Open Access: OA Basics

Background image: Haustein, Stefanie (2018). "The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles". PeerJ 6: e4375. DOI:10.7717/peerj.4375. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons and is licenced under CC-BY-SA 4.0.


What is Open Access? [video]

'What is Open Access?' by SHB Online [YouTube]

Types of OA

The open access (OA) movement emerged as an alternative to the traditional publishing model, which works on a subscription basis. That is, full-text access is only granted to those individuals who are affiliated with an institution that has elected to pay the subscription fee.


The ultimate goal of OA is published literature that is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Though the end point is the same, there are a number of routes a researcher can take to get there:

  • Gold - An open access journal is one where the full text of the published version is available online for no cost to the reader, i.e. there is no subscription cost. The submitting author is often (but not always) required to pay an article processing charge (APC) at the time of publication (costs range from $1500-$3000 per paper). Check the SHERPA/RoMEO list of Publishers with Paid Options for Open Access.
  • Hybrid -  where a subscription-based journal offers immediate open access options for authors who pay an APC. 
  • Green - After publication, you can make your work green open access by depositing a full-text version in an open repository such as the VU Research Repository (VURR). Once it is published in an open repository, your full-text paper will be freely available on the internet to read, download, print and cite. To ensure you can deposit a full-text version in an open repository, make sure this is in the terms of your publishing contract before signing. Check your publisher’s self-archiving policy through SHERPA/RoMEO. Many publishers allow the author accepted version (the version after peer review or the final submitted version) or pre-print (pre-peer reviewing) to be deposited.
  • Bronze and Black - These lesser known types of OA are worth mentioning. “Bronze” open access refers to freely available journal articles with no license (and therefore no permission for reuse) and “black” open access refers to illegal open access (such as those articles available on pirate sites such as Sci-Hub and academic social networks like ResearchGate). These sites put the author at risk of takedown notices by copyright-holders(publishers).


Navigating the world of OA publishing can seem overly complicated, and may not be on the top of your list of priorities when choosing where to publish.  But there are many benefits to publishing your work OA, so it is recommended that you include a quick assessment of the OA policy of each journal when finalising your publication shortlist. An ideal strategy would include:

  1. Establishing a shortlist of journals to publish in that meet your ideal criteria based on quality, reach and relevance.
  2. Of that shortlist, are any Gold or Hybrid OA journals? If so, is there an APC? And, can that APC be funded through the VU OA funds? Finally, check that the article will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution License where the author retains copyright, and reuse conditions have been stipulated.
  3. If Gold OA is not an option, look at the OA policy of each journal on the SHERPA/RoMEO site. Ideally, you are looking for a journal that will permit the author to archive the post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing) version of their article, with no embargo period. Upon publication, be sure to follow the 'How to submit' instructions on the VU Research Repository so that your article is available both through the subscription-based journal you have selected, and as a green OA article via the VU Research Repository.