Quick guide

An introduction to open access

Last updated:

Open access (OA) means making research publications freely available so anyone can benefit from reading and using research.

Open access can be more than making research available to read, but also allowing others to re-use that research. For example, allowing the content to be analysed using text mining or reused for commercial purposes. Research data and books are also increasingly made available openly.

Open access is part of a wider ‘open’ movement to encourage free exchange of knowledge and resources in order to widen access and encourage creativity.

Benefits

Wider economy and society

When research is held behind a publisher’s paywall, this restricts access to only those who can afford it. Anyone can benefit from wider access to research, from small businesses to schools.

These benefits have led to many funders requiring outputs of the research they fund to be made available open access.

Researchers and research institutions

Set against a background of rising journal costs and constrained library budgets, the benefits of open access to researchers and research institutions include:

Read our guide on how open access can help with discovery, usage and impact of your institution’s research.

Apart from the research and societal benefits, open access might also help address the challenge of journal costs rising faster than library budgets.

Benefits of open access infographic.

Benefits of open access diagram: text version

The image above shows eight benefits of open access:

  • More exposure for your work
  • Practitioners can apply your findings
  • Higher citation rates
  • Your research can influence policy
  • The public can access your findings
  • Compliant with grant rules
  • Taxpayers get value for money
  • Researchers in developing countries can see your work

Types of open access publishing

Various models have emerged to support open access publishing.

Gold open access

Gold open access means immediate access to an article in an online journal. Some journals contain only open access articles whereas others, known as hybrid journals, may offer a mix of open and subscription content. In both cases, there are costs associated with publishing which need to be met.

These costs, usually paid to the publisher through article processing charges (APCs), may be paid by authors or subsidised by a third party such as a funding council. Some journals don’t charge authors to publish and the costs are subsidised by a third party, such as a learned society. This is sometimes referred to as ‘diamond’ or ‘platinum’ OA.

Green open access

Green open access involves publishing in a traditional subscription journal as usual, but articles are also 'self-archived' in a repository (institutional or external subject-based repository) and usually made available after an embargo period set by the publisher. No charges are paid. 

Meeting the right requirements

Research funders and publishers funders may have different requirements.

Our Sherpa services can help you identify these policies, while our guide on complying with these policies has more detail on what you can do.

How we can help

Implementing open access affects research institutions in many ways. We have produced a series of guides to support you on your journey.

We’re working to develop services, provide support, and influence policy in order to enable UK higher education to realise the rewards of open access. You can explore this further via our dedicated open access pages.

This guide is made available under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND).