Open Access vs Traditional Publishing: What Are the Differences?

Open Access vs Traditional Publishing: What Are the Differences?
The defining difference between open access and traditional publishing lies in the type of access offered to readers. Both forms of publication are acceptable for most academic and scientific articles, and there are now excellent and well-established open access journals as well as more traditional ones for researchers to choose from when deciding on a publisher for their most recent papers and reports. Each type of journal offers authors certain benefits, and hybrid journals can provide the best of both worlds, but every research manuscript is unique, target audiences vary and the access requirements established by funding agencies differ as well, so it is essential to give serious consideration to which option will be the most appropriate and productive for the dissemination of each research manuscript you write. To do that, a clear understanding of the differences and similarities between open access and traditional publishing is necessary.
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Open access publishing is the least complicated. Academic and scientific papers published in an entirely open access journal are available online to all readers who are interested in the research. Readers do not have to pay to read, but in most cases authors have to pay to publish their writing in an open access journal. Publishing or author fees, which can vary widely, are usually charged after acceptance and are intended to cover the costs associated with the editorial, peer review, publication and archiving processes. Publishing fees can sometimes be significantly reduced through membership and by doing peer reviews of manuscripts submitted to a journal. If you want to ensure that your research is available to all interested readers or your research institution or funding agency insists that the work it supports be accessible to the public, an open access journal may well be the right choice. Do watch for telltale signs of predatory journals, however, such as an error-ridden website, vague information on editors and hasty or negligible peer review.

Traditional publishing is how journals disseminated academic and scientific research prior to electronic publishing and online digital documents. For each journal a set number of issues is published each year in a printed format, and readers, both individuals and institutions, can subscribe to the journal for an annual fee. Single issues of a traditional journal can usually be purchased and some journals will even sell offprints of specific papers. Most traditional print journals now make digital files of the research papers they publish available online as well, often prior to final print publication. This can shorten the time from submission of a manuscript to when the article is available to readers, but the research remains behind a paywall, at least until a certain amount of time has passed and the relevant issue of the journal moves into long-term archives. Authors are often not charged for publishing their writing in these traditional journals, but they can be.
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Some academic and scientific journals now offer a blend of open access and pay-to-read articles. These so-called hybrid journals publish academic and scientific articles behind paywalls, usually without any fees from authors, but they also have open access options for publishing research. These can vary in the degree, immediacy and permanence of the open access provided, but they are not free of charge, and full open access in the most prestigious hybrid journals can be more expensive than the same access through an entirely open access journal with the same editorial standards and practices. Since some extremely well-established and highly cited traditional journals are now adopting this publication model, a hybrid journal can be the perfect choice if the financial support for your research comes, for example, with the requirement to publish your findings in a high-impact journal, but also make your work freely available to the public. Fortunately, many funding agencies and research institutions are willing to help with the costs of this option, and some journals will also waive or reduce fees for authors of superb research manuscripts who simply cannot meet the financial requirements.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.

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