access monograph. He launched the book with public online discussions at law schools, bookstores, libraries, and other organizations. He also secured a program with Wikipedia.
4. Costs readers much less
Research and educational institutions use huge amounts of money to access gated journal content, whether directly or through databases and platforms like ProQuest and EBSCO.
UK universities, for example, paid scientific publishers over $1 billion in the 2010s. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries threatened to cancel journal subscriptions unless prices dropped. We’ll see if this sentiment continues.
Many institutions and lone researchers simply can’t afford to access paywalled journals. Since the early days of OA journals, the most important motivation was enabling readers free access. With such distinct differences, hybrid journals and other open platforms such as preprints continue to emerge and be subject to debate.
5. Peer reviewed and increasingly good impact factors
Many authors choose not to publish in an OA journal because they’re concerned about its perceived quality. But many high-quality OA journals have a rigorous peer review process.
PLOS ONE, BMC Open, and Cell Reports Medicine all are OA journals that are also highly ranked, credible, and widely cited. While BMC Open, for example, may be offered to authors as a “plan B” if their manuscript isn’t seen as fit for another BMC journal, It’s not necessarily inferior. It still carries the BMC’s good name and ensures excellent exposure.
How can you tell if a particular OA journal is a good choice?
- Check to see if the journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. This is an authoritative and extensive index of OA journals.
- See if the journal is a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. A thorough screening process is required for membership.
- Use the Think. Check. Submit. checklist. The checklist also includes techniques for assessing the credentials of any journal or publisher.
- Use the Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR) portal. It can help you understand the quality and relevance of OA journals by considering the number of citations a journal has received and the prestige of the journals from which the citations are received.
6. Encourages research collaboration
Open access publications and data help researchers connect more easily. Thereby, they enable them to conduct collaborative research on a global scale.
|HSS example||The World Oral Literature Project collaborated with the Cambridge-based Open Book Publishers (OBP). The aim was to develop a World Oral Literature book series. This series was part of a global effort to document and make accessible endangered oral literatures before they vanish without a trace.|
|STEM example||The open Crystallography Open Database is an “open access collection of crystal structures of organic, inorganic, metal-organic compounds and minerals.” All registered users can deposit published and unpublished structures. They thus work together to create a global, Internet-based, collaborative platform for collecting and curating structural knowledge.|
7. Increases research transparency
OA publishing facilitates research transparency. In 2017, BMC Medicine (a pioneer in open access publishing) became the first medical journal to accept Registered Reports. A Registered Report is “an article format that includes only the rationale and proposed methodology behind the study.”
This practice improves the transparency and reproducibility of science. It also increases its impact on patients and communities by involving them in disseminating scientific knowledge.
This is especially important for open access medical research. Research participants and clinicians give their time and energy to medical research. They have the right to freely access the research findings.
8. Your work is copyright-protected
Publishing open access doesn’t mean your work will be unprotected. Many open access works are published under a Creative Commons (CC) copyright. Copyrights restrict and regulate what others can do with your research. They protect your work from being compiled, repurposed, or sold for profit.
Creative Commons offers useful solutions for managing intellectual property. And it’s increasingly gaining popularity. Nearly two billion works (scholarly and not) were licensed (PDF) under Creative Commons in 2019.
For Creative Commons-licensed research, readers can:
- Copy and disseminate the work in different formats
- Change and build upon the work for any purpose
- But they need to give appropriate credit and explain whether changes are made
Science builds on extensive scientific debate and advances by improving earlier research. Using CC licensing helps you make science work better and quicker.
Need more information on CC?
- Explore the permissions that Creative Commons licenses allow (PDF).
- Learn how to create your own easy-to-attribute license for CC scholarly works.
9. Funding bodies increasingly require open access
Foundations and funders are increasingly inclined to support OA. For example, Horizon Europe grantees are requested to “ensure open access to all peer-reviewed scientific publications.”
Also, when a manuscript is submitted and accepted in an OA journal, authors pay a publication fee to cover the peer review costs and make the content freely available online. Some foundations and funders, such as The Wellcome Trust, cover these publication costs.
10. Benefits greater science and society
Most scientific research is publicly funded. Yet research revenues are distributed disproportionately; they benefit shareholders rather than researchers and communities.
OA publishing benefits society by removing the barriers between research and the general public. OA research can reach and empower learners and research communities in developing countries, as well as independent researchers and innovative businesses worldwide.
Essentially, OA publishing increases the likelihood that key industry and public sector stakeholders will reap the benefits of your efforts. They’ll use the latest research to make evidence-based decisions that improve people’s lives.
Scholars are increasingly relying on online search engines and indexes to conduct the majority of, if not all, of their research. This means that if your article is SEO-friendly (search engines can find it, and let others find it, more easily), it will be read, downloaded, and cited more frequently.
Search engines like Google and Bing can more easily discover content published in open access journals because it’s all available for reading. This means their spiders can “crawl” it an index it.
Researchers and other readers using Google Scholar can read your entire article rather than being redirected to yet another restricted abstract. At worst, paywalls mean they have to pay. At best, they’ll be able to gain access via their institution (which can take some digging). But if they’re not affiliated with an institution that grants access, they may never get to read a paywalled work.
More information about Google Scholar indexing requirements can be found here.
So are you ready to add an open access option or use an OA journal?
Whichever format you choose, Edanz’s Journal Selection service assigns your manuscript to a subject-matter expert researcher who can meet your requirements for impact factor, publication date, and open access choice. You can also drop your abstract or your keywords into the free Edanz Journal Selector (the original tool of its type) to get some ideas on where to submit.