[HOWTO] Access Academic Research for Free

Category: Reference

The truth is out there, but all too often it is locked behind a paywall. Professional journalists have keys that unlock the treasuries of academic research journals so they can report on the truth locked up in there. But ordinary citizens, particularly those who suspect journalists of bias, want access to original research papers. They can often have it for free, it turns out. Read on to learn how...

Free Access to Journals and Databases

Owning a widely respected academic journal is a sweet thing. You can charge thousands of dollars for an annual subscription, or $35 and up for a PDF copy of one research paper. The authors of this highly profitable content get no money; those academics live by the “publish or perish” ethos and so they give up their rights to publishers in order to survive, grudgingly or willingly.

A journalist can get approval to buy a research paper if it is necessary to verify claims made in his report, or to get to the bottom of a controversy. But ordinary citizens often feel shut out of the flow of real, hard data. They must rely on what a journalist says about the data that he has seen, and that may not be accurate. Abstracts are often available to the public, but they are summaries of studies and not the nitty-gritty. Luckily, there are several tricks for getting free access to academic papers that work as well for ordinary citizens as they do for journalists.

Google Scholar is an index of academic research drawn from many sources, including academic journals. The quality of content found in Scholar varies from “working notes” to final research reports. The content may or may not be peer-reviewed, and it's light years away from being a complete index of all the academic research available. So let's move on to other methods of finding information.

Free access to acedemic research and databases

In the Internet Age, some people think the librarian's only function is to stamp your library card and say "Shush!" to noisy patrons. But real live librarians are not obsolete, and they're wonderful people who love to help you find information. In some cases, they can connect you to information resources you will never find with a Google search.

Public libraries subscribe to many obscure and mainstream academic journals. Different library systems coordinate their subscription plans so that between them all they have a broad selection with few duplicates. If you local library does not subscribe to a journal you need to access, the research librarian may be able to hook you up with a cooperative library that not only subscribes to the journal, but also lets the public access the journal online, free of charge.

Major universities, public and private, have even larger journal budgets than public libraries. If you are an alumnus of a university, ask its library staff about access to academic papers. Northwestern University is just one that grants access to the general public as well as alumni.

Open Access and Other Tricks

A growing number of researchers are opting to publish their works under the aegis of the Open Access (OA) movement, which is similar to open-source software in its inclusiveness and desire to share information. Scholarly journals that are part of the OA movement can be found in the Directory of Open Access Journals. https://doaj.org/ Examples of high-quality OA journals include PLOS One and BMC Biology. Beware of OA journals that are not found in that directory; there are many of low quality and ethical standards.

Often, you can call or email the authors of a paper. They are often eager to send copies of the full text of their works to inquiring minds. They may even be willing to answer questions or provide additional information. Another option: authors often post links to full-text versions of their articles on their “Resume’” or “Curriculum Vitae” web pages. Search online for the author's name to find the author's web page.

And working from the biblical maxim of "You have not because you ask not," keep in mind that University press relations offices may not look too closely at the credentials of every journalist who asks to be notified of new research in his area of interest. After all, the Web makes everyone a “citizen journalist.”

There are organizations that promote the research coming out of many different universities. For example, Futurity, a partnership among dozens of universities worldwide, sends out email alerts of newly published research in four broad topic areas: culture, health, environment and science.

While researching this topic, I came across another nice resource, 101 Free Online Journal and Research Databases for Academics, which exists to help researchers (that's you) access journals, white papers and databases without having to subscribe to an expensive service. The downloadable PDF is organized by subject, and includes resources for Business, Economics, Humanities, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Computer Science, Science, and Medicine.

There is enough research material "out there" to keep the Mulders and Scullys busy for years to come. The trick is to avoid drowning in the firehose of information. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Access Academic Research for Free"

Posted by:

Robert Meeker
12 Nov 2018

Free education journals and documents - ERIC


Posted by:

12 Nov 2018

IMHO, any discussion of open/free access should include LibGen and Sci-Hub .

Posted by:

Andrew S Mace
12 Nov 2018

This librarian thanks you for your plug of libraries!

Posted by:

Earl J
12 Nov 2018

* * *
I love this topic of 𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐬...
I'm a former librarian, a librarian of fortune, and now fully retired (grin).
A friend of mine from years ago developed an information industry during the birth of, and through, much of the early 𝑰𝒏𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒎𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝑨𝒈𝒆.
She presented a third option to the free librarian research at the nearest public library branch and the paid librarian/researcher on the payroll...
enter the 𝑳𝒊𝒃𝒓𝒂𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒏 𝒐𝒇 𝑭𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒖𝒏𝒆 . . .
𝑾𝒊𝒔𝒅𝒐𝒎 𝒐𝒏 𝑫𝒆𝒎𝒂𝒏𝒅, so to speak... LOL
* * *
Visit her blog below...
* * *
* * *

Until that time. . .

Posted by:

Cold City
12 Nov 2018

Following the advice of contacting the authors of an article, I even got a medical answer (the author is an MD) about 45 mg of Vitamin K2 MK4, menatetrenone, used in Japan for osteoporosis. He told me it is usually taken for life. No one else could answer that question.

Posted by:

12 Nov 2018

Thanks, Cold City. I searched on menatetrenone and found more info quoting Japanese researchers in the Q&A on this Amazon product page: https://www.amazon.com/Ultra-K2-Menatetrenone-Complementary-Prescriptions/dp/B0057ZGWDW
I wonder if anyone sells the recommended 45 mg since most I'm finding online are only 5 mg or 15 mg.

Posted by:

12 Nov 2018

For me, this was on of the most important "articles" I have read from your email: and that includes your articles on computers which normally I am very interested in, even to the extent of purchasing your DVD "Everything You Need to Know About Windows" 4th Edition Most of the stuff that I see on the internet I don't trust because I don't know its source or even if I know the source I can't find the study in its totality. I am an old timer (88 yrs old), and didn't get into computers until 1992, but even then it wasn't the commercial thing it is now. My understanding is that the internet was designed for Universities to communicate with each other and for the military to do likewise. I also appreciate the comments from others because they have given me even more sources to check out. Thanks for this article.

Posted by:

13 Nov 2018

A very useful free secondary source of academic and research information is available from The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/au/who-we-are . Although it originated in Australia, it has now expanded to many other parts of the globe including North America, UK, France, Spain, Africa and Indonesia. As a former librarian, I applaud their approach, the range of issues and fact checking that they take on. It is a very valuable resource.

Posted by:

Mitchell Stewart
13 Nov 2018

Often, probably generally, if you are a university alumni, you can get access to JSTOR, which provides free access to a wide range of academic journals. EBSCO, and Sage Publications are others to which university libraries may provide access to alumni. Sadly, even these collections do not provide total access to the journals in their collections. Also, see ResearchGate.

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