Publishing at no cost - Which options are available? What can be the strategies?

I open this thread to discuss possibilities to publish without having to pay fees. Ideally, strategies to find free-to-publish journals are preferred over specific journal mention, since each researcher would have a different discipline. This topic may be important for former students without an institution to back them at this moment; or even “free-lancer investigators” who think that may contribute to the body of knowledge for some reason, or found a way to research by their own.

Some strategies include:

  1. Find your institution’s agreements with journals: If your institution has a department related to publishing, ask them. Sometimes they do have agreements which do not cover all costs but offer a discount. This may be possible to former students depending on the institution.
  2. Eligible for a waiver?: Even the most expensive journals offer a waiver, which is: they will grant publishing costs. To be eligible, usually there is a need to justify why. It can be that your country’s economy is low compared to other countries so the costs are privative when converting to local currency (eg: African countries in development) which are mentioned in journal’s policy for waivers and discounts (see example in Springer).
  3. Journals calling for papers and special issues: As you grow your list of publications, and specially if you are the corresponding author, you may receive invitations for paper submissions, which can also be special issues. Sometimes, these enable a time frame to submit and publish at no cost (see example). However, you should check if this journal is indexed or meets certain rank criteria (quartile or decile for medical sciences) and check if it meets your institutional criteria (if planed for a thesis or master project); and watch out for predatory journals.
  4. Find a senior researcher: Some PhD students will find this obvious. A head of a department may have department funds for publishing, or know alternatives paths for publishing at no cost. If you are entering a new knowledge field, spotting a senior researcher for collaboration can also help you get introduced in that field just by helping him or some of his students to endeavour the challenge of publishing. If you are already familiar with the process and think that some of your skills can be useful (figure preparation, statistical analysis, prose writing, focus main points in communication, interpreting the results, processing of raw data (eg: genomics, sensor data…), writing in a language he’s not familiar…) this can be a way to go.
  5. Expand your network and find support from other students: A double edge sword. If you get involved in too many “paper work” this can distract you from your thesis, but may be a good way to find either collaborators for your upcoming publications (you will find who may be useful and to which respect) and explore alternative ways to publish - not only for free. A conversation with them about how the publish and how to avoid publishing costs can deliver you with some ideas though.
  6. Non peer-reviewed publishing: As one gets deeper into research should avoid this kind of publishing for works that deserve getting into this process. Some predoctoral works like master reports may be published elsewhere, or be converted to an open-book, usually at no cost. You should check property rights with your institution before, since they usually have a repository with this purpose, so maybe it was even released to the public. It may be possible that you reduced the total body of this works, so it can be possible to transform this content (be cautious with plagiarism) into a book chapter or book. The impact of this kind of publishing is limited for a CV of a researcher, but can be enticing for those interested in reaching a broader audience and deliver specific information to lay audience. Keep in mind that scientific divulgation is also important to spread science and reach a general public: a style of contributing to society probably underrated by academics concerned in improving publication metrics.

What strategies do you have to find a way to publish for free? Can you show us a personal example? How would you describe your experience, would you recommend?

I hope in the future science is not only open, but accessible for anyone to discover and contribute.