Open Advice


Open Advice provides agony aunt style advice to people who want to work openly but currently find themselves in a closed environment. Do you have a question? Do you have answers? Do you have some questions and some answers? We want to source answers to common questions and sticky situations from the community. Check out our Guidelines for Contribution on GitHub. We are looking for all kinds of contributions, and you don't need to know anything about GitHub or websites to contribute.

This website was originally created by Kirstie and Danielle in preparation for OpenCon 2016.

We aim to help scholars and researchers work as openly as possible, in any research environment.


Question 1

What should I do if I don't have sole ownership of my research data?

Before you have published, without sole ownership it is difficult to share. Here are some things that you can do:

When you can't share unpublished data but would like to promote your research you may be able to post analysis code or other perhipheral, but non-specific materials.

Once your work is published, it may be easier to share data. Check with your funding agency to see if you are required (or encouraged) to deposit the data once your work is published. Learn more about Open Data [here]

Question 2

What about all those papers I published before I knew about the Open Access movement? The license prohibits me from posting them now. What can I do?

Here are some things that you can do:

You may be able to archive a pre-print or post-print, depending on the journal's license. Search for the journal's name in SHERPA/RoMEO, which will tell you what you are allowed to self-archive. Self archiving means publishing it yourself online, either in a repository and/or your own personal website.

If you kept a version of your paper - either the draft that you submitted to the journal for consideration (preprint) or the revised version that you did after peer review (postprint), you may be able to archive these in an institutional repository or a disciplinary repository. You can always write to the journal and ask.

This request can also apply to book chapters and other non-journal publications. Here is a template for an e-mail to request this permission (borrowed from the University of Toronto):

Dear permissions contact,

I write to request permission to self-archive my article, “[article citation]” in my [institutional repository/disciplinary repository], [name of repository].

I would be happy to acknowledge your publication and/or copyright in the description.Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing back from you regarding permission to make this article available on [name of repository].

Sincerely, [Name]

Make sure to archive all of your work going forward. Check the journal on SHERPA/RoMEO first, then archive as soon as you are accepted for publication!.

Question 3

My boss is determined to publish in a paywalled jounal. Is there anything I can do to make my paper available?

Here are some things you can do:

If you can't impact the decision on where the work is published, consider discussing self-archiving with your boss. You can archive your work either on your personal website, in a repository at your institution or another repository.

Read the licensing agreement of the journal where your boss wants to publish. Find out if your university has an institutional repository where you can deposit your article in a proof-form (without the journal's formatting), then you can link to this on your personal website.

Most reputable journals allow for the self-archiving of postprints or preprints in repositories. Search SHERPA/RoMEO for the journal title and see what the journal allows for self-archiving. Explain the benefits of making a version of the article Open Access, which includes potentially increased citations and attention for your paper as well as providing access to a version of your results for those who do not have subscriptions to the journal. These benefits can be particularly helpful for Early Career Researchers and increased attention can help you advance your career (which will make your boss look good too) while still adhering to your boss's requirement to publish in the paywalled journal.

Question 4

My boss doesn't share any unpublished work, including data, preprints of publications, or posters and talks. But I want to get my work out there - what can I do?

Working openly has a demonstrated positive impact on early career researchers. Here are some things you can do to get your work out there:

  • Join a community addressing open scholarship issues, for example OpenCon, Mozilla Science, and Open Source for Open Scholarship. [links]
  • Post slides from general audience talks, or figures from introductory material to FigShare, GitHub, and your own website. Demonstrating your expertise is valuable, even if you can't share data.
  • Contribute to open source academic analysis programs [links].
  • Contribute to open scholarly projects, check Mozilla Open Leadership [link]
  • Write about your experiences working in a closed enviornment, anonymously if you choose!
  • Learn an open language like R or Python and use it do your stats and data analysis. Even if you only use very basic statistics, you can learn to create research reports that are more reproducible (RMarkdown or Juypter Notebooks). This will help you in your next lab, you can share your code (even if you can't share the data), and it will make your workflow easier for someone to understand once you move on to a new position.
  • Teach others to use tools that make it easy to work openly
  • Question 5

    Someone may scoop me and find something interesting in it before I have a chance to publish it!

    There are anecdotal stories of this but very little evidence of this happening in any significant way. Regardless of how often it happens, by making your data open, accessible, and citable, you are publicly staking our claim of authorship for that data. Check out this thread for more thoughts on this.

    Question 6

    I’m in a niche field. Nobody else could possibly be interested in my data, except my competition.

    There are many examples of reuse of data for other than original intent that have improved the quality of life for others, for example. If you make your data citable, you can find out who those other people are and maybe find new collaborators. In addition, there is always a demand for open data to use as examples by those teaching others how to do research. Check out this work, which was done by students using open data in Christie Bahlai's Reproducible Quantative Methods course.

    Question 7

    If I put my data out there, people won't use it correctly and could use it incorrectly to support faulty conclusions.

    If you provide a detailed abstract including a “constraints of use” statement, as well as a data reuse plan providing a list of all the files in the dataset and the names and types of data in each field, you can prevent misunderstandings concerning your data. Learn how to write a DATA_README[link] file to explain how to use your dataset!


    The Open Advice project is openly developed on GitHub. Please visit our repository site to suggest questions, provide answers, report any bugs with the website, or any other feedback you'd like to share.

    We'd love to hear from you! The details on how to get in touch can be found here.


    Here are some resources that may be of interest to you!

    1. Articles explaining the benefits of working openly

      • The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review

        Tennant JP, Waldner F, Jacques DC et al. The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review [version 3; referees: 3 approved, 2 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2016, 5:632 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.8460.3)

    2. Working with GitHub

      • A friendly introduction to github

        This workshop is the friendliest of friendly introductions to the amazing tool that is Github.

    3. Open Science

      • Mozilla Science Lab

        Programs, projects, and advocacy for open scholarship.