Opening up your research: self-archiving for sociologists

I have been reading more and more about the virtues of making one’s academic research available on open access sites (also known as ‘self-archiving’) and the best ways of doing this. There are several reasons why this is a good idea. Open access publishing makes your research visible by removing it from behind paywalls and rendering it accessible to anyone with an internet connection. An increasing number of research funding bodies are now expecting this as part of their requirements. It has been demonstrated that uploading your material to open access services increases academic citations of your work, and therefore contributes to its impact.

Sociologists in general are way behind academics in some other disciplines in their use of any kind of digital technologies as part of their research and scholarship. Those of us using social and other digital media, therefore, have fewer colleagues with whom to interact. A critical mass of ‘digitised sociologists’ has yet to be generated. In failing to use open access archiving, sociologists are missing out on sharing their work, gaining a greater audience and citation numbers, achieving engagement with those who do not have access to journal collections and accessing other sociologists’ research.

As part of my own attempts to work towards open access of my writing and research, I have recently been experimenting with different ways of achieving this. I have uploaded documents to the following open access archiving services: my institution’s e-repository, and ResearchGate. I did look into the Social Science Network as well, as its title suggests that it might embrace sociological writing. Having investigated this service and uploaded a few papers, however, it is clear that this service is far more oriented towards economics, business and management, legal studies, cognitive science and the humanities, so I have not pursued this option. I also investigated Figshare, but this appears to be used predominantly by scientists. Having experimented with uploading some papers to ResearchGate, the same appears to be true of this platform. Until this situation changes, I can’t see the Social Science Network, Figshare or ResearchGate as benefiting sociologists to any great extent., by contrast, has far more sociologist members, and therefore at the moment provides many more opportunities to interact with other sociologists.

My experience suggests that combining the use of my university e-repository and is the most effective form of self-archiving for sociologists. University e-repositories are functional rather than fancy-looking, and do not provide any type of social networking functions. However they have been carefully established to capture all the metadata required to facilitate access by search engines (title, place of publication, date, what type of article and so on), constitute a permanent and secure space in which to deposit papers, generate a consistent hyperlink to the publications and are overseen and managed by university staff members.

As depositing my documents into the e-repository produces a stable URL that I can then easily distribute via blog posts or tweets, it is very easy to publicise them. I can insert this link into my publications page, thus directing readers directly to the e-repository archive if they wish to view or download the publication, as well as embed it in my university profile page and so on., for its part, provides features that university e-repositories do not. It includes social networking functions, offering the opportunity to follow other individual researchers and research topics and for others to follow you, and also facilitates discussions with other members. I therefore recommend using both services in conjunction with each other to achieve maximum exposure, as well as employing social media tools such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook to publicise the material that you have uploaded.

One drawback of self-archiving is that one needs to be conversant with what can be quite complex copyright legislation. There are no standard copyright agreements across academic journal and book publishers in terms of self-archiving, and these can vary quite widely. Most journals and book publishers in sociology never allow authors to upload the final, published version of the document as it appears in the journal/book itself (often called the ‘publisher’s version’). Most do allow authors to self-archive the author’s own postprint version (the final version formatted by the author in a word-processed document that was accepted for publication by the journal following the review and revision process). Preprints (your version of a piece before it is peer-reviewed) can generally be uploaded straight away as the author holds the copyright for this material. However the uploading of postprints often has to wait for lengthy embargo periods, which in the social sciences tends to be 12–18 months. Some book publishers even require a three-year embargo period following publication of the final edited version for book chapters in edited collections. The copyright agreements of each individual journal or book publisher need to be checked when self-archiving, particularly in relation to restrictions around postprint versions.

According to the Budapest Open Access Initiative website (an extremely comprehensive source of information about open access and self-archiving), researchers should be self-archiving articles at both preprint and postprint stages of publication. Publishing on open access services is a great way to publish pieces of writing that would otherwise have languished on your computer hard drive, such as seminar or conference papers. It has been contended that writing book chapters, in particular, may be a waste of effort, as they are often not accessible to search engines and therefore difficult for potential readers to find. Publishing an author’s version on an open access service will overcome this.

I have found that a working paper published on an e-repository can be an effective choice for research that you are keen to publish quickly because it is particularly important or topical, rather than waiting the many months that the peer-review and standard publication process involves. This kind of pre-submission publication also allows for any comments or feedback from others to be incorporated (a kind of pre-publication review process) before finalising the piece in its required journal article or book chapter format. As well as pieces of a standard article/book chapter length, I have published quite short pieces of writing such as conference papers and collections of blog posts gathered under a single topic (e.g. collections on fat politics and digital sociology).

Two last pieces of advice. First, try to make sure that all the papers you upload are of ‘publication standard’: polished, carefully proof-read and attractively formatted. Second, include a statement at the beginning of each paper indicating how it should be cited. Including this statement, or at least enough information so that people can cite the document is very important if, indeed, you want your publications to be cited. I have come across several pieces of other people’s writing that they have uploaded to digital repositories where the document does not state even the year of publication, let alone other details, so it cannot be cited.

Further reading: The Academic’s Guide to Self-Publishing discusses self-archiving and lots more.

10 thoughts on “Opening up your research: self-archiving for sociologists

  1. In the old days (well, not that long ago,actually), one would write to an author (long hand) and ask for a reprint of his or her articles. The author, when his or her paper was accepted for publication, could have a set number of reprints for free, and could order others, usually at pretty great expense. Going through my late father’s files (he was a professor of radio astronomy) we found reprints,requests, and request forms. A recent academic myself, I started (in the early 2000s) with reprints, but haven’t used one in years.

    On the other hand, I love getting the electronic equivalent of reprint requests. I have not yet had a copyright agreement which has prevented me from circulating my work to an individual, and getting a request from Italy or Turkey is both fun, and an opportunity for direct dialogue with an unknown colleague: ‘here’s my paper. I hope you enjoy it. feedback welcome. what’s your interest in the topic?’

    As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I am more timid than you about being public about my musings, and my work in progress (although I agree with the principle). I am currently hiding behind my publications, using my recent book as a hiding place to circulate my work and my ideas (see: I announce my publications there, and can circulate them freely in their published form on personal request.

    Keep your musings going! I love reading them. I may gather up my courage and become more public.

    PS-i am astounded to learn that one of the big medical open access journals has decided to reduce costs by cutting out copy-editors. May I put in a plug for copy-editing? It’s one of the most important components a good quality publication. I love (good) copy-editors! I hope you do too…

    • Hi Annemarie

      Yes, I remember the days of sending out reprints – much easier just to email them! Of course, as we are not allowed to put up the publisher’s PDF versions of our papers on the web, we can still be asked for these even if preprint or postprint versions are available. There is no copyright issue at all with sending out copies privately to people who request them (or who you think would benefit from them!).

      And yes, copy-editing is great – but I have found that standards have really deteriorated in recent years and I still have to go through my own manuscripts (especially books) very carefully as errors or infelicities are still missed by the copy-editor. Due largely, I would guess, to copy-editing being farmed out to cheap freelancers who do it in double-quick time.


      • And, your comment about sending out PDFs to targeted people is spot-on. I had this really cool idea (or so I thought) that I wanted people to know about. So, when my review article of the potential for a sociology of diagnosis came out in the Sociology of Health and Illness, I sent a copy of it to everyone I cited (including you!) to tell them I had used their work, and to ask them for feedback on mine. It opened many doors for me and for others. I recommend it highly!

  2. Nice piece, Deborah, as always. My experience echoes yours. I also whack stuff on slideshare which, if you tag it effectively means that all sorts of folks find it in their searches, which I quite like. Chasing up pdfs–as you and Annemarie discuss–works pretty well and we owe the academics a lot for sending them on (I have well over 90% hit rate doing this). However–a related topic–I am intrigued how hard it can be to get them to engage if you follow up with a question or comment…

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  4. Appreciate your clarity re the different academic networking sites – as a neophyte part-time researcher (PhD candidate) i feel the pressure to join, without much time to input. Your overview and experience of the worth of these for sociology will enable me to put more effort in one or two, rather than (as at present!) a token gesture at a few.

    Do you have any experience of electronic selfarchiving of non-published material, in particular fieldwork data (where informed consent has allowed for this) – eg de-identified interview transcripts, de-identified photographs/video, de-identified observation notes etc. i am very conscious of the value of fieldwork as a snapshot of a particular field in time, and would like to be able to make some research data available beyond the standard 5-yr type clauses. There are some qualitative data archives, but i haven’t looked into web/electronic options yet.

    • Thanks for your comments and queries, Anna. I’m afraid that I can’t help you much with your questions, however, as I haven’t tried to self-archive data. I know that Figshare in particular was set up for this purpose though. It’s a great idea to pursue further. Try looking at the LSE Impact of the Social Sciences blog – they may well have a few posts on this topic.

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