Types of Scientific Publishing

If you are part of the world of science in any way, you will know that many in the scientific community equate publishing articles with success. Many universities, companies and research institutions place a lot of emphasis on scientific publishing. As a result there are many journals and ways to publish. Should you publish in a high-profile journal like Nature or should you publish in a smaller, less prestigious journal?

In this article we are going to answer those questions and more:

Types of Scientific Publishing

In the world of science, there are three main scientific publishing types. These are traditional publishing, open-access publishing and a hybrid model.

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing is well… traditional. It is the method that has been around the longest. In a traditional journal, scientific writers (usually scientists) submit their manuscripts to the journal. The manuscript then goes through (most likely) several rounds of peer review and editing processes before (hopefully) being accepted.

After publication, the audience (AKA the readers) accesses the article through a subscription. This subscription is either one that they (or their institution) pay monthly or yearly. Another option is to pay for access to individual articles behind the “paywall”, often for a limited amount of time.

In this model, the readers are the ones who pay the subscription and/or access the articles and therefore the costs of publishing. These are “Article-processing charges” or APCs.

Open-access publishing

In an open-access system, authors still submit the manuscript to the journal and it still goes through similar peer review and editing processes. However, the difference is that there is also a fee to publish. When the writers submit the document for publication, they pay to fund the process. As a result, it is free for the readers to access this information. This is why this publishing method is “open access” – anyone can access it anywhere without paying.

The APCs depend entirely on the journal but they are often over $5,000. Often the publishing institution will pay these fees or part of the research grant is set aside to pay these fees.


A small but growing number of journals (or scientific publishing entities that have multiple journals) are moving to a hybrid model that uses a combination of both open-access and traditional publishing models. For hybrid journals, authors can choose whether they want their articles to be open access. If they do, they need to pay APCs. Otherwise the journal publishes the article following the traditional publishing route (i.e. readers pay for access).

Which type of scientific publishing Should I choose: traditional or open access publishing?

It seems like a simple question but the answer is not always straightforward. To make a decision, we need to take a look at what, where and why you are publishing.

I already have a journal in mind

If you are looking to publish in a specific journal (e.g. Nature), they already have a publishing system in place. You will have to use that system, so the answer is easy: the journal makes that decision for you.

I don’t know where I want to publish yet

Let’s say you haven’t decided yet where you want to publish. Also imagine that there are a couple of journals that would accept your article. What now?

To answer this question, we should look at your audience. Who are you trying to reach with your article? Can your audience afford to pay for a subscription to this journal? If their funds are limited, is it likely that they are paying for a subscription for this journal over other ones?

Whenever you have an audience that is likely to not have much money (e.g. an underfunded field or researchers who are primarily in places where their institutions are unable to pay subscription fees), the easiest way to make sure they have access is to pay the APCs. This means publishing in an open-access journal. Open-access journal articles can be read by anyone anywhere, so you don’t have to worry about if your audience has enough money.

That brings us to the next point: APCs. Can you afford to pay the APCs? Does your institution have the money or will the grant you received for your research cover the costs? If so, publishing in an open-access journal can be beneficial for the reasons given above. You can reach more people if they don’t have to pay for it. If not, it is still important to publish, so a traditional journal is where you should go.

The future of scientific publishing

The internet revolution popularised the open-access publishing movement. Ever since the 1990s, more and more journals and scientific publishing entities offer open-access publishing options.

Open-access journals are also one option to balance the scientific imbalance. Most scientific publications come from scientists in developed countries with access to a lot of funding. It is not that scientists in countries with less scientific funding don’t have anything to publish. The fact is that they usually have less access to published scientific articles because of paywalls. Therefore they are, in a way, cut off from recent advancements in the scientific community. Open-access publishing helps to combat this.

Open-access publishing is also more robust in terms of what authors can publish. In traditional publishing, journals often limit publications to research articles. For open-access journals, many journals also accept research materials such as data sets that other scientists can use in their own research.

Finally open-access publishing is also cheaper to operate. Publications are usually only electronic, so distribution is entirely online. As a result, open-access publication costs less overall than traditional publishing. This makes the scientific process cheaper, which is another reason why many choose to publish in an open-access journal.

Want to learn more about Scientific English? You can find some more articles here. You may also be interested in Can I trust this scientific article? Is this a predatory journal?

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Interested in learning more about Scientific English? You can read a brief post on the History and Use of Scientific English here. More posts on Scientific English are available on the Scientific English page.

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