Skip to Main Content

Open Access

What is Open Access?

"Open access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment." (SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition),

Let's break that definition down:

  1. "the free, immediate, online availability of research articles" - making articles accessible
    • without a subscription
    • without going through a paywall
    • without an embargo period
  2. "rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment" - allowing the distribution and reuse of articles (and article components)


    • quoting long excerpts of an article or tables/surveys
    • distributing full-text copies to students or colleagues
    • reusing a survey to compare results

Types of Open Access

There are multiple levels of open access.

  • Gold open access (journal level) - the entire journal, and every article published within, is considered open access
  • Green open access (article level) - the article is published in a non-open access journal, but the author retains the right to place a copy in an open access repository
  • hybrid open access - this term refers to articles which are published in non-open access journals, but which are made open access on the publishers site, usually by author request

Article Processing Charges

Article Processing Charges (or APCs) are commonly associated with open access publishing. Some journals charge authors in order to have articles published open access, in order to offset the loss of revenue from making articles available for free.

It is important to remember that charging an APC does not make a publisher a "vanity press." Articles still undergo peer review and editing like they would in a non-open access journal.

However, the use of APCs has led to an explosion of "predatory publishing," where publishers charge APCs but do not provide peer-review, editing, or indexing of published articles. (View the Predatory Publishing page of this guide for more information.)

Why Open Access?

SPARC also provides an good outline of the traditional, non-open access publishing model:

  1. Governments provide most of the funding for research—hundreds of billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  2. Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  3. Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  4. Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.