Free open access for early career researchers

Confused about open access? It doesn’t always mean you have to pay to publish. Last year I finished my Master of Information Management, and turned my unfunded research project into:

  • An article in a highly-regarded open access journal
  • An open access report
  • A peer-reviewed open access paper for a highly-regarded conference
  • Open data – an interview guide and deidentified interview transcripts

Publishing all of these open access research outputs was free. Let’s take a look at each of them…

The journal article

Quigley, N. (2021). Open access in the humanities, arts and social sciences: Complex perceptions of researchers and implications for research support. LIBER Quarterly: The Journal of the Association of European Research Libraries, 31(1), 1–27.

The goal for my journal article was to reach as many research libraries as possible. Citations are not important to me, because I wanted to whisper an idea into the ears of those who support researchers.

Many open access journals do not charge authors to publish. I chose an open access journal that has no article processing charge (APC), and was confident in my choice because I’ve previously read lots of great articles in this journal. If you want to look up a journal to see if it charges authors to publish open access, search for it in The Directory of Open Access Journals.

The other reason I chose this open access journal was that it didn’t make me hand over the rights to my work. Many journals own your article once it’s been accepted for publication, which puts restrictions on how you can share and reuse your own work. Next time you’re considering a journal to submit an article to, see if you can find out their policy on author rights before you submit. Try one of these methods:

Maybe the journal offers green open access? This ability to share a version of your article (usually without fancy journal formatting) is better than nothing. However, some journal publishers who offer green open access are also making a nice profit from your work that you were not paid for. Their profit comes from charging readers for your article on their journal website, via subscriptions and one-off downloads.

Just 8 weeks after publication, my journal article has almost 600 downloads. This is from hundreds of people who regard this open access journal as high-quality, with articles of interest for research libraries.

Bar graph with title 'Who downloaded my first journal article?' The y-axis is the number of downloads. The three bars are labelled:
- me (1 download)
- my dad (1 download)
- people in research libraries (580 downloads)
Journal article downloads (on 10/02/2022, 8 weeks after publication)

The report

Quigley, N. (2021). Humanities researchers and open access: Opportunities for Curtin University.

My Masters research collaborator was a university library, and needed snappy actionable recommendations in a report format. I published my report on their institutional repository, with a DOI. My recommendations have already led to some changes in open access support at this university library, and further funded research opportunities for me.

The conference paper

The peer-reviewed, co-authored conference paper with Julie Clift and Dr Hollie White will be available as open access following the VALA2022 conference in June. I chose this conference because it makes its conference proceedings available for free, as open access after the conference.

The open data

Quigley, N. (2021). HRE 2020-0598 Research data: Interview guide (Version 1). Zenodo.

Quigley, N. (2021). HRE 2020-0598 Research data: Interview transcripts [Data set]. Zenodo.

I think open data is a fascinating window into the research process, and can also contribute to trustworthiness in qualitative research (read more on p7 of my article). I value research components that are reusable, which is why I shared my interview guide as open access, to be reused by other libraries. The interview guide also provides useful context for the deidentified interview transcripts which are available as open data.

To share my open data, I used Zenodo, a free repository. Zenodo enables me to get DOIs for my research outputs, add keywords to make my research outputs more findable, and will look after my research outputs for at least the next 20 years.


My first research project was as open access as possible, and I blogged about research methods too. In addition to all of my open access research outputs being free to publish, the journal and conference policies enabled me to retain the rights to my journal article and co-authored conference paper.

Publishing open access can be free, with a potential audience far beyond researchers whose workplaces can afford to pay journal subscriptions.


How many of my thesis references about open access were paywalled?

When I started my Master of Information Management thesis, I thought it would be interesting to analyse my final thesis references to find out how many journal articles about open access (OA) were paywalled. A paywalled journal article is where there is a cost to read the article, either via a one-off payment or a subscription (for example through a university library). The alternative to paywalls is open access, where research is free for all to read. Some journals are free for authors to publish as OA, and some journals require payment to publish as OA.

Now that I’ve submitted my thesis, I have more time to answer my questions about my thesis literature review:

Q1. What percentage of journal articles about OA were paywalled?
Q2. How much it would cost me to access these paywalled articles if I wasn’t a Curtin University student?
Q3. For the OA articles that required payment, how much did they cost?
Q4. For the paywalled articles, what rules did the journal have about OA? Is it possible that some of these paywalled articles could become OA?


I used the following steps to turn a list of references in a Word document into an OA status spreadsheet:

Extract journal article URLs from Word document

My thesis references contained 90 journal articles, webpages, grey literature and books (thanks free Zotero for painless reference formatting). 29 of these references were journal articles about open access and institutional repositories (digital archives used to preserve an institution’s research outputs, usually publicly accessible as a website). In exchange for a cup of tea, my software developer husband automagically extracted URLs from the References section of my thesis. After pasting the references into vim, he used the following commands to extract the URLs:

this command deletes all lines with no ‘http’


this replaces a whole line with just the URL


Run the URLs through Unpaywall’s Simple Query Tool

I ran the resulting text file through Unpaywall’s free Simple Query Tool which checks DOIs and returns a spreadsheet (or .csv or JSON) showing if the DOIs are OA or paywalled (closed). A DOI or Digital Object Identifier is ‘a unique, permanent identification number that will take you straight to a document no matter where it is located on the Internet’ (Victoria University, 2021). 

Unpaywall’s Simple Query Tool also returns (among other fields) whether the DOIs are green, gold, bronze, hybrid or closed where:

‘Gold: Published in an open-access journal that is indexed by the DOAJ.

Green: Toll-access on the publisher page, but there is a free copy in an OA repository.

Hybrid: Free under an open license in a toll-access journal.

Bronze: Free to read on the publisher page, but without a clearly identifiable license.

Closed: All other articles.’ (Piwowar et al., 2018, p. 5)

Manually check any URLs that are not DOIs

Some journals use URLs rather than DOIs, and Unpaywall can only check DOIs. I manually checked one URL to see if it was OA or paywalled. 

The resulting spreadsheet contained 29 journal articles, with their OA status and type. For the articles that Unpaywall reported were closed (paywalled and not OA), I opened them in an incognito Chrome tab to confirm. The reason for using an incognito tab was to make sure my Curtin University student credentials were not being used to give me access to full articles. 


Q1. What percentage of journal articles about open access were paywalled?

Almost a quarter (7) of the 29 journal articles I cited about open access were paywalled.

Pie chart with heading 'Paywalled vs open access'. A red section reads 'paywalled 24% (7 articles). A blue section reads 'open access 76% (22 articles).
Numbers of paywalled and OA articles (total = 29 articles)

Open access has lots of different types, and as mentioned above Unpaywall’s Simple Query Tool returns the OA types in its results. Note that some of the articles that are now green OA may have previously shown up as paywalled because publisher embargoes delaying OA publication were still in effect. For more discussion of OA types, read Aaron Tay’s blog post on this topic.  

Here’s the breakdown for this sample using Unpaywall’s OA types (listed above in the Method section). For each OA type, the number of articles and percentage of total journal articles (29 articles) is included.

Pie chart with heading 'Open access type breakdown'. Sections are:
red 'closed 24% (7 articles);
green 14% (4 articles);
gold 38% (11 articles); bronze (3 articles); hybrid 14% (4 articles).
Numbers of OA articles by type (total = 29 articles)

Q2. How much it would cost me to access these paywalled articles if I wasn’t a Curtin University student?

For the closed journal articles, I looked up the current cost to buy the closed articles on journal publisher websites. If I didn’t have access via Curtin University Library subscriptions, the approximate cost to read all 7 paywalled articles would be approx. $365 AUD ($280 US).

Q3. For the OA articles that required payment, how much did they cost?

For the journal articles that were OA but had a cost to publish, I looked up the current Article Processing Charges (APC). Where a publisher website did not specify a currency, I assumed USD.

The total cost to publish 9 articles was approx. $29,200 AUD ($22,600 USD), and this money went to the journal publishers. The authors may have been able to pay these APCs with funding from their research grant, or support from their institution. Keep in mind that the true cost of publishing for the authors who paid may have been lower due to factors such as: transformative agreements; discounts and waivers dependent on the country of the corresponding author; and institutional and society discounts.

A system where the author pays the publisher an APC to make research available to all sounds better than paywalls. However, consider researchers in developing countries who cannot afford these costs, even with APC waivers in place.

Q4. For the paywalled articles, what rules did the journal have about OA? Is it possible that some of these paywalled articles could become OA?

My next question was could any of the paywalled articles be available as OA in any way, for example adding a pre-print to an institutional repository. Some researchers are unaware of a website called Sherpa Romeo, where you can check what rules publishers have about sharing publications as OA.

Using Sherpa Romeo, I checked the OA rules for the journals of the 7 paywalled articles. Almost all journals allowed green OA (some with embargoes which have passed). The exception was one journal which only allows green OA for specific funders after a 12 month embargo. This suggests at least three reasons why these paywalled articles are not available as green OA:

  • that the authors of the paywalled articles didn’t get around to sharing them as green OA via institutional repositories or personal websites
  • when the article was published the publisher did not allow green OA
  • Unpaywall couldn’t find a green OA copy but it exists somewhere.


Many OA researchers work within library and information science as part of a humanities faculty, therefore reasons given by humanities researchers for not publishing OA are relevant. These reasons are summarised in Arthur et al. (2021, p. 11). Looking at these reasons in the context of articles written about OA, we can probably assume that the authors understand OA concepts and the importance of institutional repositories. Therefore, some of the remaining reasons applicable for not publishing articles about OA as open access are:

  • a dependency on prestigious journals for career progression (Arthur et al., 2021, pp. 11-12)
  • not having access to funds to pay APCs (Tenopir et al., 2017, p. 839). 


Writing this blog post satisfied a curiosity to find out how many journal articles in my thesis references about open access were paywalled. Piwowar et al. predict that by 2025, ‘44% of all journal articles will be available as OA’ (2019, p1). Compared to this estimate, the result in this small sample that 76% of journal articles are available as OA is positive (or 24% paywalled). However, the situation where some readers have to pay for an article about open access shows just how broken the academic journal publishing system is.    

Learn more

Read more about OA

If you have time for a documentary, watch for free ‘Paywall: The Business of Scholarship’


Arthur, P. L., Hearn, L., Montgomery, L., Craig, H., Arbuckle, A., & Siemens, R. (2021). Open scholarship in Australia: A review of needs, barriers, and opportunities. In Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. (read the free pre-print at

Piwowar, H., Priem, J., Larivière, V., Alperin, J. P., Matthias, L., Norlander, B., Farley, A., West, J., & Haustein, S. (2018). The state of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of open access articles. PeerJ, 6, 1–23.

Piwowar, H., Priem, J., & Orr, R. (2019). The future of OA: A large-scale analysis projecting open access publication and readership. BioRxiv, 795310.

Tenopir, C., Dalton, E. D., Christian, L., Jones, M. K., McCabe, M., Smith, M., & Fish, A. (2017). Imagining a gold open access future: Attitudes, behaviors, and funding scenarios among authors of academic scholarship. College & Research Libraries, 78(6), 824–843.

Victoria University. (2021). Library guides: APA 7th referencing.

What I wish I had known at the start of my Master’s research project

At the start of my Master of Information Management research project, I wondered how I would complete a deliverable that’s equivalent to the weighting of 12 postgraduate assignments. Thanks to expert guidance from my supervisor, I was able to break it into stages and smaller chunks, and make steady progress. I’ve now completed the methodology section, literature review, recruitment, data collection and data analysis and am writing up my findings and discussion.

My tips so far

  • Research question reminders – Once you’ve figured out your research questions, keep them visible as you progress through the project, at the top of Word documents for example:
    • when you’re reviewing the literature for your lit review
    • writing interview questions or
    • writing up the findings and discussion sections.
  • Software licenses – If you think you might need any software from your university, ask for it early – it took me a few weeks to get a license for a home version of data analysis software.
  • Organise your files – Try to keep your filing system under control as you go. My current count for this project is 41 folders and 275 files. Save a copy of each version you send to anyone – for example ethics documents and drafts for review. This makes it easier to track changes as you go, and revisit older versions.
  • Back it up – Back up everything, have a primary and two backups with one of the backups offsite. For me this means the main copy on my laptop, a copy in the cloud (my university’s dedicated research cloud space), and another copy on an external drive. During transcription I had a corrupted audio file and nearly lost 30 minutes of an interview. Thankfully I was working with a backup copy rather than the original. I was easily able to get a fresh copy of the original with no harm done except for 5 minutes of sheer panic!
  • Help future you – once you get into the intense writing stage in the last few months, leave a note for yourself at the end of each session so you know where to pick up the next day.

I’ve had a positive experience overall, enjoyed some parts more than others, and it has made me want to do more research!

Photo of Prevally Beach with rocks, ocean and a bronze statue of a woman
Prevally beach, in Yebble, Margaret River, WA

Semi-structured research interview tips

I’m in the last semester of Curtin University’s Master of Information Management, and midway through a 4-unit research project (25% of the whole Masters!). This research project is essential for me to understand the research process, as I want to support researchers in my future library and information career.

My Master’s research project title is:

Engagement with open access among Curtin University humanities researchers: Exploring the perceptions of, and barriers to publishing open access

This blog post shares some tips for running semi-structured interviews, a qualitative research data collection method. I’ve summarised what worked well for me at a Master’s level, seasoned researchers will have far better tips! 

Some definitions

Qualitative research is the attempt to understand someone else’s worldview and perceptions, usually via their words.

An interview guide is the questions you plan to ask during the interview.

Semi-structured interviews use an interview guide, but with the flexibility to deviate during the interview.

Why choose interviews?

During my literature review, I noticed that previous research that used interviews rather than surveys was more insightful about experiences of open access. Interviews are very time-intensive as they need to be transcribed and analysed, but for me this effort has been worth it.

Before the interview

  • Pack chargers and cables, spare batteries, spare pens, paper, backup recording method (I had a digital recorder with a backup of recording software on a laptop), a spare printed consent form and participant info sheet.
  • Number your printed interview guide pages, this makes it easier to jump around if the participant talks about a later topic before you have asked questions about it.
  • If you have used purposive sampling to find your participants and it fits with your research ethics approval, try and learn more about your participants before you meet them. I was able to review the publications of the humanities researchers that I interviewed, and read their latest work before I met them. For me, this made it easier during interviews to establish rapport and encourage recollection of their open access publishing experiences.
  • If you have a lot to cover, prioritise the questions you really want to ask first.
  • Read over your literature review as you have probably written it a few months ago.
  • Get everything ready the night before.

The day of the interview

  • If possible, try and find the actual room where you’re going before the interview.
  • Don’t panic if you get lost! Ask for help. I had to ring two of my participants 5 minutes before our appointment because I could not find their respective rooms despite being in the right buildings.
  • It’s ok to be nervous, you’re doing something important. All of my participants were kind and generous with their time and retelling of their experiences, and I ended up really enjoying the interview process.

During the interview

  • Sort out paperwork first including a signed consent form, and make sure they have read the participant information sheet.
  • I started each interview by explaining the four areas I would be asking questions about.
  • Saying “I’ve read that” or “I’ve heard that” are really useful phrases to show that you are recognising what the participant is telling you but without inserting your own opinions (thank you to my supervisor Dr Hollie White for this tip!)
  • If you think of an extra question while the participant is talking, make a note so you don’t have to interrupt them and can ask it when they have finished speaking.
  • If you’re running out of time, reprioritise your remaining questions. 
  • At the end of the interview thank the participant, their time is valuable.

After the interview

  • If reflecting on an interview was part of your research plan, do this as soon as you leave the interview. I am stunned by how much I have forgotten from interview conversations every time I listen to the recordings.
  • Back up the audio recording as soon as you can.
  • Transcribe from the backup audio file and keep the original file secure according to your research data management plan.
  • Follow up with anything you promised the participant such as links discussed during the interview.
  • Have a break – I was quite tired from the effort of leading an interview, listening, making notes, monitoring question progress and thinking ahead at the same time.
  • Tell yourself well done 🙂

Further reading – both open access

Edwards, R., & Holland, J. (2013). What is Qualitative Interviewing? (The ‘What is?’ Research Methods Series). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Hammersley, M. (2013). What is Qualitative Research? (The ‘What is?’ Research Methods Series). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Photo of kookaburra bird on cabin balcony with trees in background
Kookaburra in Beedelup, WA