Monday, 2 March 2015

Why and how we should all be making our research open access

How often have you come across an article that is relevant to your work, only to find that it is behind a paywall? You may eventually have gained access through your university’s journal subscriptions, but what about those who have no university affiliation? The issue of free, immediate, unlimited access to research is currently a hot topic across all sciences. But what exactly is meant by ‘open access’, what are the benefits, and how can you make sure your work is open access? This article will examine the issues and myths surrounding open access. 

Open access refers to the publishing of research and scientific data online at no cost to the reader. As researchers, we want our work to be accessed by the maximum number of people, not only for improving our citations, but also to spread knowledge about our exciting areas of research. Academics in low income countries may not have university journal subscriptions, leaving them unable to keep up with the latest work in their area. Doctors, teachers and policy makers may also want access to the latest research to inform decisions about practice (The Right to Research Coalition, 2014). Further, patients might want to look at possible adverse effects from different treatments as reported in journal articles. More generally, members of the public may simply have an interest in research findings. Given that much of our research is funded by the tax payer, we have a duty to make our outputs accessible to everyone. 

Surprisingly then, open access is still debated, and many researchers are still choosing not to publish through this route (Rhodes, 2014). This is partly a result of widespread misunderstandings about open access (Suber, 2013). One myth is that submissions do not go through such rigorous peer review. This is certainly not a feature of open access publishing. In fact a number of journals publish peer reviews alongside accepted articles, so that you can see the reviewer comments. Reading through these (for example, at the open access journal PeerJ (, will show that the peer review standard is equivalent to traditional journals. It is also commonly believed that open access publishing is expensive, but it can be cheap and in many cases it is free to submit to an open access journal. The Directory of Open Access Journals (2014) has a search engine that allows you to look for free journals. A further concern about open access is that papers do not reach high impact compared to traditional journals. If you measure impact by wide readership, then it is clearly the case that your paper can go further when it is freely accessible online across the globe. Indeed, research has shown that open access articles received more citations than closed access articles within the same journal (Eysenbach, 2006). Academics are becoming increasingly critical of journal impact factors (Curry, 2012), and with the rise of public engagement, research impact is starting to be measured in more real terms than a journal’s impact factor. The Research Councils UK (2014) Pathways to Impact go beyond academic impact alone, and encourage researchers to have economic and societal impacts.

So how should you go about making your work open access? As a postgraduate student, the first thing you can do is discuss options with your supervisor. When you are working on a paper, make it clear that you’d like to go open access. As with all paper submissions, look for related work and see where it has been published. Some journals are not fully open access but allow you to pay to make your own article open. The Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust have pots of money available for open access fees. Again, speak with your supervisor, and ask your librarian, who should know the procedure for accessing this money. Your university should also have an online repository for uploading your article after it has been accepted for publication. This can often just be a pre-print version, but it means that others can access your work straight away.

In terms of open data, many journals will allow you to include your raw data in a supplementary section, or you could upload it to a separate online repository and refer to it. There is an increasing push to make raw research data open access (Alsheikh–Ali, 2011) as it increases the transparency of your work and allows the data to be used by other researchers. How often have you read a paper and been dubious about the results? Or perhaps you’ve wondered what the raw data looks like? By providing this data, you are allowing others to look at it and confirm that your conclusions fit the data. Given recent fraud in our field, this is one way of building trust, and it allows others to play with your data. Rather than worrying about others seeing our raw data, we should be flattered that it is deemed interesting enough to be explored! Storing data online is also a nice way of preserving it, following the hours (if not months or years!) that went into collection and input. The Dryad Digital Repository (2013) is one example of a website that allows you to upload your data.

As early career researchers, we may find ourselves faced with difficult decisions when it comes to open access. Erin McKiernan is an early career researcher who has pledged to be open (McKiernan, 2014). McKiernan will not edit or review papers for closed access journals, nor will she publish in closed access journals. McKiernan has therefore pledged to take her name off of a paper if her co-authors refuse to publish open access. These are decisions that need made individually, and they are likely to be difficult at times. If you are lucky enough to discover something groundbreaking in your research, you may be forced to choose between submitting to a careermaking high impact journal such as Nature or Science, and submitting to an open access journal that may be overlooked by future employers. Awareness of these issues is increasing, evidenced by the second open access conference, which was held in October last year (OpenCon 2014, 2014). At the moment there are no right or wrong answers to these scenarios, but it is hoped that with time all journals will be freely accessible across the globe, and we won’t have to make these decisions. Visit Right to Research ( to find out more about the steps you can take to support open access.

This article was originally published in PsyPAG Quarterly, a peer-reviewed publication by and for psychology postgraduates at UK universities. Full reference:
Brookman, A. (2015). Why and how we should all be making our research open access. PsyPAG Quarterly, 94, 53-54.


Alsheikh–Ali, A.A., Qureshi, W., Al-Mallah, M.H. & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2011). Public availability of published research data in high-impact journals. PLoS ONE, 6, e24357.

Curry, S. (2012). Sick of Impact Factors. Reciprocal Space. [Blog post]. Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

Dryad (2013, December 18). The repository: Key features. Dryad Digital Repository. Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

Infrastructure Services for Open Access (2014). Directory of Open Access Journals. Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

McKiernan, E. (2014). Being Open as an Early-Career Researcher. Paper Presented at OpenCon 2014, 21 November. Video available from watch?v=h4jWAj6Ji08&

Eysenbach, G. (2006). Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLoS Biology, 4(5), e157.

OpenCon 2014 (2014). About OpenCon. Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

Research Councils UK (2014). What do Research Councils mean by ‘impact’? Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

Rhodes, E. (2014). Open-access concerns. The Psychologist, 27(12), p.905.

The Right to Research Coalition (2014). Why Open Access? Retrieved 11 December 2014 from

Suber, P. (2013, October 21). Open access: Six myths to put to rest. The Guardian. Retrieved 11 December 2014 from blog/2013/oct/21/open-access-myths-peter-suber-harvard

No comments:

Post a comment