Open Access and the REF: detailed guidance

To be eligible for REF 2021 all journal articles and conference proceedings (with an ISSN) accepted for publication after 1 April 2016 must be deposited in a compliant open access repository within 3 months of first publication.

Outputs that fail to meet these timescales can’t be submitted to the REF.

The tabs below contain detailed information on the policy and FAQs. 

REF2021: Don't get locked out
The deposit process: what do I need to do?

Use myPublications to deposit the Author Accepted Manuscript into the University's publications repository (White Rose Research Online - WRRO) once it has been accepted by the publisher, and absolutely within 3 months of first publication. Outputs that fail to meet these timescales can't be submitted to the REF.

Step-by-step instructions

What happens then?

The Research Services Unit in the Library check every manuscript for publisher copyright, relevant embargos, and review the metadata before making it available in WRRO.

REF Open Access workflow

Can someone else upload my output for me?

Yes. Although it is each author's responsibility to ensure that their outputs are deposited, an administrator can make the deposit in myPublications on your behalf. If you would like to add a delegate, in myPublications go to "Manage Delegates" in the "My Account" box under the menu tab.

Do all Sheffield co-authors have to upload the same paper?

No. If an output is co-authored by several Sheffield researchers, only one of them needs to deposit the paper into WRRO. As long as all the Sheffield authors have claimed the myPublications record, it will appear on all their publications lists.

Can I wait to upload until I get an email from myPublications asking me to claim my output?

No. In some disciplines, myPublications finds outputs in databases like Scopus and Web of Science for you to "claim". However, outputs only appear in these databases at the point of publication, which may well be longer than 3 months after acceptance. In order to ensure that your output is REF eligible, do not wait to receive these notifications and instead deposit as soon as the paper is accepted.

Will depositing my output in arXiv meet the REF requirements?

Potentially, yes. Research England have stated that where an output has been deposited to arXiv and it is either the accepted version or 'near final version' and the upload date for the output is prior to the date of first online publication, then this will be compliant with the open access criteria. To help Research Services monitor the compliance of your paper it’s important that you keep your myPublications records up to date. If you have a paper available in arXiv that is later accepted for publication then the myPubs record needs to be edited so that it contains the date of acceptance and which journal or conference proceedings it has been accepted to. We would also encourage you to also upload your accepted version to WRRO in accordance with the University’s Open Access Position Statement.

I've already deposited my work in another repository. Do I have to put it in WRRO too?

It depends. There are numerous technical requirements that a repository must comply with to be REF eligible.  Sites like ResearchGate and are social networking sites with commercial business models. They do not ensure long-term access to deposited publications and registration is often required to access papers. Uploading to these sites does not satisfy the requirements of the REF open access policy. To be certain of eligibility, you should upload the manuscript into WRRO, and if in doubt, contact

What is meant by the Author Accepted Manuscript?

Most publishers will only allow the "author accepted manuscript" to be made open access. The final PDF that appears on the publisher's website can't usually be deposited unless an article processing charge (APC) has been paid for Gold open access.

Depositing the right version in MyPubs/WRRO will ensure that you meet the REF open access requirements AND comply with publisher copyright policies.

The AAM is the version that has:

  • been accepted for publication
  • been peer-reviewed
  • not yet gone through typesetting and layout by the publisher
  • It is often a Word version.

The published version (also known as the "version of record"), has:

  • gone through a copyediting and typesetting process.
  • usually contain the modifications arising from this process, such as page numbers, the publisher’s logo, or the DOI.

Visual example of these differences are available: Published Version | Author Accepted Version | Differences between them

date of acceptance

I don't have an "author accepted version", what can I do?

Some publishers will require you to submit your paper using a template, which can look very similar to the final published version. If you do not have the "author accepted version", or you require further guidance, please email the Library Research Services Unit:

HEFCE expects authors to make all reasonable efforts to get hold of the manuscript. If you're the corresponding author, please ask your publisher for a copy. If you are the non-corresponding author, we advise you to ask your corresponding author for a copy or for the link to the manuscript if they have already deposited it in a repository. If you're struggling and are in danger of missing the deadline, then contact There is an exception in the REF policy to cover circumstances in which the manuscript is not available, although you will need to describe the efforts undertaken to source it.

Guidance from key publishers on article versions

The SHERPA/RoMEO database can be used to search for the self-archiving and copyright policies of individual journals. Where applicable, this information is displayed on the deposit page in myPublications. 

What is meant by the date of acceptance?

HEFCE define the date of acceptance as the point at which the author is notified that:

  • their output has been reviewed by the journal or conference (normally via peer review)
  • all academically necessary changes have been made in response to that review
  • the output is ready to be taken through the final steps toward publication (normally copy-editing and typesetting).

By this point, the paper should have been updated to include all changes resulting from peer review as well as any changes of an academic nature requested by the journal editor or conference organiser.

Does the REF policy require deposit within 3 months of acceptance, or publication?

The REF policy requires papers to be uploaded within 3 months after first online publication during the first year of the policy, and then within 3 months of acceptance from April 2018.

Gold Open Access

The final output doesn't have to be made open access through the Gold route to be eligible for the REF (i.e. you do not have to pay an open access fee or APC). However, your funder's open access policy (especially UKRI (formerly RCUK) or Wellcome Trust) may require it, but this is a separate policy to REF2021.

If an output was made Gold open access at the point of publication, then it doesn't need to be deposited it in WRRO to be REF compliant, HOWEVER we strongly recommend that you still do so since WRRO is highly ranked by Google, and there are other advantages to having them in our own repository. Outputs made Gold open access retrospectively are not compliant for REF.

The publisher's website says that my paper is "free", or shows an open padlock. Do I still have to upload it?

Publishers often make outputs freely available for a limited period of time. This is not the same as Gold open access, which means that the paper will be openly available in perpetuity on the publisher's website. An open padlock does not denote open access and often this is simply an indication that the content has been made available through a Sheffield subscription. Gold open access papers are normally labelled "open access", and usually contain a Creative Commons licence statement.

What about embargoes?

Publishers normally impose a delay on making papers open access (this is set out in the terms and conditions you agree to when you publish). However you must still upload your AAM into WRRO within 3 months of first publication (and from date of acceptance from April 2018).

The Library Research Services Unit check the publisher's terms and conditions for every output, and apply any necessary embargo periods. The metadata will appear in WRRO, but the file itself will only be made open access after the embargo period.

My publisher will not permit me to deposit my AAM into a repository, or their embargo period is too long. What do I do?

Where a journal doesn't allow open access at all, or has an embargo period that is too long, you're encouraged to consider publishing in an alternative journal. If you still wish to publish in the journal then the AAM should still be uploaded to WRRO within 3 months of first online publication (and within 3 months of acceptance from April 2018). Problems with excessive embargo periods are determined by the Library as the record is processed. You'll be asked to provide brief explanation as to why the journal was the most appropriate place to publish, which will be kept on file for use in the REF submission.

If a journal has an embargo, should I wait until after this to deposit my manuscript?

No. Please deposit as soon after acceptance as possible. The Library Research Services Unit will check for and apply any required publisher embargoes before the manuscript becomes available in WRRO.

I cannot make my output open access because of IP or security reasons. What do I do?

HEFCE allow exceptions for outputs that can't meet their open access eligibility requirements if it is unlawful or it would present a security risk. Contact for further assistance.

Monitoring OA compliance

The OA Monitor module in myPublications is designed to help departments and faculties manage engagement and compliance with the REF Open Access policy. However, it can only check compliance against our own repository, and there are other circumstances in which outputs can be compliant (e.g. if it is available elsewhere or is Gold open access). It is therefore important that departments do not use myPublications alone as an indicator of OA compliance, and instead consider all potentially strong outputs. We will manually check each submitted output for open access compliance as part of our REF preparations.

Guidance on how to use OA Monitor is available on the myPublications support site. OA Monitor is available only to users with departmental administrator access. If you need access, please email

Exceptions to the policy

In certain circumstances, an output can be submitted to the REF even though it does not comply with the open access policy. A fuller description of the exceptions is available on our website:

  • Access 1: Includes third-party content for which open access rights could not be granted
  • Access 2: Publisher requires excessive embargo period
  • Access 3: Publisher disallows deposit into a repository
  • Deposit 1: No repository available at time of acceptance
  • Deposit 2: Delay in securing author accepted manuscript
  • Deposit 3: Not employed as Category A eligible at time of submission
  • Deposit 4: Unlawful to deposit
  • Deposit 5: Security risk to deposit
  • Deposit 6: Gold Open Access or open access journal
  • Tech 1: Conference proceedings without an ISSN
  • Tech 2: Employed by another UK HEI on acceptance that failed to comply
  • Tech 3: Repository technical failure
  • Tech 4: External provider failure
  • Other: where an output is unable to meet the criteria due to circumstances beyond our control, including extenuating personal circumstances of the author (such as periods of extended leave), industrial action, closure days, and software problems.

Detailed information on exceptions

Help and support

Do not hesitate to contact the team at for further assistance.