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Open Access Research

Open Access

Open Access is about making research freely accessible for others to read and use. In some definitions, this also means making work available for download and distribution. The Open Access policy for REF2021, for example, states that “Open access aims to make the findings of academic research available electronically, immediately, without charge and free from most copyright or licensing restrictions.”
However, the concept of ‘open research’ can extend to publishing pre-prints on pre-print servers, making research data and coding openly available, transparent peer review processes and open citations and annotations.
Open Access material can be found via institutional repositories, via open journals and monographs or through data repositories. We have begun to collate a directory of repositories and aggregator tools to access legal, openly accessible research, which can be found here.
If you know of any other sources you would like to add to our list, please email us at

There are 2 main routes to publishing manuscripts openly.

Green: An author deposits a copy of the ‘author’s accepted manuscript’ into a repository, often an institutional one but in some cases, a subject repository. An embargo may be applied, as defined by the journal in which the final-version is published.

Gold: The journal makes the final-version article openly accessible immediately from publication, often for a fee.

When an author publishes in a journal, they usually sign their copyright over to the publisher, which includes the rights to previous versions. However publishers may allow the author to use parts of the work, for example the author may be allowed to publish pre-prints into repositories, or add the work to their author website. Many but not all journals allow the deposit of an author accepted manuscript into their institutional repository. It is wise to check what your journal allows via their author page or using the Sherpa/Romeo tool.

By publishing into an Open Journal or paying to make an article open through a Hybrid Journal, the author usually retains their copyright, the article is published under an open license (usually Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ or ‘CC-BY’) and can thereby deposit and distribute the final version.

When publishing in a journal, unless you have made the work open through either an Open or Hybrid Journal the publisher owns the copyright to all versions of your work. Usually they will allow certain versions to be deposited into repositories, on the condition that these are unavailable for a period of time, which is known as an embargo.

However, some funders and the REF2021 Open Access policy require items to be made available within a period of time.

To find out if your journal complies with the Open Access policy for REF2021, try using theSHERPA/REF tool

To find out more information on what the journal allows you can check the SHERPA/Romeo tool.

To find what your funder requirements are try the SHERPA/Juliet tool.

To see if your journal complies with your funder requirements, try the SHERPA/Fact tool.

Non-compliance with a publisher’s regulations will mean that we are in breach of copyright and can result in a take-down notice or legal action, so it is important to be aware!
For further support, contact your Information Specialist.

There are a variety of organisations and schemes out there around Open Access, Open Science and Open Research. Twitter is probably one of the best places to search for these terms to find relevant organisations, and you can follow our own Open Research twitter account @openresplym for regular updates, as well as the university’s Research Kaleidoscope blog.

There is a small collection of useful links, accounts and blogs available via the Open Access Directory page, but this is by no means an exhaustive list!

We can also recommend the following openly available eBooks on Open Access:

Pollock, R. (2018) The Open Revolution, A/ E/ T Press. Available from

Suber, P. (2012) Open Access, MIT Press. Available from

REF and University Policies

The University of Plymouth Open Access Policy states:

"University of Plymouth researchers must create a record for all their University affiliated research outputs and deposit an appropriate version of each publication via their Elements profile. To align with the REF 2021 OA policy, all journal articles and conference papers published between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2018 must be deposited within 90 days of publication and those accepted for publication from 1st April 2018 must be deposited within 90 days of the date of acceptance."

Authors are responsible for creating and maintaining an ORCID profile, keeping their Elements profile updated and making sure they understand how to comply with the Open Access Policy, requirements of the university, their funder and the REF.

Click here for the full policy document

The REF is a research assessment exercise undertaken by UK Higher Education Funding bodies and carried out by expert panels. It helps to provide evidence of the impact and benefit of research investment, to create information measures by which to compare institutions’ research and to inform selective allocation of research funding. Further information can be found on the REF2021 website.

To be eligible for submission into REF2021, papers in academic journals and conference papers with an ISSN must have the author's accepted manuscript, as a minimum standard of version, deposited into our institutional repository [PEARL] using Elements within 90 days of manuscript acceptance. This is true for publications after 1st April 2018.

Manuscripts or conference papers accepted between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2018 should have been deposited into PEARL using Elements within 90 days of publication.Items accepted before this date do not need to be made Open Access, although it is preferred that a copy is deposited into the repository for legacy.

Items must be made open within 12 months for panels A & B, covering Science, Technology and Health and 24 months for panels C & D, covering Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities. Therefore, it is necessary to check if journals allow items to be deposited and made open within this time frame. You can use the SHERPA/REF beta tool to check if your preferred journal complies. Items made Open Access through Open Journals or Hybrid options should also be deposited. If you cannot comply with these requirement for any reason, please contact the Open Research Team as you may be eligible for an exception.

The full Open Access Policy for REF2021 can be found on the Research England website

It is stipulated within the REF2021 Open Access policy that the author's final peer reviewed version [author's accepted manuscript]should be deposited.  This is also known as a post-print or post-referee but pre-publication version.  Most publishers do not allow the final published version to be uploaded to a repository.  Use the SHERPA/REF beta tool as your guide for what is permissible for each journal you publish in. 

Uploaded files should be in PDF format.

HEFCE's visual representation of 'accepted manuscript' 

taken from: 

If you are publishing in an Open Journal or making an item open through a Hybrid Journal, you should be able to deposit the final version. In this case it is advised to deposit the author's accepted version upon acceptance and then email any final version to the Open Research Team once it is available.

You can use the SHERPA/REF beta tool to see if your journal complies with the requirements for your panel for REF2021. You can also use the SHERPA/Fact tool SHERPA/FACT tool to discern if a journal complies with your funder requirements.
Generally, for panels A & B, covering Science, Technology and Medicine, the embargo period should be no longer than 12 months. For panels C & D, Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, this should be no longer than 24 months. However, there might be the odd occasion where a journal is the most suitable place for your research, but does not comply with these requirements or where an item must be kept under embargo for other reasons. In this case, contact your Information Specialist who should be able to advise. There are some options for exceptions that can be applied to items, so if you are not sure if an item can be eligible for REF submissions, please get in touch.

The REF2021 policy used to allow authors to deposit items within 90 days of publication, but now stipulates that from 1st April 2018, items must be deposited within 90 days of acceptance. In order to be able to comply with this, in consideration that not all of the publication information might be available within this period for some publications, we have modified our systems in order to make depositing within this time period simpler and more straightforward than previously. This means that our systems are the most efficient when authors deposit upon acceptance, rather than waiting for publication information to be pulled into Elements.

Depositing items upon acceptance also allows authors to deposit their item as soon as they are accepted, without having to wait for additional information and keep checking their Elements profile. This means that authors follow a simple 3 step process, inputting 4 pieces of basic information and depositing the file, leaving the addition of publication date and application of an embargo to the repository team. For more information on Act on Acceptance, please see our lib-guide page that explains the new procedure.

The acceptance date is usually the date upon which you are informed that an item has been accepted for publication, whether this is by email, phone or otherwise. Some publications give authors an 'official' acceptance date, which we recommend using if you know it.
Researchers are responsible for ensuring that the lead author informs them once an item is accepted for publication, and ensuring that a copy of the author's accepted manuscript is made available to them to deposit upon acceptance. While most UK researchers will be in similar positions and should understand this request, it might be difficult to explain the situation to some collaborators. For this purpose we do have a draft template that can be adapted to request the manuscript from corresponding authors



In addition, when all else fails, we can record your article without a manuscript as an 'exception' under part 38(b) of the policy:  “The individual whose output is being submitted to the REF experienced a delay in securing the final peer-reviewed text (for instance, where a paper has multiple authors).”

While the item may technically be compliant, the University encourages our researcher to deposit, even if the lead author has the intention of depositing in their own repository.Taking responsibility for your own deposit ensures that the file is deposited in the correct time frame to be included in REF2021. In addition, it ensures that our research is discoverable within our collections, and furthers the creation of an open research environment at the University.

If your article is already made Open Access via an Open or Hybrid Journal, we still require a version of the paper to be deposited into the repository. This is as per the REF2021 Open Access policy, which stipulates that a deposit must be made into an institutional repository, but also allow the university to curate the legacy of its researchers. It is possible for the Open Research Team to place an exception upon Open Access manuscripts, allowing a link to the full text rather than depositing the file, but this should be used sparingly.

If your article has been accepted for Open Access publication, it is recommended to deposit the author's accepted manuscript upon acceptance and then email the Open Research Team who will be happy to replace it with the final version pdf

Please note that some journals describe their content as 'open', where the journal provides free access to resources but the publisher retains the copyright and prevents download and distribution of the files or where download and distribution are only allowed for a period of time. In this case, the article is generally not accepted as 'Open Access' under the REF2021 and most funder requirements. If you are uncertain about whether a publication is 'open' or not, please contact your Information Specialist who will be able to advise.

Publication in pre-print or subject repositories are currently not accepted as complying with the REF2021 Open Access policy, although this practice is very much in the spirit of the Open Access movement. To ensure that your publication is eligible, please deposit the correct version within 90 days of acceptance, into the institution repository [PEARL] using Elements. To find out if a journal allows additional deposit into other repositories, please use the SHERPA/RoMEO tool to see what your journal allows.

The university Open Access Policy states, "This policy applies to all research active staff of the University of Plymouth and covers all published University affiliated research outputs." Therefore, if you are affiliated with the University of Plymouth and have published a manuscript, the university expects deposit of the author's accepted manuscript into PEARL using Elements within 90 days of acceptance, regardless of intention to submit the item for the REF.

For guidance on how to deposit, please see the relevant lib-guide page or contact your Information Specialist.

Your University of Plymouth affiliated publications need to be uploaded via Elements into PEARL, but uploads from previous institutions are not required. Utilising an online ID, such as ORCID ID which all researchers at the university should create, can help researchers to keep track of their publications and associated research activity, such as funding/grant information, across instutitions. For information on online identifiers and assistance with creating an ORCID ID, please see the Researcher Support pages, or contact your contact your Information Specialist.