Open access and online publishing: a new frontier in nursing?


  • Roger Watson,

    1. Roger Watson BSc PhD RN
      Professor of Nursing
      The University of Hull, UK
      and The University of Western Sydney, UK
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  • Michelle Cleary,

    1. Michelle Cleary PhD RN
      Associate Professor
      Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, Clinical Research Centre, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Level 2, Singapore
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  • Debra Jackson,

    1. Debra Jackson PhD RN
      Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Broadway, New South Wales, Australia
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  • Glenn E. Hunt

    1. Glenn E. Hunt PhD
      Associate Professor
      Discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney and Research Unit, Concord Centre for Mental Health, Concord Hospital, Concord, New South Wales, Australia
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From the days when some of us laughed at the prospect of electronic and online publishing as something that was unlikely to ‘catch on’ we now have the instructive benefit of considerable hindsight to show just how wrong we were. There is now an onslaught of electronic and online reading material and the many ways it is made available: PCs; laptops; tablets; Kindles; mobile phones, iPods and iPads. There is a synergy between the availability of online material and the portable electronic means whereby it can be read. Moreover, there is a remarkable growth in the ways information and publications can be shared, especially through social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and

Alongside newspapers, books and newsletters, the academic publishing industry has kept apace of these developments and most academics open their daily dose of emails to find invitations about online journals; these invitations include subscribing – usually at no cost – submitting articles, or becoming an editor or member of the editorial board. Joining these journals as part of the editorial team or choosing to subscribe is an individual choice as, to a large extent, is submission. However, while joining or subscribing may have a neutral to slightly positive effect on your CV, the consequences of publication are not neutral as these journals are obviously in competition with other online journals and with those journals which follow the more traditional route of being produced in volumes in hard copy; albeit that they mostly provide copy online. In most cases, each accepted article published by online journals requires payment as they nearly all follow the pattern of making their content open access to subscribers, which means that subscribers (and non-subscribers) can download articles without cost. The question arises therefore of why an academic would submit an article to an online journal when there are routes that do not require payment; these routes to publication are well established and, in some cases, the journals bear considerable prestige. The situation is becoming increasingly complex as the ‘traditional’ route journals open up as much of their content as is commercially viable; often making selected issues and selected papers free of charge. Some previously hard copy journals are now only available online. In addition, in direct response to the open access requirements of research grant awarding bodies – to be discussed below – these journals are also providing the facility for authors to pay to make their paper open access. This also ensures the more established publishing houses a share of the online market. Ironically, the cost of doing this is presently cheaper for some publishers than the considerable cost of certain open access journals (e.g. BioMed Central etc.).

What do online journals offer authors?

Invariably, online journals offer rapid publication – with no apparent compromise in the reviewing process – wide international readership and high citations. Which academic researcher/scholar does not want some or all of that? However, they want some or all of that from traditional journals as, on the whole, these online journals – while they may offer citations aplenty – do not offer the right kind of citations for most academics. The majority of these journals are not listed by Thomson Reuters on the Science Citation Index; therefore they lack impact factors. However, this is not universally true as some of the more established journals, for example those under the BioMed Central umbrella and PLoS Medicine, are now considered ‘mainstream’, highly respected and gathering legitimate impact factors.

Impact factors are not universally used in promotions and candidate selection, but in the absence of other rigorous indicators, they are an easily understood and widely accepted proxy indicator of journal readership and even a proxy indicator for quality (Jackson et al. 2009). This means that, generally speaking, academics are encouraged to publish in impact factor journals (Oermann 2012). With reference to online and open access publication, another pressure is arising and that is the one to make research findings available openly and free to the consumer, if not immediately on publication, after 1 year in the public domain. This move to make research findings more widely available is being levered by research grant funding bodies across the world making this a condition of grant award and even permitting or making compulsory, in some cases, the inclusion of costing for open access publication (Lyons 2010).

What can we add to the online publishing debate?

Although researchers and academics are under pressure to disseminate research findings in a timely fashion and generate high quality publications, publication in itself is not the only consideration. There is also an impetus to do so in publications through which rigour, quality and impact can be adequately demonstrated. Furthermore, publications matter little if they cannot be easily located, read, used and cited by others. Researchers, scholars and clinical staff increasingly used electronic search engines to locate research findings and other peer reviewed literature. Thus, the issue of inclusion in major databases becomes a further key issue for author consideration. Other important considerations for authors include ensuring currency of reporting, and so the time lapse between submission and publication assumes considerable importance. This is an area where online publications have a clear and important advantage, and means that authors will increasingly look to online publication options when making choices about where to target their work.

However, our purpose in writing this editorial is not to debate the merits of purely online versus the traditional routes to publication. In the early days of online publication we may have issued warnings about the reviewing processes, the fact that payment had to be made – not unique to online journals, but always frowned on in the past – their relatively low prestige and adverse effect on career development; not now. The debate on relative merits is largely extinct; however, some concerns remain about some journals that appear not to be associated with major publishing houses, professional societies or to be traceable by major search engines. Nevertheless, the traditional end of the publishing spectrum has much to thank the pioneers of online publishing for: their complacency about new modes of delivery found them sound asleep on their laurels and, frankly, now running fast to catch up to where the online publishing industry has left them. The time has come, without further reference to the traditional journals, to compare and contrast the open access journals available in our field of nursing and we have done this as systematically as possible.


Two databases were used to obtain a comprehensive list of open-access nursing journals; Ulrich’ Periodicals Dictionary ( and Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ, using the terms nurs* or nursing. We excluded journals if they were not peer-reviewed, non-English or journals whose content was not exclusively nursing. Of the 39 open-access journals listed on DOAJ using the above search terms, 11 fulfilled the above inclusion criteria and are shown in Table 1. Further details were collated using the above resources and journal websites about first year of publication, publisher, publication fees and online availability of full text, abstracting and indexing databases. The next part of the analysis obtained citations for each journal listed on Scopus and journal ranking data for 2010 from SCImago (SCImago Journal and Country Rank from None of these 11 online nursing journals were listed on Web of Science or Journal Citation Reports, so the number of citations per document for the last 2 years listed in SCImago was used as approximate to a journal impact factor. The h-index was determined for articles listed on Scopus. The h-index is a measure that combines output or quantity (number of publications/articles) with impact (number of citations received) and is easily calculated for an individual or journal (Hirsch 2005, Hunt et al. 2010). An h-index of 15 means that 15 articles have been cited 15 or more times.

Table 1.   Eleven open access nursing journals listed in alphabetical order*.
Journal, start yearPublisher, countryPublication feeCINAHL and CINAHLplusPubMedListed on Scopus (H-index)JIF from SCImago 2010
  1. *Source, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ,, accessed 28 February 2012. CINAHLplus and CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature) are different databases that need separate subscriptions from EBSCO.

Aporia: The Nursing Journal, 2009University of Ottawa, Canada (English & French text)NoPlus onlyNoNo
BMC Nursing, 2002BioMed Central, UKYes, $1945Yes, 2008 onYesYes (11)2·00
The Internet Journal of Advanced Nursing Practice, 1997Internet Scientific Publications, LLC, USAYes, $250YesNoYes (4)0·12
ISRN Nursing, 2011International Scholarly Research Network, Egypt and Hindawi Publishing Corp, USAYes, $500YesYesNo
Nursing Reports, 2011PAGEPress Publications, ItalyYes €400NoNoNo
Nursing Research and Practice, 2010Hindawi Publishing Corporation, Egypt and USAYes $500NoYesNo
Online Brazilian Journal of Nursing, 2002Fluminense Federal University, Brazil (English, Spanish, Portuguese)Yes 150 Reals ($87)Yes 2004 onNoYes (5)0·21
Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 1996Kent State University, School of Nursing, USANoYesYesYes (14)0·50
Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, 1997OJNI Corp, USANoYesNoYes (5)0·23
Online Journal of Rural Nursing and Health Care, 2000Binghampton University, USANoYesYesNo
The Open Nursing Journal, 2007Bentham Open, USA, Netherlands and U.A.E.Yes, $800Plus onlyYesNo


We retrieved 11 journals with a range of starting dates from 1996 (Online Journal of Issues in Nursing) to 2011 (ISRN Nursing and Nursing Reports). Seven journals required payment to be published and this ranged, in US$ equivalent, from $87 (Online Brazilian Journal of Nursing) to $1945 (BMC Nursing). Four journals: Aporia: The Nursing Journal; Online Brazilian Journal of Nursing; Online Journal of Issues in Nursing and Online Journal of Rural Nursing and Health Care were published by universities. The majority of journals claimed international advisory boards; however, the function of these boards cannot be verified. Only BMC Nursing plans to obtain an impact factor from Thomson Reuters therefore as indicated above, none appeared in Web of Science or in journal citation reports. On the other hand, several were listed in either or both of CINAHL and PubMed. Scopus listed five journals and their h-indices ranged from 4–14 with SCImago journal impact factors ranging from 0·12–2·00 (BMC Nursing). The most cited article listed in Scopus appeared in Online Journal of Issues in Nursing with 37 citations.


It is evident that online publishing in nursing is relatively young; the oldest of the journals retrieved was 16 years, and four had been established less than 2 years at the time of writing. It will be of interest to see how these online nursing journals fare; we have already witnessed the demise of some recently established journals, under the traditional model, ceasing publication recently. In the traditional publishing houses, manuscripts in progress may be directed elsewhere in the catalogue, at the discretion of the respective editors, and papers already published exist in hard copy and on the online platforms of the publishers. The fate of manuscripts in progress and even those in the public domain, which are only online, must be a question in the minds of authors and editors, should the online publishing company cease trading.

The response of the traditional publishers was referred to above, with reference to increasing availability of online copy that is open access by several routes: payment on publication being the most recent innovation. However, this is accompanied by agreements to make content open access after 12 months in addition, at the other end of the publishing process, of increasing speed to make content available online early and the ubiquity of journal content online coinciding with hard copy publication. These developments have only been in the last decade or so, with scanned content right back to the inception of the journal being made available in most cases at huge cost and effort to the publishing industry.

Copyright is the means whereby the traditional publishing industry controls access to and use of material. Making use of copyrighted material requires permission and sometimes payment for the privilege. It is especially the case that traditional publishers do not like the published versions of articles to be made available on personal web pages and institutional repositories. However, this can be circumvented by making available the final corrected and accepted version of a manuscript on the understanding that the final published version will be read and cited. Nevertheless, some universities flout this with impunity and, of course, the fact that copyright of online open access papers rests with the authors, who may make available the content in any way they choose, has provided a further challenge to traditional publishers. Furthermore, this content is freely available either online at the online open access publishers’ websites or in any other way that the authors choose.


It is difficult to tell if articles published in open access nursing journals accrue more citations than if they were published in a print journal with limited free text access. Based on 2-year citation rates, only BMC Nursing had a journal impact factor above 0·6 in 2010. Like all BMC journals, submission to BMC Nursing is free for authors from some less developed countries and the submission fee is reduced for authors associated with subscribing institutions. Therefore, although all the claims by online open access publishers about rapid publication, peer review and free access to content are evident, presently, the claim to higher citations is hard to substantiate. The question also remains of the continued sustainability of access to content, should an online publisher cease trading. We welcome online open access publishing and the challenge it has brought to the traditional publishing industry. Nevertheless, we have to conclude with caveat emptor (may the buyer beware) as the popularity and use of online open access by mainstream nursing academics seeking impact factor publications and contribution to h-index remains unknown.

The Journal of Advanced Nursing (JAN) is an international, peer-reviewed, scientific journal. JAN contributes to the advancement of evidence-based nursing, midwifery and health care by disseminating high quality research and scholarship of contemporary relevance and with potential to advance knowledge for practice, education, management or policy. JAN publishes research reviews, original research reports and methodological and theoretical papers.

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