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Publishing in the Medical Sciences: Open Access Publishing

Welcome to Publishing in Medical Journals: A Place for Identifying the Best Publication for Your Research

What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) "is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment" ("SPARC," 2017). It represents the new model of scholarly publishing (particularly within the sciences) that has been developed to free researchers from the limitations by the cost of access to peer-reviewed journals. Its aim is to help ensure that published material can be accessed by anyone without these usual obstacles. Open Access typically involves two types of resources:

  1. GOLD Open Access: Fee-based open access journals which charge authors a fee for publication. These fees cover the costs of providing free public access and typically guarantee that the author's work will be licensed and copyrighted. Authors may pay for open access publication out of their own pocket or employ funding from their institution, employer, or other research grants. In many cases, fees only apply if an article is accepted for publication.
  2. GREEN Open Access: The second type of open access journal is one where no fee is required. These publications typically receive funding from universities or advertising directly and exempt researchers from paying. Open licenses are often used in these cases to grant users the rights to reuse open access works. Such journals may be supported by government agencies or private foundational grants but are most often facilitated by educational institutions to promote the work of graduate students. If copyright is retained by the authors, they will often be required to archive manuscripts within institutional or digital repository.

Current Open Access Trends & Legislation

In the past decade or so, federal and international agencies have become involved in the open access process. Beginning in 2004, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) initiative was launched at the recommendation of the US House of Representatives with the intention of developing free accessibility to government-funded research. A few years later the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 was implemented which required all NIH-funded research to be submitted through NIH and archived within the PubMed Central database. In its current form, this NIH Public Access Policy makes it possible for researchers to submit and access publications through federally-sponsored studies. More recently the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in Congress in 2015. If passed, this act would allow for free access to articles which report on or cite government-sponsored research with annual expenditures of over $100 million. At the international level, organizations such as the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) advocate on behalf of open access, even sponsoring and events such as open access week across the globe.

Opposition to Open Access

Open Access critics are not just concerned about the loss of profits within the new publishing model. While it is a concern that with freely available research, the costs involved shift more to authors and publishers. But the primary objections involve the quality of the content produced along with various predatory ways less reputable journals solicit research (see the Predatory Publishing research guide). With the more streamlined model of publishing, it is argued that the editorial review process loses its merit as accreditation of scholarly work shifts to a more consumer-oriented methodology. This is seen to diminish the approach to scholarship and cheapen the standards by which research is validated. For more information on this debate, see this article in The Atlantic or Jeremy Beall's own article on the subject.

Open Access Explained

Additional Open Access Resources

Open Access Scholarly Publisher's Association

PLoS One Blog

Poynder's Open and Shut? Blog

Open Knowledge International Blog

Open Source: What is Open Access?

Texas Tech Open Access Publication Initiative

Open Access (2017). In Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. Retrieved 27 February 2018 from

Chalaan, T. (2014, January 3). Traditional v. Open Access [weblog comment]. Retrieved from

Prominent Open Access Journals

  • Biomed Central (BMC) - Pioneer of open access publishing in the sciences and medicine
  • BMJ Open - Primary research journal focusing on all medical disciplines and therapeutic areas
  • eLIFE - Journal which focuses on emerging research in the life and biomedical sciences
  • G3 (Genetics Society of America) - A premier research portal for researchers in the field of Genetics
  • PLOS One - Rigorously peer-reviewed, high-quality journal focusing on all scientific disciplines
  • SAGE One - Peer-Reviewed journal for the social and behavioral sciences
  • International Journal of Medical Sciences - Medical research journal indexed using Medline

Directory of Open Access Journals

A fuller directory of open access journals is available through the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).


Another component of open access is self-archiving. This involves librarians or the authors themselves preserving e-copies of journal articles and other manuscript items within digital repositories. These articles are free of charge and can be reused under an open license or with the consent of the copyright holder. See the below resource as a guide to how repositories self-archive open access resources:

Self-Archiving in Repositories

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