A researcher’s complete guide to open access papers

Open access is one of the most effective ways of ensuring your findings can be read and built upon by a broad audience. Sharing your papers and data without restrictions can help to build a better research culture, and lead to faster, more advanced outcomes for the global challenges we face today.

Open access isn’t an easy concept to grasp, however. In this blog, we provide you with a full overview of the various aspects of open access. We also cover the tools designed to help you discover freely-accessible papers and journals, including the Web of Science™ and Journal Citation Reports™.

We cover:


Looking for open access articles? Watch our video to quickly find and focus your search in the Web of Science.

What is open access and how did it develop?

Open access (OA) is the name for free, digital, full-text scientific and academic material made available online. As defined by Creative Commons, open access papers are “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.”1

The 1990s saw the beginning of the open access movement brought on by the widespread availability of the World Wide Web, although researchers in physics and computer science had been self-archiving work on the internet long before this method of publication was officially named open access. Self-archiving articles into an online depository helped researchers share their papers more widely, optimizing access and maximizing its subsequent impact.


What are the advantages of making papers open access?

One of the greatest benefits of making your material open access is that you can disseminate your research more rapidly and to a broader audience. Your work will be available to a wider set of researchers, including to researchers and students from a diverse setting, helping them advance their work more quickly and enrich their learning without restriction2. This widespread distribution helps share new ideas, stimulate new studies, and greatly improves research and discovery in a vast number of academic disciplines. It may also increase your chances of more citations and impact.2


Benefit from open access data in the Web of Science and Journal Citation Reports

The Web of Science is one of the most trusted solutions for researchers to discover open access publications. Our publisher-neutral approach means that you can quickly find papers that are not only free to read, but also from reputable sources worth your time and attention.

Using the Web of Science, you can access more than 14 million peer-reviewed open access papers. 32% of 2015 to 2019 Web of Science Core Collection™ records point to open access content.

Watch this video or read our blog to learn more about how to discover open access content on the Web of Science.

This also extends to the Journal Citation Reports, where we included new open access publication data in early 2020 (find out more). This helps the research community better understand the contribution of gold open access content to the literature and its influence on scholarly discourse.


The different types of open access

There are no single, agreed-upon definitions of open access types. However, there are five relatively common types of open access worth knowing about, regardless of whether they’re “officially” accepted:

These different types of open access describe various ways to make academic work freely available online. We discuss these in more detail below (click any of the above links to skip to this section). First, here’s a short summary about Creative Commons Licences.


Creative Commons Licences

Open access papers sometimes have lenient copyright and licensing restrictions depending on the open access route they have been published through, allowing anyone on the internet to read, download, copy and distribute material within reasonable use.

Derivative work can also be produced using some open access papers, providing the original author is credited. Creative Commons licences help you share scholarly material legally online with standardized copyright licences. Below is a brief explanation of the different Creative Commons licences available.


Creative Commons Licences
Conditions and licence type Definition
Attribution (CC BY)


Every Creative Commons licence requires anyone using your work to credit you in the way you see fit. Their credit cannot suggest that you have endorsed their use of your work. People using your work who do not wish to credit you must get permission from you before using it.

Attribution (CC BY): This is the most lenient of Creative Commons licences, and allows users to share, edit and build on your work, even for commercial uses. Users must credit you if they wish to use your work.


ShareAlike (CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC-SA) You allow other people to use, copy, share, show and change your work if they share any modified versions of your work under the same conditions that you originally shared it. Permission must be sought from you if users wish to share it under different conditions.

Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): Users can share, edit and build on your work, including for commercial purposes. All derivative works created from your work must also be shared under the Attribution ShareAlike licence.


NonCommercial (CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA) You allow other people to copy, share, show and change your work, unless you have chosen NoDerivatives, in which case no modifications can be made without your permission. Other people can use your work for any purpose other than commercial uses, unless permission has been given.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): Your work can be edited and built upon for non-commercial purposes. Any derivative works created from your work must credit you as the original author. Users of your work do not have to use the same CC BY-NC licence for their derivative works.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): Users can edit and build upon your work for non-commercial purposes. They must credit you as the author and any derivative works must use the same licence as the original work.


Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC-ND) The NoDerivatives condition allows others to copy, share, and show original copies of your work. No changes to your work may be made unless you give prior permission.

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): Credit must be given to you when your work is used. Anyone using your work may use your work for any purpose, but it cannot be changed from its original form.

Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): This is the most restrictive Creative Commons licence. Your work cannot be changed in any way, and users must credit you if they download and share your work. Commercial use is not allowed with this licence.


With Creative Commons licences covered, what are the differences between open access types?


Green open access

Green open access makes the author responsible for making an article freely available and archiving it, whether it is archived by sharing it through an institution’s repository, a personal website or another public archive.

Some versions of Green OA papers may not have been copyedited, but may have been peer reviewed:

  • Pre-publication Green refers to the version of your work before it has been submitted to a journal, and is sometimes called the pre-print version.
  • Post-publication Green refers to the final draft of your work that has been accepted for publication by a journal, before it has been copyedited, typeset and proofread. It is also referred to as the post-print version.

The publisher will keep a copy of the full, peer reviewed version of your work, which is called the Version of Record (VOR) and readers can access these reviewed, full-text versions of the paper for a fee. This version is not Green open access, but alternative versions such as the pre-publication and post-publication version can be accessed under Green open access.

The rights for reuse may be limited with Green open access, and access to Green OA papers may be limited by a publisher embargo period. An embargo period is when access to scholarly articles is not open to readers who have not paid for access. Different journals may have different embargo periods, so it is important to find out if the journal you have chosen to publish with will apply one to your work.


Bronze open access

No open access fee is paid for Bronze open access, with the publisher choosing to make material freely available online.5 Publishers are entitled to revoke open access rights to Bronze materials at any time, leading some to debate whether this is in line with true open access criteria.


Gold open access

Gold open access means the publisher is responsible for making the published academic material freely available online. Gold open access papers mean that the Version of Record is published and made freely available online. A Creative Commons licence will be applied to Gold open access papers in most cases. The Version of Record will be the final, peer reviewed paper.

Gold OA will not charge readers to access a paper, instead often charging an article processing charge (APC) to cover the publishing and distribution costs, for which the author isn’t always responsible. An institution or funder may pay the APC.

A key benefit of Gold open access publishing is that as the author, you will retain copyright over your work under a Creative Commons licence. The full, unrestricted reuse of published work, providing the original author is cited, is allowed with Gold OA.


Platinum and Diamond open access

In the Platinum and Diamond open access models, authors, institutions, and funders do not pay open access fees, and material is made free to read online. The publisher will pay any fees applied during the publication process. Platinum and Diamond open access models are popular with university presses that account for publishing costs in their budgets.


Hybrid open access

Hybrid open access is a mixed model where journals publish both Hybrid and subscription content. It allows authors to pay an article publication charge and publish specific work as Gold open access papers.

As an author, you can benefit from Hybrid open access because it allows you to publish with trusted journals. Authors often are more concerned about which journal is best to publish with than which business model (i.e. subscription or open access) journals use.

This can help a journal transition to operating on an open access business model as it will increase the amount of open access content its community is publishing.

Despite these advantages, Hybrid open access is not without its critics. Some take issue with the practice of so-called ‘double dipping’, where publishers charge institutions twice for the same content: authors who make their papers available as OA, and libraries who subscribe to the journal.

With a number of charges applied to the publication process, it’s important to know what fees apply to making your work open access, and who is responsible for paying them.


What are the costs involved with open access?

There are a huge number of journals to submit academic work to, and it can be hard to know which journal is right for your work.

If you are the author of a paper, you may have to pay a fee to publish your work, or your research funder or institution may pay the fees in part or in full for you. A 2011 report showed that open access publication fees were only paid with personal funding in 12%  of cases, with funders paying in 59% of cases, and universities in 24% of cases.6

APCs, also known as publication fees, are applied by many open access journals to account for peer reviewing and editorial costs, and to make material available in both open access journals or hybrid journals. There are still journals that do not apply article processing charges, but these charges are the most common way journals generate their income.

Luckily, as an author you may not always have to pay the full fees when publishing your work. For instance, some libraries offer deals to publishers, charging reduced rate fees if they publish your work in specific open access journals. This means you may be able to save money on article processing charges when submitting your papers to these peer reviewed journals.

In some cases, charges may be lifted due to financial hardship or due to the economic status of an author’s geographic location. If you do not have funding for APCs, ask the journal’s editorial team for their waiver policy.

We also recommend checking whether the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists the journal you would like to be published in. Make sure you also read our blog to learn how products like Journal Citation Reports and the Master Journal List™  help you find the right open access journal for your research in the fastest possible time. You can also watch our on demand webinar on the same topic.


Where can I find open access journals, papers and data?

There are a number of online tools that can help you source OA journals and papers, and below are just a few.

  • The Web of Science allows you to discover world-class research literature from specially selected, high-quality journals, and users can easily access millions of peer-reviewed open access articles. You can also use Kopernio, a free browser plugin featured in the Web of Science to get one click access to your PDF faster using open access alternatives when the PDF you are looking for is not available via your existing institutional subscription. Watch our video to learn more.
  • Master Journal List Manuscript Matcher is the ultimate place to begin your search for journals. It is a free tool that helps you narrow down your journal options based on your research topic and goals, with special filters for open access journals
  • Journal Citation Reports is the most powerful product for journal intelligence. It uses transparent, publisher-neutral data and statistics to provide unique insights into a journal’s role, influence and the open access options available to you.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals is a community-built directory that provides access to peer reviewed journals.
  • PubMed Central is run by the National Institute of Health and is a full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journals, which increases visibility of scholarly material.
  • Check.Submit. is an international, cross-sector initiative offering tools and resources to help you identify trustworthy journals for your research.
  • ROAD allows you to search for OA papers by name, subject or ISSN number.

If you’re looking for open access data, make sure you also check out the Web of Science Data Citation Index™. It boasts 9.7 million datasets sourced from 380 repositories.



Open access is central to advancing discovery and improving education worldwide. It helps authors distribute their work more widely, and enables researchers like you to access quality, often peer reviewed work for free.

To ensure you can get the most out of open access publishing, don’t forget to check out our video about discovering open access content on the Web of Science. If you want to better understand the open access journals available when publishing your work, this blog (and on-demand webinar) will point you to the right tools to use.

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