Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How to make your full texts openly available

TL;DR: Please spend some time to make sure that the full texts to your articles are freely available, and remind your colleagues to do the same.

As it turns out, I'm a huge hypocrite. I regularly do talks about how to make your research workflow open. “Start with little steps”, I say. “The first thing you can do is to make your papers openly available by posting pre-prints”, I say. “It's easy!”, I say. “You do a good thing for the world, and people will read and cite your paper more. It's a win-win!”

I'm not at all an expert on open access publishing. I've been to several talks and workshops which provided an introduction to open access, and my take-home message is generally that it would be good to spend more time to really understand the legal and technical issues. So this blog post does not aim to give professional advice, but rather contains my notes about issues I came across in trying to make my own papers open-access.

There are multiple ways to find legal full-text versions of academic papers. Of course, there is also sci-hub, which – let's just say – when you average the legal and the moral aspects of it, is in a grey zone. In an ideal world, all of our research outputs would be available legally, and the good news is, that it's in the hand of the authors to make full texts available to anyone from anywhere. Self-archiving papers that have been published elsewhere is called green open access, and it's a good way to be open even if you are forced (by the incentive system) to published in closed journals.

Many people, even those who are not in the open science scene, use researchgate to upload full texts. I have created a researchgate account around the time I started publishing, and I have conscientiously uploaded every single article's full text right after I got the acceptance by a journal. Problem solved, I thought.

Then, I learned about the Open Access Button (openaccessbutton.org) and Unpaywall (unpaywall.org/). You can download both as add-ons to your browser, and when you've opened the link to a paper, you can click them to get the full texts. Below is a screen shot that shows what these buttons look like (circled in red); clicking them should get you right to the legal PDF: 

That is, if a legal, open-access version is available. In the screenshot above, the lock on the button of the unpaywall add-on is grey and locked, as opposed to green and open. If you click on the openaccessbutton in the top right corner, it takes you to a page saying that the full text is not available. This is despite the full text being available on researchgate.

Then, I decided to have a look at my record on google scholar. When one searches a paper, a link to any open access version appears next to the journal link. The screenshot below makes me look really bad: 

Though, to my defense, when we scroll down, it looks better:

Strangely, some of my full texts are linked via researchgate, and others are not, even though all full texts have been uploaded. The Collabra and Frontiers journals are open access by default: I did not need to do anything to make the full text freely accessible to everyone. The paper at the bottom is available through the OSF: I'd uploaded a pre-print at some stage when I'd given up trying to publish it.*

Still, when I go to the journal's link to my OSF pre-print paper, I cannot access the full text:

When you press the Open Access Button (the orange lock in the top right corner), you can request a full text from the authors. Alternatively, if it's your own paper, you can indicate this, and it will take you to a website where you can either link to a full text, or upload it. I tried uploading the full text to a couple of my papers. Open Access Button uploads the papers to Zenodo:

But, unfortunately, there seem to be some technical issues:

What seems to work, though, is the following:
  1. Uploading the paper as a pre-print on OSF, and
  2. Instead of uploading the pre-print through the Open Access Button, linking to the OSF pre-print.

An academic paper is our blood, sweat and tears. We want people to read it. We don't do our work only with the intention to hide it behind a paywall so that nobody can ever access it. I sometimes try to find full texts through my institution's library, and it often happens that I don't have access to papers. And I'm at a so-called “elite university” in Germany! Imagine how many people are blocked from having access to any publication if there are no open-access full texts available. And then ask yourself: What is the purpose of my work? Your work can certainly not achieve the impact that you hope for unless people can read about it.

So uploading pre-prints is definitely the right thing to do. After I realised my own short-comings, I am less impatient with authors when I come across a paywall when trying to read their papers. Making your work open access and findable is a bit more tricky than simply uploading the full text on researchgate. As a course of action, for each individual researcher, I would recommend the following:

  1. Check whether your publications have freely available full texts which are findable through google scholar, the open access button, and/or the unpaywall button. This is a good task for a Friday afternoon, when you've finished a task, but don't really have the time to start with something new. Or anytime, really. Making sure that people can read about your research is at least as important as conducting this research in the first place. It's part of our jobs.
  2. When you can't find a full text, email the corresponding author. The Open Access Button makes this easy. All you have to do is give a quick reason, and the author will receive the following email:

I believe you need an account to request an email to be sent to the authors on your behalf. Of course, you're also free (and strongly encouraged by me) to send an email yourself: the journal's link to the paper will have the corresponding author's email address. All you have to do is take the following template that I created: https://osf.io/fh73t/, fill in the blanks, and send it to the corresponding author.

* I like to use this paper as a success story about posting pre-prints: The manuscript had been rejected by numerous journals, so I thought it will never be published. As I didn't want the work that I'd put into it go completely to waste, I uploaded the pre-print on the OSF. A few weeks (or even days) later, the pre-print appeared on google scholar; a few days after that, I got emails from two colleagues with suggestions of journals where I could try to submit this paper. I tried one of these journals, and a few months later, the paper was officially published, after only one round of minor revisions.


  1. Thank you for doing this! Zenodo seems to be working for me at the moment, and I see new deposits coming in from Dissemin users: https://zenodo.org/search?page=1&size=20&q=owners:13380&sort=mostrecent

    Can this dataset be made open data too? https://dissem.in/p/58142626/quantifying-the-reliance-on-sublexical-strategies-in-german-and-english-reading-636952013-089 (found via https://dissem.in/search/?authors=Xenia+Schmalz&status=couldbe , which doesn't yet know about the new OSF deposits).

    1. Dear Federico, thanks for your comment! I've linked an OSF project with supplementary materials to the Quantifying the reliance on sublexical strategies paper, and uploaded the data that we reported in the paper: https://osf.io/4jf5g/. I hope to find the R scripts, too (I'm really not proud of my data management from back in 2014).