Open Access: A quick guide for researchers

By Maria Garruccio

Open Access Week is an international event held each year in October. It represents an important opportunity for open access advocates to engage their communities and teach them about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they have learned with colleagues,  and to discuss how to further promote open content.

You may be asking why is there even a need for an International Open Access Week? Let’s begin to answer these questions with fundamental information about what ‘open access’ is, along with highlighting some of the tools available at our Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT that can help make papers and data open access.

Open Access: What is it?

Open Access (OA) refers to free, unrestricted online access to research outputs such as journal articles, data, and books. The Open Access Movement began in the 1990s as a grassroots response to the increasingly high cost of academic journals. These costs: (1) could not be sustained by libraries, and (2) made it increasingly difficult for researchers to access the scientific information they needed.

Open Access is about giving people free, open and equitable access to information and data they need, without price and permission barriers.

Why is it important?

The OA movement and open access scholarly publishing has allowed many researchers to publish and access scientific information much more easily than ever before. This  benefits everyone – from researchers, whose work benefits from increased collaboration and sharing, to whole communities, that benefit from the accelerated pace of discovery.

Open access serves as an excellent leveler not only in the academic world but across society. Its focus is on equitable access to information for all, regardless of where they are located, and not just for a selected few who can afford a journal subscription or pay for a research article or book.

What benefits does Open Access bring?

OA benefits many groups across society:

  • Authors: OA gives them a worldwide audience and increases the visibility and citations of their work.
  • Readers: OA gives them barrier-free access to the literature they need for their research.
  • Libraries: OA addresses the problem of the rising cost of journal subscriptions.
  • Research Institutes: OA increases the visibility of their researchers and their research, reduces their expenditure on journals, and advances their mission to share knowledge.
  • Public: OA provides taxpayers with free access to the results of research they helped fund.

How to contribute to the Open Access/Open Science movement?

There are two main ways researchers can provide open access to their publications and data:

1. Selecting a reputable open access journal to publish the research. Many online tools can assist researchers in finding a relevant journal for their manuscript, for example: Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

2. Depositing peer-reviewed manuscripts in a trusted open access repository. For instance, the Alliance has open access repositories both for publications and research data that have been operational since early 2020, where we manage and provide value-added services to publications or data, such as increased visibility, long-term preservation and detailed metadata classification for resource discovery.  

Predatory publishing

While OA brings many advantages to society, challenges do exist, and one of these is the phenomena of ‘predatory publishers.’ This is perhaps a term you have seen many times by now, but haven’t given much thought or importance. However, if you are a researcher who spends time and effort writing research papers, it is worth reading these next few paragraphs to better understand why and how you should avoid these types of publishers.

What are predatory publishers?

Richard Poynder, a leading OA advocate, has described predatory publishers as those “who clearly and deliberately trick researchers – essentially, by failing to provide the promised (or even a meaningful) service and/or deceiving them about the nature of that service, simply in order to extract money from them.”

These are publishers that essentially operate a profit-driven publishing model. Researchers (or their affiliated organizations) are asked to provide payment to make their research paper open access. Their primary goal is revenue, and they have very little interest in providing services to improve or add value to the manuscript submitted to their journal.  Services such as peer-review, scientific editing, or other academic practices are often not considered, consequently the paper will be published without any major changes or edits.  

How do I recognize a predatory journal?

There has been an exponential growth of predatory publishers and journals in the last five years.  In early 2020, the Cabells Journal Blacklist had 13,000 titles listed! This high volume of journals makes it difficult to understand what is a legitimate venue for publishing, also because many of these publishers have become exceedingly good at presenting themselves to the world as a valid publishing option with their sophisticated websites. It is relatively easy, particularly for early career researchers, to be drawn into publishing with these journals. So how can we avoid falling into the trap of publishing our papers in a predatory journal? Here are some hints.

Typical behavior of possible predatory publishers include:

  • Spamming your email boxes aggressively, with invitations to publish your paper or serve on their editorial board.
  • Listing scholars as members of editorial boards without their knowledge or permission.
  • Their websites look suspiciously similar to other well-known and established publishers.
  • Giving false information about the location of the publishing operation on their website.
  • Contact emails are often personal emails, and not associated with the publisher or journal.
  • Notifying authors of fees only after acceptance.

Before submitting a paper to a publisher, make sure to check:

  • The editorial board. At times researchers have been listed as part of an editorial team without their knowledge, or prior consent. Verify the editorial team members, using university or LinkedIn profiles if possible. Check to see if any of the names listed are known in your area of research.
  • Quality of submissions. Read and check the quality of the other papers that have been published by the publisher. Ask yourself: would you be happy to have your paper published at the level of scientific editing you see here?
  • Check the time it takes from manuscript submission to publication. Papers that are accepted quickly often mean that the publisher has done little or no peer review, or quality control.
  • Check some of the tools available online to ascertain whether a journal is legitimate or not.  Some tools include:
    • Stop Predatory Journals:  a list maintained and coordinated by a small group of scholars and information professionals.

After having spent a great deal of time and effort carrying out your research and preparing your paper, taking the time to check the legitimacy of a publisher is worth your while.


For more info:

Alliance Bioversity-CIAT – Library

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