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Open access articles are free to read without a subscription. Articles can be published or made available open access (OA) in three main ways:
Publishers sometimes require that authors pay an "article processing charge" (APC) to publish their articles OA, but this is far from universal. The Directory of Open Access Journals indexes OA journals that pass a set of rigorous criteria, and allow you to search for journals in your field and find more information about their OA practices.
Icons from Noun Project; open access lock is in the public domain.
You may get an email from a journal claiming to be legitimate, with known names on its masthead, offering you the chance to publish your work with them for a small fee. If it feels fishy, investigate further! Once your work is published anywhere, even in an illegitimate journal, other publishers will not want to accept your article.
Predatory publishers will promise quick turnaround times but the articles they publish are not peer-reviewed nor considered reliable by other researchers or promotion-and-tenure committees.
A 2019 symposium of publishing societies, research funders, researchers, policymakers, academic institutions, libraries and others in the biomedical field developed the following definition to fully name the issue that had emerged in the 21st century:
“Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” (Grudniewicz et al., 2019)
This symposium was guided by the World Association of Medical Editors' Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing.
Grudniewicz, A., Moher, D., Cobey, K. D., Bryson, G. L., Cukier, S., Allen, K., Ardern, C., Balcom, L., Barros, T., Berger, M., Ciro, J. B., Cugusi, L., Donaldson, M. R., Egger, M., Graham, I. D., Hodgkinson, M., Khan, K. M., Mabizela, M., Manca, A. Lalu, M. M. (2019). Predatory journals: No definition, no defence. Nature, 576(7786), 210–212. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-03759-y
Webber, N. & Wiegand, S. (2022). A Multidisciplinary Study of Faculty Knowledge and Attitudes Regarding Predatory Publishing. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 10(1), eP13011. https://doi.org/10.31274/jlsc.13011
You can also consider doing a lateral search when researching a publisher: open another tab and Google the publisher. If nothing comes up other than their own website, that's a red flag.
When you sign a traditional publishing agreement with a publisher, they will take your rights of copyright in exchange for publishing your article. You have the ability to negotiate to retain some of these rights, and one way of doing so is with the Author Addendum from SPARC.
The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is an alliance of academic and research libraries organized through the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Their Author Resources page includes the Author Addendum as well as more information about copyright and open access as it relates to academic researchers.
Below, find the PDFs of the Author Addendum and the guide on Author Rights.