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Library Research Guides

Open Access

This research guide provides readers with a basic understanding of Open Access, which is broadly defined as content that is free to access and re-use.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.

Finding Reputable Open Access Journals

You have three options when choosing to make your work open:

  • Publish in an explicitly open access journal, which might involve paying an article processing charge (APC)—a fee that is commonly used to offset the lack of a paid subscription to support the journal.
  • Publish in a hybrid journal that uses both open access and subscription models for making its content available to readers. APCs for these journals can be just as high (if not higher) than OA-only journals. High-profile journals and publishers in a number of disciplines are developing hybrid options for authors who choose (or are required by funding mandates) to make their work open.
  • Publish in a traditional subscription journal and self-archive a version of your article in your institutional or disciplinary repository (negotiating for the right to do so if necessary).

All three options will allow you to share some version of your work with the wider world. However, your decision will likely depend on two key factors:

  • Amount you are willing or able to pay (either out of pocket or via research funds) to publish your article.
  • Importance of publishing in particular kinds of publication venues for the purposes of securing tenure or promotion.

This combination of factors can produce many different results. For example, early-career scholars often have access to fewer research funds or grants to cover publication charges, and often feel pressure to publish in particular journals in order to satisfy tenure requirements. These individuals might choose to publish in a subscription journal and make use of other means to provide access to their work. Scholars who work with translational research and who want to ensure their materials will be available to communities beyond the academy might choose an open access journal to ensure the broadest possible access to their work, regardless of fees. Some researchers might have publication requirements imposed upon them by funding agencies, mandating that they share their work openly in accordance with the funder's rules. It's even possible that a top journal in your field might have very author-friendly agreements, allowing you to publish your work in accordance with open access principles without having to compromise on your need (or desire) to have it appear in a particular journal.

The most important thing to remember is that there are many ways to make your work open. Choose the method that works for you and your co-authors.

In order to make an informed decision, educate yourself about the default copyright policies of any journals you are considering as publication venues. It's possible they have author-friendly policies already. If you have received funds to support your research, educate yourself about any mandates or conditions upon receipt of those funds. It's possible your funding agency has requirements for publishing that you weren't aware of previously. If you need help finding an appropriate publication venue, consult a librarian in your field. 

Avoiding Predatory Publishers

While open access has allowed more transparent access to research, it has also spawned a cottage industry of fake journals who exist for the purpose of generating revenue rather than to further scholarship. There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid being fooled by a "predatory publisher."

  • Be exceedingly wary of unsolicited calls for proposals sent to you via email. Reputable journals and conferences don’t make cold calls.
  • Do not agree to submit manuscripts to, review submissions for, or join the editorial board of a journal you are not intimately familiar with. Speak to editors, other authors, and staff to determine if a journal or conference is legitimate. If questions about peer review or selection criteria, fees, business models, or organizational affiliation cannot be answered, consider the entity suspect.
  • Fact check any claims made by the publisher or conference organizer. If they list someone as a member of their editorial board, confirm that with the person in question. If they claim an impact factor or inclusion in a disciplinary index, independently confirm those details.
  • Make sure your own professional online presence is accurate and up to date. Having correct information about yourself on a departmental, institutional, or personal website is the best way to combat having your name appear on disreputable journal editorial boards or conference sites. Make it easier for others to perform the kind of due diligence described above.
  • Practice “herd immunity.” Talk to your colleagues about how to avoid being duped by predatory publishers, as these publishers typically trick unsuspecting academics—sometimes even respected, senior scholars—into recruiting colleagues for suspect editorial boards or soliciting their own networks for article submissions.
  • When in doubt about the authenticity of a journal or conference, talk to a librarian. Academic librarians are experts at finding and evaluating information. Liaison librarians in your subject area combine this knowledge with expertise in an academic discipline, which gives them even greater insight into the problem of sorting legitimate from illegitimate publication venues.

The best defense against being duped by a predatory publisher is a strong understanding of the publishing landscape in your own field. To learn more about where and how scholars in your discipline share their work, contact your librarian.

[This material was adapted from Meredith Kahn, "Sharing your scholarship while avoiding the predators: Guidelines for medical physicists interested in open access publishing," Medical Physics 41, no. 7 (July 2014), Licensed under CC BY 3.0.]