Open access journals can be a boon for the reader of research articles; they are freely available and the editorial standards are often comparable to subscription-based journals. For the researcher seeking to publish research, the advantages are less clear. Perhaps he reaches a larger audience, but open access journals charge the author for publication, sometimes several thousand dollars. There are alternatives to open access journals which are free to both reader and author. Here are some of them.
Self-archiving at a University
Many universities and other agencies maintain archives of article pre-prints which are freely available to anyone wishing to read them. Publishers such as Elsevier generally allow this before and after the article is published. If the university has a policy that requires it, an accepted author manuscript (the revised pre-print ready for publication) may also be posted on the archive, although there may be an embargo period of 12–48 months before posting may take place. I think every university should have a liberal self-archiving policy to open up access of a publication to those that would have difficulty accessing it otherwise.
Self-archiving with arXiv
If a researcher has no access to a university archive, a paper can often be archived on a publicly available archiving service. The best known is arXiv (pronounced “archive”), which is a repository of pre-prints of scientific papers in mathematics, physics, computer science, statistics, and allied fields. Started in 1991, arXiv has grown rapidly and now receives thousands of submissions a month. Although most postings are pre-prints, some researchers consider arXiv to be a final publication site and never submit the manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal.
Self-archiving: Nothing New
Self-archiving or self-publishing of research is a practice that goes back to the beginnings of science. A young Galileo published proofs of geometrical problems to gain a reputation as a mathematician, and Isaac Newton archived monographs at Cambridge. Since self-archived papers are not peer reviewed, there are occasionally bogus papers mixed in with the good ones. The rule for a researcher should be, don’t self-archive anything that you would not publish in a peer-reviewed journal.
Whenever I publish an article in a popular magazine such as Toastmaster or Solar Today, I ask to be allowed to post a copy on my web page. Publishers generally have no problem with this, although they sometimes put in an embargo period. Self-archiving ought be a habit with everyone.