Frequently asked questions

What is open access publishing?

Open access publishing means making your research outputs available online, free of charge to individuals who wish to access and read it. Because many researchers already belong to a research institution who pay for journal subscriptions they may not be aware of the need for open access. However, many researchers do not have access to academic journals and benefit from articles being made open access.

The benefits for authors are greater dissemination of their research and increased impact leading to higher citations of their work. The Wellcome Trust state that articles receive 89% more downloads when they are open access as opposed to access-controlled content.

The number of studies that showed the citation advantage of open access meant that in 2016 SPARC Europe decided not to further update The Open Access Citation Advantage Service since the citation advantage evidence had now “become far more common knowledge to our authors”.

You can publish open access either by depositing your work in a repository such as Spiral or by paying an open access fee or article processing charge (APC) to a publisher for immediate open access on their website.

Are open access articles peer-reviewed?

Open access articles published in journals are peer-reviewed in the same way as articles published in traditional subscription journals. If you want your work to be peer-reviewed before publication, make sure the journal you choose (whether open access or not) has a clear review process that is appropriate to your research requirements. Publications deposited in repositories may or may not be the peer-reviewed version, so you should check the repository’s policy before using it either to deposit or access work.

When submitting work to a journal please be aware of so-called predatory publishers who will publish your work for a fee but without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals (open access or not).

What should I look for when choosing a journal?

If it is an open access journal check the following:

Warning signs

  • If the publisher has a large back catalogue of journals that are inaccessible or do not work.
  • If the journal claims to be citation indexed by databases such as SCOPUS and Web of Science (both subscription based), PubMedCentral (free) check this with the source – Imperial has subscriptions to both.
  • Ensure that the Article Processing Charges are clearly displayed on the website. Charging fees after you’ve been accepted are usually a poor sign.
  • Contact information is in web form only, there is no working telephone number or a postal address is not available (and if it’s in a residential street). Use online maps to search addresses.
  • The peer-review process is vague and non-descript, making claims of very quick peer-review to publication turn-around (e.g. a week).
  • The quality of the research articles already published are of poor quality or of dubious scholarly quality.
  • They claim to be members of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the Committee on Publication Ethics – but make sure you check if they are.
  • It's a misconception that a journal has some standard because it has an ISSN, or the international standard serial number., the organization responsible for assigning these numbers, has to state on its website that the number “does not guarantee the quality or validity of the contents [of the journal].” The number is generally assigned on request (but on supplying such details as the title of the journal, its frequency, the publisher and supplementary information such as the title page, cover page, and editorial page).
Characteristics of predatory journals
  1. The scope of interest includes non-biomedical subjects alongside biomedical topics
  2. The website contains spelling and grammar errors
  3. Images are distorted/fuzzy, intended to look like something they are not, or which are unauthorized
  4. The homepage language targets authors
  5. The Index Copernicus Value is promoted on the website
  6. Description of the manuscript handling process is lacking
  7. Manuscripts are requested to be submitted via email
  8. Rapid publication is promised
  9. There is no retraction policy
  10. Information on whether and how journal content will be digitally preserved is absent
  11. The Article processing/publication charge is very low (e.g. less than $150 USD)
  12. Journals claiming to be open access either retain copyright of published research or fail to mention copyright
  13. The contact email address is non-professional and non-journal affiliated (e.g. or

(Taken from Shamseer, L. et al. (2017). Potential predatory and legitimate biomedical journals: can you tell the difference? A cross-sectional comparison. BMC medicine15(1), 28 Available from: doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0785-9)

What if I’m invited onto a board of an Open Access journal I’ve never heard of?

This excellent reply is taken from Peter Suber’s website. Peter is Director at Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication.

"I'd start by checking to see whether [Journal] is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which tries to include all honest, peer-reviewed OA journals and exclude the dishonest ones.

I'd also check to see whether [Publisher] belongs to the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), which excludes publishers who do not live up to its code of ethics.

Some honest, high-quality OA journals are not yet listed in the DOAJ, and some honest, high-quality OA publishers do not yet belong to OASPA. But we should encourage them to do so. If your investigation of [Journal and Publisher] doesn't turn up evidence you trust one way or another, then follow the rule to avoid journals that aren't listed in the DOAJ and avoid publishers who aren't members of OASPA. Don't hesitate to tell them that this is your criterion. (For example, "I'll join your board once [Journal] is listed in the DOAJ and [Publisher] joins OASPA.") That will give them an incentive to join, and live up to DOAJ-OASPA standards.

I'd also consult the criteria at Think-Check-Submit, and the reviews at JournalReviewer and Journalysis, and Quality Open Access Market.

Since this is a journal in your field, look at the names of people on the editorial board. Do you recognize and respect them? Above all, read some of the journal's articles, and network with trusted colleagues to do the same. Are the articles good, by your standards? Would you be proud or embarrassed to be associated with them?"

More information is in the online handout How to make your own work open access.

Can I publish on open access in my usual journal?

Probably. Many publishers now have hybrid ‘gold’ open access options, making your work open access immediately on publication. This usually involves paying an open access fee or APC. Please note that the Imperial Open Access Fund can only be used  to pay APCs charged by fully open access journals so you will need RCUK/COAF funding to have hybrid ‘gold’ open access charges paid for by the College’s relevant open access grants.

Many publishers have ‘green’ open access policies which allow you to deposit a version of your work in a repository at no cost.

If you are a member of academic staff and need to ensure your work will be eligible for submission to the next REF, please see HEFCE open access policy for the next REF for further information.

How do I publish my work on open access?

You can do this either by depositing your work in a repository such as Spiral, known as ‘green’ open access, or by choosing to publish in a journal that will make your work immediately available on open access at publication, known as ‘gold’ open access. The latter type of open access usually involves having to pay the publisher an open access fee or article processing charge (APC).

If you are funded by RCUK or COAF charity you can apply for the payment of open access fees or APCs via the Library. Simply make an APC payment application using the ‘deposit your work’ function in Symplectic. A third fund is available to those without external funding but the Imperial Open Access Fund can only be used to pay APCs charged by “fully open access journals” so you will need RCUK/COAF funding to have hybrid ‘gold’ open access charges paid for by the College’s relevant open access grants.

Many publishers have ‘green’ open access policies which allow you to deposit a version of your work in a repository at no cost. Check your publisher agreement or use SHERPA/RoMEO to find out your publisher’s policy.

What is the difference between a hybrid and a fully open access journal?

Fully open access journals make all their published content open and freely available to any reader, usually under Creative Commons licences. The majority charge an open access fee or article processing charge (APC), but there is no traditional subscription charge to pay.

Hybrid journals are ‘traditional’ subscription-only titles for which publishers now provide ‘gold’ open access publishing options at a charge. Content in these journals will be a mix of freely available open content (if an open access fee or APC was paid for the article to be published) and subscriber-only content.

Which version of my work should I deposit in an open access repository?

Your publisher will permit you to deposit a particular version (usually the accepted manuscript) to a repository so you should check your publisher agreement or use  SHERPA/RoMEO to find out your publisher’s policy.

How do I get help?

Please contact the Library’s open access team or your librarian if you have any queries about open access publishing or if you need help understanding your research funder’s open access policy. You can also book a one-to-one/ group training by emailing

Should I upload my papers / thesis to ResearchGate?

Research Gate and are not repositories but social networking sites aimed at researchers. They regularly encourage researchers to upload and share their latest research papers but just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. What you can do with a paper after it has been accepted for publication depends upon your publishing agreement.

If you published your paper as open access and with a Creative Commons Licence then the answer is likely to be yes, but if you didn’t then your paper will behind the publisher’s paywall. To make a copy of the published version openly available on the web would be a breach of the publishing agreement you signed.

Imperial recommends that you upload your paper to Spiral, the College's research repository. It will be safe and provide you with a link you can paste anywhere, including ResearchGate. Many members of College are uploading their accepted manuscripts to Spiral in preparation for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF), see guide to depositing an accepted paper in Spiral.

If you still wish to deposit in ResearchGate, please read the terms and conditions in the footer of the website. ResearchGate is a commercially run networking site, similar to Facebook and LinkedIn, and it is important to be aware of how they might use the content you upload.

When using ResearchGate, remember not all papers have been uploaded with the permission of the rights holder. As responsible researcher you should always obtain papers from a legal source such as the Library or a research repository. If the article your want is not available via Library Search, use the Open Access Button or Unpaywall to quickly find out if a repository copy exists.