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Open Access: An Introduction: Guide

This guide explains the concept and importance of Open Access, and offers advice on how to get involved.
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Open Access

Introduction to Open Access

"Open Access" refers to the principle of making things freely available online to everyone, everywhere, and also enabling others to re-use content through appropriate licensing.


What is Open Access?


There are several different "official" definitions of Open Access, representing slight variations in the nature of the Open Access movement between different parts of the world. The following are some key examples from the UK's perspective:

  • Open Access is "not just a matter of removing payment barriers, but of rights of use and re-use [...] a regime in which more content is made accessible free at the point of use to more people, in the UK and across the world." (Finch Group 2012, page 16)
  • Open Access is making outputs accessible "electronically, immediately, without charge and free from most copyright or licensing restrictions" (Research England 2018)
  • "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 2016)


Finch Group. 2012. Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications: report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings. London: Research Information Network [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 2016-10-12].

Research England. 2018. Open access research. Bristol: Research England [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 2018-08-28].

SPARC. 2016. Open Access. Washington, DC: SPARC [online]. Available from: [Accessed on 2016-10-12].

Importance of Open Access


Benefits for Society

Making your research open access can be very beneficial for society in general, because:

  • enables access to research for people who cannot afford to pay for journal subscriptions, databases and other sources of scholarly content. For example, scholars and students from other institutions (both in the UK and worldwide), whose own institutions cannot afford to purchase access on their behalf - this is particularly beneficial for researchers in developing countries. Other examples include practitioners, whose practice can improve as a result of access to the results of research, or members of the general public for the purposes of self-learning and continuing education.
  • means that your research is more likely to influence policy decisions, having a positive impact on the populace as a whole.
  • means that the value of publicly-funded research can be demonstrated to those who are paying for it (i.e. taxpayers).

Benefits for Researchers

Making your research open access can be very beneficial for you as a researcher, because:

  • increases the discoverability of your outputs, making it easier for people to find out about the research that you do and improving your research profile. This can also lead to new opportunities for collaboration.
  • helps to expand your audience, which in turn means that you can get more citations.
  • helps to accelerate innovation in your field, by opening up your work to others who could have ideas for applying your findings in innovative ways.

Regulations and Requirements

Making your research open access is now a compulsory part of certain funding grants and will also be a mandatory component of the next REF:

  • Many high-profile funding bodies, particularly those whose funds are ultimately sourced from the tax-paying public and those who are focused on medical research, require that the outputs of any projects they fund be made open access. These include public bodies such as the Research Councils UK and the European Commission, and medical charities like the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.
  • The next REF features requirements for Open Access affecting all journal articles and conference papers published in series accepted for publication after 1st April 2016.
  • In response to the Open Access requirements of funders and the REF, RGU has issued an Open Access mandate, requiring all researchers within the University to make as much of their research open access as possible.
  • More information about all of these requirements and policies, including how you can ensure you comply with them, is available here.

Further Resources

Useful Article

The Post-Embargo Open Access Citation Advantage - Article published in 2016 by PLOS ONE, discussing the citation benefits of open access publications


Key Benefits of Open Access (Australasian Open Access Strategy Group 2013) (+)



Myths About Open Access (Editage Insights 2015)

Open Access Explained (Piled Higher and Deeper PHD Comics 2012)

Making Your Research Open Access


For publications (like journal articles, conference papers, books and other published outputs), there are two "routes" to Open Access:

  • "Gold" Open Access is where the original publisher makes the final, published version of the work immediately and openly available on their own website. In many cases, this may involve payment of a fee (for articles this is known as the "article processing charge" or APC). For information on the options that are available to RGU researchers who want to publish using Gold Open Access, see our guide.

  • "Green" Open Access is where the original publisher does not make the final, published version of the work openly available on their own website. However, authors are instead permitted to deposit a version (usually not the final, published version) on a repository. There is no payment required, but frequently the publisher imposes an embargo on when the repository version can be made open access. OpenAIR is RGU's open access institutional repository - a database of research done by our academics and research students. For more advice on getting your work on OpenAIR, see our guide. RGU advocates the "Green" route, as the University does not have a central fund to cover the costs of Gold Open Access APCs.

For other research outputs (like research data, exhibitions and theses), there is no "Gold" and "Green" - just Open Access! All that is required is the permission of whoever might claim copyright. OpenAIR is able to hold many different kinds of output, making them openly available online. As mentioned above, for more information about getting your research onto OpenAIR, see our guide. We also have an entire guide on managing and sharing research data.

Open Access Logos (+)

Part of making your work open access will often involve making it available under an open license. There are various kinds of these, which enable other people to use and re-use your work in different ways. Some of the most well-known open licenses are Creative Commons. The following are some examples of commonly-encountered open licenses:

  • Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) - This is one of the most open licenses provided by Creative Commons. It permits people to share and adapt resources, for both commercial- and non-commercial purposes. The only restriction is that they must also give appropriate credit to the original source, indicate if changes have been made, and link to the text of the license. You can also have a look at a summary of the license.
  • Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) - Although still an open license, this is the most restrictive license offered by Creative Commons. It permits people to share resources. The restrictions are that they cannot adapt the resources and they cannot share them for commercial purposes. They must also give appropriate credit to the original source and link to the text of the license. Unless permitted (or required) to use an alternative license by the original publisher, OpenAIR applies a CC BY-NC-ND license by default. You can also have a look at a summary of the license.

  • Open Government License (OGL) - Many countries have a nationally-applied license for public sector information. Details of the UK's OGL can be found here. It permits people to share and adapt resources, for both commercial- and non-commercial purposes. The only restriction is that they must also give appropriate credit to the original source and link to the text of the license.
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Finding and Using Open Access Resources


Research Outputs

These are the products of academic research, and can be found most frequently in repositories and on publisher databases.

  • Repositories - include institutional ones (like OpenAIR for RGU), centralised ones (like arXiv) and subject-specific ones (like PubMed Central or Europe PubMed Central for medical research). If you are looking for work by a specific researcher, then you can go directly to their institution's website to locate the repository. If you are looking to browse more generally, then you can identify suitable repositories on the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR). Additionally, Google Scholar can provide a way of searching for content across repositories, since it pulls information and links from multiple open sources. However, the downside is that it is not possible to limit your search results to open access material only.

  • Data repositories - refer to those repositories which exclusively store research data. There are lists of subject-specific data repositories in the Registry of Research Data Repositories and the Open Access Directory. An example of a centralised and multidisciplinary data repository is FigShare.

  • Publisher databases - those databases which hold the collected archives of specific publishers. If the publishers produce a mixture of open access- and traditional subscription-based content, then the databases will clearly distinguish which results are open access; examples of these are ScienceDirect for Elsevier, or SpringerLink for Springer. Alternatively, some databases only hold open access content; for example, the University of Edinburgh Open Journals database. There are also the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Directory of Open Access Books, which can help to identify suitable journals or monographs if you are looking to browse.

Educational Materials

These are resources developed to help in instruction and teaching, and can be found in repositories of open educational resources (OER).

  • An increasing number of universities are now providing OER repositories, in addition to their institutional repositories for research outputs; examples include the University of Edinburgh's Open.Ed and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare. There are also centralised databases of OERs, of which one of the most well-used is the OER Commons.

Other Creative Works

All sorts of things are openly accessible. Some examples of creative material that can be reused are artistic works, like photography, film and music.

  • The key thing to look for is material which has been made available under a Creative Commons license. A convenient way of searching for these is to use the Creative Commons Search, which directs your search query to another website (like YouTube, SoundCloud or Flickr) and automatically filters the results to show only those with open licenses. You can also search these websites directly; examples for the three already mentioned are given below.


YouTubeis a very well-known video and audio content hosting platform. A large amount of the media on YouTube is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. You can filter search results by feature "Creative Commons" to limit your results only to those videos that are openly available for reuse. Any YouTube video associated with a Creative Commons license mentions this in the description under the video window:


SoundCloud is a music and audio content hosting platform, on which creators upload their works and make them freely accessible to the public. While a lot of the content is only for listening to and sharing, many items are made available under a more open Creative Commons license, which enables others to reuse and adapt the original work, sometimes even commercially. To filter results by Creative Commons licenses, select "Tracks" in the left-hand menu and then click the © symbol under "Filter results" to bring up a list of options. Content under a Creative Commons license will display this in the description:


Flickr is a photography and graphics sharing platform, with a large number of images being made available under open licenses. Results can be filtered by different kinds of license very easily and individual image pages display Creative Commons license icons, showing under what conditions the content can be used:


Open access resources can be used like any other kind of source material, though it's important to know what the restrictions are. These will be determined by the type of license and are often indicated with icons:

  • Attribution - BY (attribution) icon. - As usually the case when using material created by someone else, this restriction requires you to give appropriate credit when (re)using an open access resource. This includes cases where you have adapted the original work, as you must still state the source of the original.

  • Share alike - SA (share alike) icon. - Some licenses permit you to adapt the original work, as long as you distribute your adaptation under the same license.

  • Non-commercial - NC (non-commercial) icon. - Some licenses permit some form of reuse as long is it is not for commercial gain. This means that you cannot use the work for advertising or in some form of publication that will be sold elsewhere.

  • No derivatives - ND (no derivatives) icon. - Some licenses permit you to copy or share the original work, but prohibit any adaptation of the original. This means that, if you want to use the resource, you must do so without making any changes to the content.

Open Access Week


International Open Access Week is a global event held to celebrate and promote the benefits of Open Access. It helps to raise awareness of what Open Access means, why it is important and how to engage with it. The first Open Access Week (originally just "Open Access Day") was held in 2007 in the USA and organised by SPARC. Since then, it has grown to be an entire week that is celebrated across the world. More information about the history and mission of Open Access Week is available from the SPARC and Open Access Week websites.

Open Access Week 2018 happened during the week of Monday 22nd to Sunday 28th October 2018. The official theme of the 2018 event was "Designing equitable foundations for open knowledge", which aimed to address barriers to engagement in Open Access, potential inequalities that might be made worse in an entirely "open" environment, and various communities and individuals that may be adversely impacted by a drive towards Open Access without due consideration of their needs.

What's Happening at RGU?

RGU library staff planned a variety of things to help promote Open Access Week 2018:


Pop-up Stand

We hosted a pop-up stand during lunchtime each day, at various places across campus. As well as providing an opportunity for staff and students to learn more about Open Access, there was also free food - because making things freely available is what Open Access is all about! Each session ran from 11:45 to 13:15 and the exact locations are listed below:

  • Monday 22nd October = Sir Ian Wood Building, in the reception area
  • Tuesday 23rd October = Ishbel Gordon Building, in the reception area
  • Wednesday 24th October = Aberdeen Business School, in the main atrium
  • Thursday 25th October = Garthdee House Annex, in the reception area
  • Friday 26th October = Gray's School of Art, near the supplies shop


We hosted a series of workshops to explore different aspects of research - like Open Access, copyright, research data and impact - through a mixture of games and discussion. The workshops were intended for researchers and research students, and due to space and catering considerations required attendee registration:

Day Time Event Location
Monday 22nd October 10:00-11:00 Research Support Staff - The Impact Game N243
14:00-16:00 PhD Students - The Publishing Trap (#1) N346
Tuesday 23rd October 09:30-11:30 PhD Students - The Publishing Trap (#2) H303
14:00-16:00 Researchers - The Publishing Trap N336
Wednesday 24th October - [No sessions] -
Thursday 25th October 09:30-11:30 Researchers - The Impact Game (#1 and #2) H303
Friday 26th October 10:00-11:00 Researchers - The Impact Game (#3) N336
14:00-16:00 PhD Students - The Publishing Trap (#3) H303

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