Despite the drive to achieve open access to scholarly research results encouraged by the submission requirements of REF2021 and the principles of Plan S, much research remains locked behind publisher paywalls. In this blogpost, we’ll take a look at some of the ways that you can still legally and freely access paywalled articles, and some of the resources you can use in literature searches to find and access fully open research publications and open research data.


Finding open access journal articles

If an article is behind a publisher’s paywall, you may still be able to find the Author’s Accepted Manuscript (AAM) version of the article openly available via an institutional repository. This is especially likely if the article was published by a UK academic after 1st April 2016, when it became mandatory for AAM copies of journal articles to be deposited in a repository within three months of acceptance to be eligible for submission to REF2021.

An easy way to locate repository copies of paywalled articles is to enter the article’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI), found in the article’s citation, into the Open Access Button, which searches repositories worldwide. The site will either take you directly to an open copy of the research article or help you ask the author to freely share the article with you by depositing a copy in a repository. Some publishers insist on an embargo period before the author’s accepted manuscript version can be made openly available, but this embargo period is restricted to a maximum of 12 months for subjects in REF Panels A and B (medicine, health, life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and maths), and a maximum of 24 months for subjects in REF Panels B and C (social sciences, arts, and humanities). Many repositories have a ‘request a copy’ option, so even if the article is under embargo, the author can share their manuscript with you on an individual basis.

Start by searching the University’s own repository, WestminsterResearch. You can find more repositories that provide free, open access to academic outputs and resources at OpenDOAR, the quality-assured, global Directory of Open Access Repositories hosted by Jisc, and ROAR, the international Registry of Open Access Repositories created by the University of Southampton. Each repository record within OpenDOAR has been carefully reviewed in line with a submission policy to ensure quality control and offer a trusted service for the research community.

You can also find free research articles in peer-reviewed open access journals, such as those hosted by the Open Library of the Humanities (classics, theology, philosophy, modern languages and literatures, film and media studies, anthropology, political theory, and sociology), Public Library of Science (PLOS) (science, technology, and medicine), PeerJ (biology, medicine, and environmental sciences), and Scientific Reports (from Springer Nature); or journals hosted by independent open access publishers such as the University of Westminster Press.

Millions of these open access, peer-reviewed research outputs are collated by and searchable at CORE (delivered by The Open University and Jisc), and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).


Finding open access datasets

When people think about ‘open access’ they tend to think about open access journal publications, but open data publication is an increasingly important part of open access to scholarly outputs. Open data are freely available research data that have been published and licensed for re-use by the author. Using existing research data can avoid unnecessary duplication of research, saving you both money and time. Datasets can also be reused, combined, and analysed in ways not originally intended, creating new research. The UK Biobank‘s Data Showcase, for example, is an open access resource that makes health data available to approved researchers for analysis. In turn, researchers return their derived data results to the UK Biobank for the benefit of future researchers, creating a growing body of increasingly richer data.

It is becoming standard practice for research articles to be published with a Data Access Statement, which tells you where and how to access the research data underpinning the research presented in the article. Sometimes, the data are published as supplementary material accompanying the journal article; the data can also be made openly available via data repositories or dedicated data journals.

Published data is usually assigned a DOI (a persistent Digital Object Identifier), just like a journal article. is a searchable registry of millions of research datasets that have been published and assigned a DOI. Using your search terms, you can use to access detailed descriptions of the datasets and the research studies to which they relate, as well as the dataset’s location on the internet.

You can also search directly for open datasets in institutional repositories (such as the University of Nottingham Research Data Management Repository and the University of Bath Research Data Archive), repositories related to bodies such as the Greater London Authority (London Datastore) and the European Union (the EU Open Data Portal), subject- and discipline-specific repositories (such as the Irish Social Science Data Archive or the UK Data Service’s collection of social, economic and population data), and multidisciplinary repositories such as Figshare and Zenodo. Find data repositories relevant to your discipline at the Registry of Research Data Repositories.

Open data journals publish peer-reviewed datasets and descriptions of datasets (metadata records). You can search directly for datasets in subject-specific data journals, such as the Journal of Open Psychology Data and Open Health Data, or multidisciplinary data journals such as Gigascience (Oxford University Press) and Scientific Data (Springer Nature). To find an open data journal relevant to your discipline, search the list of peer-review open data journals hosted by the University of Edinburgh.

You can find out more information on open data journals at FOSTER Open Science.


A final note

If you find third party data you would like to use, you will need to understand and abide by the licence terms under which the data are made available, and you must acknowledge the authors of the data. Click on the embedded links for further information on understanding licences and how to cite datasets.


You can find more guidance on searching for open access literature on the University Library Guides.

And you can find more information on open access publishing on the University’s Open Access webpages.


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