How to make your research 100% Open Access for free (and legally)

Publishing Open Access can cost a lot of money. Some journals charge up to $6000 for a single article, called an APC or article-processing charge. While researchers themselves rarely actually have to foot these bills, as their institutes of funders pay on their behalf, this sort of ‘pay to publish’ model for Open Access creates a vast layer of financial inequality within an already biased system.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

If you self-archive your work, either in a preprint server, which are becoming increasingly available, or an institutional repository, or a general platform like Zenodo or Figshare, then you don’t have to pay a penny. Self-archiving is a form of Open Access that is free, easy, and legal.

Here’s a sort of flow chart for you to check what you’re allowed to legally do in terms of self-archiving your research.

Download (TIFF, 670KB)

Doing this is becoming increasingly important as Open Access policies become more frequent, and tools like Unpaywall are developed to make discovering self-archived papers even easier. If you’ve ever heard the policy term ‘Green Open Access’, then this is what it is all about – self-archiving.

The important thing to note here is how to check journal policies through the Sherpa/Romeo tool, which is quite comprehensive. Some institutional repositories have inbuilt checks based on Sherpa/Romeo too, to make sure that your archiving efforts are journal-compliant. It’s also worth noting the existence of embargo periods, and challenging the need for them.

So self-archiving is low cost in terms of infrastructure, free to authors, and most of all a very simple way to make your entire published record Open Access. All you have to do is upload a PDF of your work, which is where the vast majority of the true research value lies. You can also upload data files alongside this, if needed.

Importantly, this means that researchers, and in particular those who are early-career researchers, can publish in often paywalled journals that they ‘need’ to advance their careers in the current incentive system, and still have risk-free Open Access.

If we self-archive as a research community en masse, several things could be achieved.

  1. Global Open Access to the research literature will become a reality for a very low cost;
  2. Subscriptions to publishers for our own content will be largely redundant as everything will be OA already;
  3. We create the basis for building tools, like Unpaywall, that can leverage the power of massive-scale access;
  4. We save $billions every year from university libraries that can be reinvested into students and open scholarly infrastructure;
  5. We make the need for quasi-legal entities like SciHub and ResearchGate to become redundant.


13 thoughts on “How to make your research 100% Open Access for free (and legally)

  1. Wouldn’t archiving pre-peer review papers be massively dangerous to the scientific community? It’s been stated before that open access papers get a lot more attention than non-OA papers, all other factors being the same, and the same would be expected to be true between versions of a paper (i.e., don’t have money to get access to the final version of a paper? Get the version that’s free).

    But at the same time, papers can change massively through peer review. New data can be added, ideas that do not stand up to scrutiny discarded, arguments bolstered, etc. Reviewers may have insights on a topic that may completely change the course of a section. Archiving pre-peer reviewed papers in this way means that poorly supported ideas or bad arguments may make it into the literature and important data do not. I know with several of my papers there are major differences between the pre- and post-review versions, and in a few cases in retrospect I am glad the reviewers recommended some of the information be taken out.

    Additionally, there is the issue of citation. What if an author wants to cite an idea in a paper, but it was only present in the pre-peer reviewed open access version and not the final version? It is truly a published part of that paper or not?

    1. It’s certainly a risk, but sites like ArXiv have been doing it for 30 years, with very few problems. People read pre-prints knowing what they are. The same argument is made of making PhD theses available, and again, few problems occur as people know what they are reading, and assess the information appropriately.

  2. Hi!
    Are you saying that legally a publisher (that has copyright over our work) cannot object to this and/or punish the author?
    Thank you!
    (for the article, too… very useful)

    1. That is correct! Check the Sherpa/Romeo site mentioned for different journal policies on this.

  3. Great article. Couple of suggestions:

    1. Even if we have funds for OA, where possible, shouldn’t we go for green OA?

    2. I’m a bit wary of Institutional Repositories; different places may have different systems that are visible to different degrees. I’d recommend people upload their papers via tools like http://dissem.in (which uses ORCID as a starting point and can stick papers on zenodo). Papers need to be visible. Check it using unpaywall.org

    1. Some funders now require ‘gold OA’, and some researchers still prefer journals that only publish OA, or have a hybrid option. And yes, agree that visibility is a key issue, especially if IRs aren’t being used by search engines like ScienceOpen or Google Scholar. Unpaywall is awesome.

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