Maximising Research Impact Through Open Access Publishing

William Van Gordon, lecturer in Psychology at UDOL talks about open access publishing and tells us how he publishes research to maximise impact.


Why is open access important?

I chose to become an academic psychologist to improve the way human beings think, live, and interact with each other and with the world around them. I deem it important that my research helps to advance scientific understanding, improve human functioning, or challenge existing modes of thought. In short, the primary reason I undertake research is to make an impact.

From the point of view of conducting scientific research, there are two key considerations with regards to making an impact. The first is applying intelligence in the design and conducting of ethically sound research that effectively addresses a problem or knowledge gap. However, the most meaningful empirical findings or a novel approach to conducting research mean very little if they are not widely communicated. Consequently, the second key consideration when seeking to make an impact is ensuring that research findings are promptly disseminated to as many stakeholders as possible, including students, academics, public and private sector organisations, policy makers, and the public more generally.

Open access publishing is a means of maximising the number of people that can freely access research papers. Research papers published following the gold open access option can be accessed directly from the publisher in their original form and without charge. Open access reflects a change from the traditional subscription-based model of accessing journals where academic institutions would pay subscription fees to chosen journal publications. Some limitations of the subscription-based approach are that journals not subscribed to by the institution are not immediately available to students or academics, and those individuals without an institutional affiliation have to bear the costs of accessing publications on a paper-by-paper basis.

Is open access research more effective?

One gauge that can help establish whether open access publishing is more effective in fostering research impact versus closed access publishing is the citation count. The citation count reflects the number of times a paper is cited in another academic publication within a given time period. Various studies have been conducted indicating that open access papers receive more citations than closed access papers of a similar nature. Of course, such reports should be read with caution because there are a number of factors that can influence citations. For example, journal impact factor, number of article authors, author reputation, and number of self-citations can complicate the task of determining whether a paper published as open access is likely to receive more citations. However, notwithstanding these potential confounding factors, the evidence indicating that open access publishing increases citations is gradually accumulating.

This also appears to be consistent with my own experience of publishing using the open access model. For example, during the last four years I have published over 80 full-text academic papers in peer-reviewed journals, professional journals, or academic book volumes (this figure excludes conference paper publications, article summaries, and personal or guest blogs,etc). While approximately two thirds of these publications have been published as closed access, papers published as open access or that had access restrictions removed by the journal, due to being designated as a feature or sample article, make up almost 50% of my top 25 cited papers.

Open access publishing means that a greater number of stakeholders can promptly read research papers without having to pay for access. Consequently, open access facilitates research impact and is steadily gaining popularity amongst academics and the institutions they work for. However, although there are benefits associated with the open access approach, it also creates a challenge in terms of how to fund the cost of publishing academic papers. More specifically, open access publishing requires that authors are in a position to pay an up-front article processing charge that can sometimes cost several thousands of pounds for a single journal paper. Therefore, to take full advantage of open access publishing, academics in collaboration with their institutions will need to be both innovative and proactive in the development of funding strategies to cover publication costs.

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I recommend that individuals wishing to expand their portfolio of open access publications acquaint themselves with options that can help funds to stretch further.

Some examples of steps I have personally employed include:

  • taking advantage of periods of short-term fee reduction that are sometimes offered in the early stages of a journal’s life or if article submission rates have temporarily fallen.
  • sharing publications costs between co-authors from different academic institutions.
  • specifically designating funds for open access publishing when submitting funding bids.
  • identifying journal special issues where article processing charges are lower than submitting the paper as a standard submission.
  • co-authoring papers where the first author is of based in a low-income country and may thus be eligible for a partial or complete fee waiver.
  • checking if any of the authorship team sits on the editorial board of a journal that offers fee reductions to its editorial members.

Open access reflects a change to the traditional model of academic publishing. This change will likely mean that academics have to modify their funding acquisition and publication strategies. However, the potential to increase research impact by reaching more readers should help motivate academics to publish using the open access model.

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