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Scholarly Communication: FAQ

What is scholarly communication? This guide serves as an introduction to open access publishing as well as a guide to facilitate scholarly communication and collaboration.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the term ‘open access’ even mean, really?

 One common definition is:

"By 'open access' to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited." - from the Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2001

What’s in it for me?

By making your work available through open access sources, such as open access journals or disciplinary or institutional repositories, your work may be seen by more researchers because they will no longer need a subscription to see your research.  This expands the potential impact of your work, and may lead to broader recognition and citation of your scholarship.

But no one I know publishes open access, why should I?

You probably do know people that have published in open access modes.  Many UT researchers have participated in open access publishing through the National Institutes of Health mandate and PubMedCentral, the arXiv preprint archive, and SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network), among others.  Our graduate students publish their theses and dissertations in the OhioLINK Electronic Thesis & Dissertation Center, an open access archive.

What options do I have for making my work open access?

There are several options for making your research available through open access:

  • Publish in an open access journal.
    o The Directory of Open Access Journals offers a list of free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals in a broad array of disciplines. Select “For authors” to see the various open access options available.
  • Choose an open access option in a traditional journal that has become “hybrid,” giving the author the option to pay for an individual article to be open access.
  • Include your work in one of the Discipline-based repositories, e.g.:
    • Social Sciences:  SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network)
    • Computer science: Citeseer
    • Physics, Math, nonlinear sciences, computer science, quantitative biology: ArXiv
    • Economics: RePec
    • Psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and other disciplines as they relate to the study of cognition: Cogprints

(Adapted from: MIT Libraries)

If work is freely available on the web, doesn’t that mean it’s not peer-reviewed?

No, the questions of peer review, format of publication, and subscription are separate.  Just as a subscription-based journal may be peer reviewed or not, and may be available online, in print, or both, so too with open access publications.  The Directory of Open Access Journals lists thousands of peer-reviewed open access journals, and their criteria for inclusion requires some form of quality control such as a peer-review process or editorial board.

Open access publications don’t count toward tenure and promotion. 

Are you sure?  Many open access articles are peer reviewed just like subscription-based journal articles.  Additionally, some traditional publishers have a 'hybrid' model that allows authors to publish individual articles in a open access format.  Additionally, some grant funding agencies, like the National Institute of Health, require all grant-funded research to be published in an open access repository.  See also the question above regarding peer review.

It’s important for me to publish in journals with high impact factors, and don’t open access journals have low impact?

Journal impact factors are a measure of average citations to papers in that journal over a set period of time.  In all disciplines, there are journals with a wide range of impact factors, and open access journals can rank in the top tier of their category (e.g. PLoS Medicine, BMC Biology, etc.).  Journal Impact Factors are a measurement of publication and citation patterns in a journal, not for individual articles or authors.  There are many other citation measurements that quantify author impacts.  Also, many repositories provide for a range of other measurements of use and impact (such as views and downloads), not just citations.

I don’t know of any open access journals in my field.

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists many open access journals, and many journal publishers have programs that allow individual articles to be published as open access, even if the whole journal is not open access (a so-called 'hybrid' model).  Also, retaining the necessary rights to publish your papers in an institutional repository, even after an embargo period, is another way to make your article open access without publishing in an entirely open access journal.

Can’t I already post my papers on my own web site?  After all, I’m the author!

No, not ncessarily... you have likely signed copyright over to your journal publisher as part of the copyright transfer agreement.  Unless you negotiated the retention of these rights, or licensed only specific rights to the publisher, you may be limited in what you can post on your website, share with colleagues, or even reuse in subsequent publications, such as reusing figures or photographs.  See SPARC's page on retaining author rights, or use the SHERPA/RoMEO site to look up the copyright and self-archiving policies for specific journals or publishers.

But surely I can reuse my own words for teaching and publication? 

Again, not necessarily.  Certain exceptions to U.S. copyright policy are given regarding Fair Use, including educational uses, but remember that you may no longer be the copyright holder.  See the question above about posting papers on your website for more resources.

Wouldn’t putting a copy of my paper (preprint or postprint) in an institutional archive violate copyright?

This also depends on what rights you have retained when publishing your work through another publisher.  Some publishers make specific exceptions for work placed in disciplinary or instititutional archives and repositories (especially if there is an institutional or funder open access mandate requiring depositing the file), and other publishers will allow posting of certain pre-print or pre-editorial versions of your article to be placed in a repository.  Use the SHERPA/RoMEO site to look up the copyright and self-archiving policies for specific journals or publishers.

Doesn’t putting my work out there for free just invite plagiarism? 

Actually, open access publication may make it easier to detect plagiarism, and easier to prove because works aren’t hidden behind paywalls and reviewers/editors can find uncited sources easier.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, so who pays for these ‘free’ open access papers?

True, Open access to research and scholarship is not free—there are costs involved in making research available. The economic models to support unrestricted access to research are still being developed; the common thread among the models is that open access research is available at no charge to all readers.  Here are a few of many funding models:

  • One model that exists is for there to be a payment when the author submits an article. The open access publisher BioMed Central offers a table comparing such author side payments.
  • Some new open access publishers, such as the for-profit BioMed Central, require author payments, but these are waived for institutions who’ve purchased a membership (similar to an institutional subscription). In other cases, such as the not-for-profit PLoS (Public Library of Science), the institutional membership reduces the publication fee for faculty and researchers.
  • Other titles are subsidized, often by scholarly societies, institutions, or foundations.
  • Some journals are entirely open access; every article is available without restriction. Other journals are ‘hybrid’ in that they are traditional subscription-based journals, but offer authors the choice to pay a fee to make their individual article freely accessible to anyone worldwide. The other articles in the journal remain accessible only through subscription.
  • Some publishers offer all their titles under one kind of open access policy, and others have different policies for different titles.

(adapted from: MIT Libraries)

How would I afford to pay author fees to publish in open access journals? Besides, doesn’t that mean that this is just vanity publishing, I pay and they publish it?

Open access journals do not remove quality filters, see peer review above.  And despite being called ‘author fees’ or ‘author pays’ models, it is often paid for through other means, such as a university open access fund, through a funding agency or written into a grant budget, or covered by a waiver for economic hardship.

I can already get just about any article I need for free on the web through my scholarly society, ScienceDirect, or Google Scholar, why should I worry about open access?

Many of those articles are ‘free’ to you because of the university’s subscription to a commercial or society publisher.  The University Libraries try to make access to our paid subscription content seamless, so you may not know it is something we have already paid for, especially if you are access it from an on-campus computer.