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Where to publish your research article: Traditional vs Open Access

Information and resources to help you make important decisions about where to publish your research.

Know your options

As an author you can choose between two main options for academic journal publishing. Both go through the same peer review process. Beyond that, there are some differences:

Traditional / Closed Access Journal

Individuals and libraries are charged fees to access the article. Depending on the contract you sign as an author, you may not be able to distribute copies of your article or post it online.

Open Access (OA) Journal

Open access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. All of the articles in an open access journal are free on the internet immediately upon publication.

Two main types of Open Access:

  • Gold Route - Journals make all of their articles free online
  • Green Route - Authors publish in any journal, but make a draft of the article available in an institutional repository

Hybrid Open Access

Not to be confused with Gold OA journals. Some traditional journals give the option to authors for them to pay for their particular article to be open access. Publishers receive subscription fees from institutions and individuals who subscribe to the journal, but some of the journal’s articles are open access to all.


What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) is the practice of providing unrestricted access normally associated with publisher copyright agreements via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles, theses and dissertations, and scholarly monographs and chapters in books. Access is immediate, online and freely available to the end user. 

A comprehensive overview of Open Access is provided on the Library website.

The Open Access Movement

Movement to harness Internet capabilities

The Open Access movement has been around for some time, but it really got momentum in 2003  when scientists got together at the Max Planck Institute to sign an agreement which was aimed at implementing a new system whereby the internet would be harnessed to make scientific information more freely accessible.

Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities

The agreement that was signed, is known as the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Now, ten years later, it has more than 400 signatories among whom are Harvard University, Cern and the Chinese Academy of Science. In 2010, SU became the first institution in Africa to sign the Declaration.

Objective is to make research material easily accessible to ALL

One of the important objectives of Open Access is to make research material easily accessible to poorer countries with limited research budgets. Ultimately when this happens more research can be done to find solutions for some of the world’s issues - illnesses, poverty etc.

Business model

To explain how it works in very simple terms, one should compare it with the traditional publication system. Journals such as Nature, Cell, Science, Lancet use the traditional publication model. These journals rely on the business model that the publishing expenses are paid by the end-user. Mostly this is through library subsciptions. Because subscriptions are very expensive, it means that only rich institutions have access to research and sometimes it means that we don’t have access to our own research – or in fact we have to pay to use it.

With Open Access the author pays the publishing cost. The idea is of course not for the author himself/herself to pay but to use research funds.

See also: What is Open Access? on the Library website.