Publishing Open Access Research as Early Career Scholars

by Bryn Harris, University of Colorado Denver; Ryan Farmer, Oklahoma State University, & Sally Grapin, Montclair State University

The landscape of Open Access (OA) research has changed enormously over the past decades and is gaining visibility and impact across all fields of study. Researchers in the field of school psychology can benefit from learning more about OA publication opportunities as these emergent venues grow in popularity. While there are challenges to OA publications, there are also numerous benefits. The authors of this post reached out to three OA experts help us better understand the implications for early career school psychology researchers. Our panelists include: Clarke Iakovakis, Scholarly Services Librarian at Oklahoma State University, Shea Swauger, Head of Researcher Support Services at the Auraria Library at the University of Colorado Denver, and Dory Rosenberg, English & Psychology Library Liaison for the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University. We asked them to define OA research and publications, ground OA within the field of school psychology, and provide guidance for distinguishing reputable OA journals from predatory ones.

What is the definition of an OA publication?

Dory Rosenberg: Peter Suber, one of the foremost leaders and experts on OA, defines OA as literature that is “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” For more info on OA, I’d suggest checking out Dr. Suber’s overview at the following link: Also, for a media option, PHD Comics has a great YouTube video that defines OA and reviews the history of this model.

Shea Swauger: I like SPARC’s (2019) definition of OA: OA is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. I’ll add that the ‘free’ part means at minimum free to the person reading it. Some kinds of OA make the author, their institution, or grant funder pay the publisher to make an article OA. Other kinds of OA are free end-to-end.

Clarke Iakovakis: OA (OA) journal publishers deliver peer-reviewed research articles online and free of charge to readers. Whereas subscription-based publishers require payment in exchange for access—typically paid and provided by libraries—OA publishers fund their operations in other ways, including charging authors article processing charges (APCs) for articles accepted for publication. Several OA publishers do not charge APCs, instead covering costs through subsidies by universities, libraries, funders, governments, non-profit organizations, and academic societies, or through other funding models.

OA means anyone can read the journal; it does not mean that anyone can publish in the journal. OA journals earn prestige the same way all journals do: through the quality of their content and the expertise of their authors, editors, and reviewers. Reputation takes time to accrue, and OA is relatively new. The large, commercial, subscription-based publishers have been in the field for several decades, and are often contracted by respected academic societies to publish their journals.

The proportion of research articles available OA has dramatically increased (H Piwowar et al., 2018) over the last two decades. OA publishing has emerged as a viable and sustainable means of disseminating peer-reviewed research, as indicated by the thousands of reputable and high-quality OA journals. There is, however, substantial variation in the number of established OA journals between and within disciplines, with many more in STEM fields than social sciences, humanities, and the arts. The growth of OA is a result of the advocacy and work of many thousands of researchers, funders, librarians, and citizens from across the world from the mid-1990s.

OA publishers generally permit authors to retain their copyright, and publish the work under the terms of a Creative Commons license, which allows both authors and readers to share the work without fear of infringing copyright. In contrast, subscription-based publishers typically require authors to transfer copyright to them exclusively, using that legal protection to create an artificial scarcity and restrict downstream dissemination and reuse, even for authors themselves.

Philosopher and OA advocate Peter Suber sums the issue up well in two separate quotes:

  • “The idea of OA is to stop thinking of knowledge as a commodity to meter out to deserving customers, and to start thinking of it as a public good, especially when it is given away by its authors, funded with public money, or both.”
  • “Publishers deserve to be paid for the value they add. But it doesn’t follow that they deserve to control access or that they deserve a package of exclusive rights that bars author-initiated OA”

How do researchers differentiate between reputable OA publications and those that might be predatory? And relatedly, is there a good source you can provide that delineates the types of OA?

Dory Rosenberg: It’s important to be aware of what questions to keep in mind when trying to identify a predatory journal, and that predatory journals aren’t just an OA problem – a journal can be predatory whether it publishes via a traditional model or via OA. Below are a handful of questions that the Digital Initiatives Unit at USU Libraries shared with USU faculty and librarians to help develop a greater awareness of predatory journals within the USU community:

  1. Analyze the scope of interest. Is it too wide-ranging? Does it include unrelated fields of study?
  2. Are there spelling and grammatical errors present on the website?
  3. Do they utilize unauthorized and low-quality images on their website?
  4. Does the homepage language target authors and focus on (often rapid) procurement of articles?
  5. Is there a lack of clarity surrounding manuscript submission and processing?
  6. Does the journal advertise rapid publication?
  7. Are the processing and/or publication charges low?

If you can answer yes to several of these questions, then the journal might be predatory.

You might also hear OA described as either “Gold OA” or “Green OA.” In understanding the difference between the two, Gold OA is when an author publishes in an OA Journal, and Green OA is when an author archives a version of their work in an OA repository. To learn more about these differences, I’d suggest checking out the “OA journals” and “OA repositories” sections of Peter Suber’s OA overview (2015).

Shea Swauger: It’s not always easy to do, and unfortunately, I don’t think there’s ever going to be one stable way to check for validity or authority because what those mean looks different for different disciplines and changes over time. I’ve written about this more here (Swauger, 2017). Using tools like the Directory of OA Journals (DOAJ) can be a good start, but it’s not always going to be perfect. In general, I support using OA journals that don’t have an article processing charge (APC) and who engage in peer review (open peer review if possible). If you have questions about a specific publication, ask a librarian! We love this stuff.

Clarke Iakovakis: “Predatory publishers” are scammers; not publishers. They collect article processing charges from authors and post the article PDF to their website, without selectivity, editing, or peer review. If authors catch on, the scammers will often then charge them again to remove it. They seek money only, not to advance knowledge.

There is no clear definition (Cobey, Lalu, Skidmore, Ahmadzai, & Moher, 2018) of “predatory,” which makes it hard for stakeholders to establish policies on what to avoid. It’s also important to differentiate (Eriksson & Helgesson, 2018) between “deceptive” publishers–who lie outright about their quality control, editors, citation metrics, and APCs—and journals that may be run by graduate students and/or scholars with good intentions but less experience and time. Typically, a deceptive predatory publication will have a vaguely-defined and/or unenforced scope, unrealistically rapid editorial and review time, lack of clear information on APCs, or an unknown or falsified editorial board. They also often are not indexed in databases relevant for their field and have an abundance of articles that don’t meet the standards of the discipline.

On the one hand, deceptive publishers can undermine public trust in research and can serve to legitimize fraudulent schemes and spurious ideas. On the other hand, research indicates that citations to these publications are minimal (Frandsen, 2017) and restricted mostly to inexperienced researchers. Nevertheless, publishing in such journals can be damaging to the careers of authors; therefore, education and vigilance are called for in evaluating journals for publication. There is no substitute for conducting your own critical analysis, referring to indicators of quality or lack thereof. Below are some useful indicators to use in evaluating journal quality:

Predatory publishers should not be cited to undermine OA publishing nor to bolster subscription-based publishing. In the words of Professor Michael Eisen (2013, October 4), “To suggest…that the problem with scientific publishing is that OA enables internet scamming is like saying that the problem with the international finance system is that it enables…wire transfer scams.” There are larger issues contributing to the phenomenon, including pressure to publish, academic gatekeeping, and the overestimation of pre-publication peer-review in itself as a sole and sufficient validation of quality.

There is an enormous literature on OA. I include three excellent reviews below:

How do you recommend that researchers in school psychology learn more about OA journals in the field?

Dory Rosenberg: The DOAJ is an independent database of OA journals and it can be a useful way to learn about different OA journal options. The DOAJ doesn’t have school psychology listed as a specific subject area, but it does include a variety of psychology and social sciences content. Many involved in the OA realm are often also involved in social media, and being aware of what’s happening on Twitter or other social media avenues can be a useful way to learn about OA conversations in psychology, and academic disciplines more broadly.

Shea Swauger: You could check DOAJ (see above), library guides, request a consultation with a librarian, or see if your advisor or department chair knows much about them.

Clarke Iakovakis: In addition to keeping up with research in your field, seek out research about publishing in your field. For instance, a superb article reviewing OA to education research, including obstacles and opportunities, was published last year in Educational Researcher entitled “Changing the Default to Support OA to Education Research” (Roehrig, Soper, Cox, & Colvin, 2018).

The authors argue, “Despite the many benefits of OA and policy initiatives to encourage it, OA is still underutilized in education research: The majority of high-ranked education journals are not available via OA, and [author self-archiving] practices are neither widespread nor well understood.” Nevertheless, the role of authors and editors involves fulfilling our shared responsibilities as stewards of the academic record, asserting greater control over the rights to our work, taking an interest in how our scholarship is disseminated (and how we can broaden its impact), and pushing ourselves to question the status quo prescribed by commercial publishers. By embracing and acting on these principles, we perform a valuable service to the academy, insisting on the broadest possible readership for our work and contributing to the collective change that will eventually lead our colleagues, editors, and scholarly associations to adopt more open research practices.

Another insightful article surveying OA in the field of education was published earlier this year in SAGE Open by Phillips (2019): “Readers and Authors of Educational Research: A Study of Research Output on K-12 Education Policy.” The author examined the proportion of articles in ERIC available OA, and the ideological nature of the work. She found that that “65% of the journal literature conducted by scholars was locked behind paywalls,” and 25% of the “freely available reports in ERIC are produced by organizations with a decidedly neoliberal or free-market perspective.” The article closes with a quote from an exasperated high school teacher: “If scholars are doing educational research, why would they publish it where teachers can’t even read it?”

Spend some time reviewing the set of education journals indexed in the Directory of OA Journals. See also this list of OA educational psychology journals maintained by the SCImago research group.

Talk to a librarian. Librarians specialize in discovering research, and can often point you to tools and resources for effectively finding publications. Some universities employ scholarly communications and/or copyright librarians who can help you review your publication contracts to ensure you are retaining your right to self-archive. They may also manage an institutional repository to help you disseminate your work.

Are you aware of any differences between OA journals and traditional journals with respect to the review and publication process? If so, can you please describe them?

Dory Rosenberg: Instead of thinking about OA and traditional journals as separate entities, I think it can be useful to approach both with the same questions. For example, when considering a journal for publication, questions to consider could be: is it well known for quality research, does it state clear guidelines, and is the peer review process understandable?

Shea Swauger: Honestly, it’s a mixed bag for both kinds of publishing. There are some traditional and OA journals who have solid peer review processes, relatively quick turn arounds, and policies that support author rights. On the flip side, there are traditional and OA journals who engage in negligent or discriminatory peer review practices, can takes years for answers, and take away every author right possible under the law. The publishing model of a journal doesn’t indicate its quality. I support the use of embargos when there are issues of privacy that are time-sensitive. Otherwise, most publisher-mandated embargoes are just a way for them to make more money by disallowing competition.

Clarke Iakovakis: In terms of the review process, OA journals generally tend to follow the same process as subscription-based journals. There have, however, been some experimentations with new models of peer review. These have included open peer review (both anonymous and credited), review for soundness only, publication of referee reports, post-publication review and commentary, and some others. Though these models are not restricted to OA, both are related to shifts towards open scholarship broadly speaking. An excellent review of these can be read in the article, “A multi-disciplinary perspective on emergent and future innovations in peer review.”

An OA journal does not necessarily have a faster review process, but it does make the article openly available immediately upon publication, without embargo. Also, as OA publishers generally permit authors to retain their copyright and publish articles under the terms of Creative Commons licenses, they tend to have rather liberal self-archiving policies. This means repositories have the right to archive the article, providing another layer of preservation and access for future readers.

What are the reasons you might recommend publishing in OA journals over traditional journals?

Dory Rosenberg: OA journals may not have the same traditional impact (like impact factors) that many universities’ promotion and tenure committees look for, but the greater and real impact of OA publishing is that your research and work can reach wider audiences. For me, publishing OA also has an ethical value in that when we publish openly, we are reducing barriers to accessibility for those who aren’t in privileged and funded university systems or countries.

Shea Swauger: Firstly, publishing in an OA journal means that more people can access your work. This is especially important for people who aren’t affiliated with an academic institution to get access through their library or who’s library can’t afford access to a closed journal. There are millions of people around the world trying to do research but who have limited access to the scholarship in their area. OA means they can read your work, which can help them do theirs, which means more people contribute to research and that’s good for everyone.

Having more people access your work can also be helpful to you if you’re trying to show that your research is impactful. When you control for other factors, OA and Open Data practices tend to increase the number of citations an article gets, which makes sense as more people can read it.

Lastly, most research is funded by the public through taxes and tuition, which means that we shouldn’t have to pay for it twice in order to read it. The publishing pipeline is scandalous when you lay it out. Research is mostly publicly funded, is conducted and written by the people in higher education, is reviewed and edited by other people in higher education, is then submitted to publishing companies that essentially just host websites, and then sell our own work back to us with a 36% profit margin (Buranyi, 2017). That’s a higher rate of return than Apple, Google, or Amazon. OA is an alternative system that is more equitable and fiscally sustainable.

Clarke Iakovakis: In short, greater access to research is likely to lead to better-informed research, which is likely to lead to better research in general. The primary direct beneficiaries are students and faculty at other colleges and universities that cannot afford subscriptions to a large set of journals. This includes, but is not restricted to, small universities or those in the Global South. Given that serials prices keep increasing (Bosch, Albee, & Henderson, 2018)—substantially—while library budgets are often flat or decreasing, even the largest research universities have gaps in their collections.

Authors may also benefit. The magnitude varies by discipline, but a substantial number of studies (Lewis, 2018) have found some association between OA publishing and increased citation counts—but this is still an emerging field of research (Daniel, Nicolás, & Henk, 2018). Nevertheless, OA articles are undoubtedly more visible, and easier for those who are interested in your research to read. Authors also benefit from retaining their rights and controlling reuse, including the right to distribute the work to colleagues and students, translate it to other languages, use it in conference presentations, and self-archive it.

There is really no restriction on who can benefit from greater access to research. Practicing school psychologists, teachers, schoolchildren, social workers, journalists, Wikipedia contributors, politicians, voters, and more. Essentially, “public access to scientific research makes all our lives better: it makes us healthier, better governed and better educated; it lets us live in a cleaner environment, a more civilized society and a healthier economy.” (

Some funders, both public and private, recognize the value of OA and require publications to be made available. The Institute of Education Sciences (2016) Policy Regarding Public Access to Research is worth quoting at length (see also the Grantee & Contractor Requirements FAQ):

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is committed to improving the public’s access to the direct results of Federally funded research. By facilitating access to findings presented in peer-reviewed scholarly publications as well as the scientific data used to generate the findings, IES supports the scientific process and maximizes the impact of its investments…Through successful implementation of this policy, IES intends to increase researchers’ opportunities for collaboration and scientific discovery, thereby increasing the volume of research that addresses the largest challenges in education.

Grantees and contractors must submit the electronic version of their final manuscripts to ERIC upon acceptance for publication in a peer-reviewed journal or as a final deliverable by the Department. The author’s final manuscript is defined as the final version accepted for publication (or delivery) and includes all modifications from the peer (or program office) review process. ERIC makes citation of submitted studies available shortly after submission. ERIC makes the final manuscript available 12 months after the publication of the article, unless the publisher allows for earlier display. Grantees and contractors should ensure that publishing agreements stemming from IES-funded research, including copyright assignments with publishers or other third parties, are consistent with the requirements of this policy.

What is the impact of hybrid journals (i.e. traditional journals that permit authors to pay article processing charges to make their individual article OA) on university libraries?

Dory Rosenberg: Hybrid journals are a great stepping stone in contributing toward OA. However, since libraries pay subscription fees for hybrid journals, they are still part of the same publication loop where researchers and libraries are in a tug of war with publishers over rising subscription costs. I think it’s important that researchers pay attention to what’s happening in the news around publisher negotiations and events (for example, the University of California’s recent break with Elsevier), so that researchers can be savvy in addressing change and demand in their professional associations and in their own research practices.

Shea Swauger: Not much. I mean, they’re theoretically good for users who don’t have to pay for access, but the publishers don’t reduce their prices for us to buy them. I’m not a fan of hybrid OA journals. They feel inherently disingenuous to me. Like, if they really cared about access, they’d just go full OA. I get the sense that they want to seem progressive and flexible for the OA enthusiasts but they still want to make a profit and this model seems to work for that end. In the meantime, researchers end up paying very expensive APCs, often thousands of dollars, out of small budgets intended for getting their research off the ground.

Clarke Iakovakis: Hybrid OA allows for subscription-based publishers to charge both subscription fees as well as APCs, in a model that has been characterized as “double dipping”—though select publishers will offset an institution’s subscription fees according to the APCs expenditures of that institution’s authors. Some academic libraries have developed “OA funds” to pay APCs on behalf of authors, though many of these libraries will not fund hybrid APCs. Similarly, some research funders will pay APCs for articles resulting from their funding to be published OA, on the condition that they are published in fully OA journals, not hybrid. OA advocates seeking a future wherein all research articles are made available generally see hybrid OA as entrenching subscription-based publishing. Additionally, as described below in question 7, the hybrid APC cost is significantly higher than APCs for fully OA journals.

There is an alternative for scholars who want to publish their article in a subscription-based journal while still providing OA to it. The majority of publishers allow authors to provide OA to the accepted version of their manuscript (i.e. the version following peer review but prior to typesetting into the final version)(B. C. Björk, Laakso, Welling, & Paetau, 2014). They may upload it to their personal website, or to an institutional repository. This is sometimes referred to as “self-archiving.” I would encourage everyone reading this to review your publication contract to see if this is permitted and, if so, to exercise your right to share your research. You can also check the SHERPA/RoMEO database of publisher access policies.

What types of fees can researchers expect when they publish in open-access journals? What advice do you have to researchers who want to pursue OA but don’t have funding to do so?

Dory Rosenberg: Researchers might need to pay an Article Processing Charge (APCs) when publishing in OA journals, and depending on the journal they can be anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, or more. APCs are used to cover the publishing costs of the article, which can include work like editorial costs, and other administrative tasks. One thing to note though is that APCs (for traditionally published journals) have been around in many of the sciences for decades, so the APC model is not new. Also, while many OA publications use the APC model, almost two-thirds of the journals in the Directory of OA Journals do not charge APCs.

While finding funding for APCs can be daunting, there are useful strategies to consider. First, make sure to keep OA costs in mind when applying for grants and when thinking about developing your project’s data management plan. Also, check to see if your university or library offers an OA fund and consider negotiating before you sign your contracts. For example, you could negotiate for Green OA; alternatively, some journals will consider waiving or reducing fees for student authors or authors in developing countries.

Shea Swauger: I’ve seen APCs ranging from $500 to $6,000, but I can’t distinguish a pattern yet by discipline. Other people might have, but I haven’t looked. I’d recommend submitting to an OA journal that doesn’t charge an APC if possible. If you can’t find one you like, there are often closed journals that allow you to submit a copy of your article to a repository (like the Auraria Institutional Repository) which is fully OA. You can use a tool called Sherpa/Romeo to check and see if your publisher allows this, also that information is usually buried in the author submission pages of the publisher website. Often at universities there are research officers (e.g., University of Colorado Denver’s Research Office) that can provide grants to cover the APC, so definitely check there before you pay.

Clarke Iakovakis: According to work published by B. Björk and Solomon (2014), average APCs are as follows:

  • Full OA journal–published by “non-subscription” publishers: 1,418 USD
  • Full OA journal –published by “subscription” publishers: 2,097 USD
  • Hybrid journal–published by “subscription” publishers: 2,727 USD

The Open APC initiative provides some raw data on fees paid for OA by universities and funders, and this APC Briefing Paper (Guy & Holl, 2016) provides a good introduction to the concept and practice. Solomon and Björk (2012) found that authors paid APCs themselves only 12% of the time, with funders paying the cost 59% of the time and universities 24%. A majority of publishers (Lawson, 2015) offer fee waivers for authors who cannot obtain funding via funders or their institutions.

If you do opt to publish in a subscription journal, exercise your right to self-archive the accepted version of your manuscript, either on your own website, an institutional repository, or in the ERIC database (see above question 6, and ERIC’s FAQ on author submissions).

If you could predict the future of OA journals, what do you think it would look like?

Dory Rosenberg: I think negotiation and mediation skills are crucial to the future of OA. Scholarly communication, and the creation of research in general, revolves around the interactions of many stakeholders, and OA advocates are well-skilled in balancing the needs of these different stakeholders in designing policies and collaborations. However, as evident in recent breaks between library systems and publishers, negotiation can only get us so far.

One thing we can do to contribute to a culture of OA is to think about how our daily work practices can have greater impact. As a small example, instead of only using traditional journal articles as class readings, you could also assign high-quality OA publications.

Shea Swauger: I’m an optimist, so I hope that researchers, colleges, universities, and libraries will unite to advocate for open scholarship, including OA, to become the default practice. This will include building infrastructure to support OA publishing, review, dissemination, and preservation. I want see a community-owned, community run, not-for-profit publishing ecosystem that values openness, equity, and transparency in research.

Clarke Iakovakis: In widely publicized news, earlier this year the University of California (UC) system chose not to renew its contract with Elsevier. UC sought to pay for both access to Elsevier articles, and for all articles published by UC corresponding authors in Elsevier journals to be published OA, but an agreement could not be reached. This bears some similarity to an agreement successfully concluded between Wiley and all German universities, called Projekt DEAL. It is yet to be seen whether such “publish and read” agreements will become more widespread.

The Plan S initiative in Europe is a movement to require publications resulting from research funded by public grants be published in OA journals or made available in OA repositories. While some funders in the United States have moved in that direction—most notably the National Institutes of Health—many have yet to implement and follow through on compliance.

It is also important to point out the widespread piracy of scholarly research (Himmelstein et al., 2018). Publisher paywalls do not represent the barriers they once did. As stated in the article just linked, piracy “is not the answer, but it is a wake-up call…There is one clear avenue available for those publishers, librarians and researchers who wish to make the results of scholarship as widely available as possible but without resorting to breaking copyright law, and that is OA.”

The current scholarly publishing system has changed dramatically since the Second World War (Buranyi, 2017) and it will continue evolving. OA is a part of a larger movement towards greater access to research and teaching resources, enabled by digital distribution mechanisms, led by grassroots advocacy, and supported by institutions to varying degrees. This includes open educational resources (OER), open peer review, open data, open software, and open & reproducible research. Tools such as the Unpaywall browser extension demonstrate the clear value of seamless OA and show that it is increasing and showing no signs of slowing down.

As researchers, funders, and universities see the value of providing access to a range of scholarly contributions beyond the peer reviewed article, the behaviors, extrinsic/intrinsic incentives, and reward structures should theoretically shift in turn. There are multiple intervening variables, including overdependence on citation metrics as proxies for quality, overreliance on university rankings, and overemphasis on quantity of publications. Given that academics do the work of researching, reviewing, and editing the work without earning royalties for publishing, it makes logical sense to provide the work at no charge; but there are clearly a number of other factors at play here. The Society for the Study of School Psychology is providing its readers a service in asking this series of excellent questions, and I appreciate you providing me the venue for answering them.


In school psychology, we are often concerned with research that impacts the lives of students; however, practicing school psychologists struggle to access research pertinent to their day-to-day activities (Kratochwill, 2007). OA publishing and the use of repositories for accepted versions of manuscripts may provide one avenue for addressing this barrier. Additionally, research conducted thus far demonstrates that articles published in OA outlets or on author’s repositories are cited just as much or more than traditionally published articles (Lewis, 2018; H. Piwowar et al., 2018). However, navigating OA may be challenging due to APCs (B. Björk & Solomon, 2014; Guy & Holl, 2016; Lawson, 2015; Solomon & Björk, 2012) and (potentially unfounded) concerns about predatory journals (Berger & Cirasella, 2015a; Eriksson & Helgesson, 2018; Frandsen, 2017; Houghton & Houghton, 2018). Additionally, navigating the various levels of open access (B. C. Björk et al., 2014; Daniel et al., 2018; SPARC, 2019; Suber, 2015) may be daunting at first, but given the potential benefits and calls from education researchers and organizations (Roehrig et al., 2018; Sciences, 2016), moving toward OA practices, including self-archiving, may greatly reduce barriers for researchers and practitioners in school psychology.

To our readers: Have you published in OA journals? What were your experiences? What other questions do you have about OA publications?


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