5 free and legal ways to get the full text of research articles
1. Use your library if you have one!
If you are affiliated with a university, you probably have free library access to the full text of millions of research articles. The library will have subscribed to these journals on your behalf. The smartest thing you can do for accessing research articles is familiarize yourself with your own library.
- If you search a database your library will link from the records to the full text if they have it — all you need to do is click through the links.
- When they do not have a copy of an article, a university library can get it for you from another library. This inter-library loan service is usually free to users.
- Your library might use a browser extension like Lean Library or LibKey Nomad to link you to the library subscription or open access full text from wherever you are on the internet.
- Google Scholar lets you configure your account to get links straight to your library’s subscription copy of an article. But remember — side-by-side to library subscriptions for legitimate research, Google Scholar includes links to articles published in predatory and unreliable journals that would be unwise to credit in your own work. Learn more about predatory journals.
If you are not affiliated with a university library, there are still ways you can successfully — and legally — get the full text of research articles.
2. Open Access browser extensions
More and more research is published Open Access as governments around the world are mandating that research paid for by taxpayer money be freely available to those taxpayers.
Browser extensions have been created to make it easy to spot when the full text of an article is free. Some of the best are CORE Discovery, Unpaywall and Open Access Button.
Learn more about difference between discovery and access and why it matters for good research: Where to search — Best Practice for Literature Searching — LibGuides at IFIS
3. Google Scholar
You can search the article title inside quotation marks on Google Scholar to see if a link to a copy of the article appears. If it does, be sure to pay attention to what version of the article you are linking to, to be sure you are getting what you think you’re getting. These links can lead to an article’s published version of record, a manuscript version, or to a thesis or conference proceeding with the same title and author as the article you expected to find.
Remember — even though Google Scholar provides a vast number of articles, a huge number of these are predatory and unreliable, and are unwise to credit.
4. Researcher platforms
A Google Scholar search might lead you to a researcher platform like Academia.edu or ResearchGate. There, if you set up an account, you can sometimes download or request a copy of the text. Again, pay attention to which version of the text you get!
5. Write to the author
If you can’t get a copy by other means, you can write to an article’s corresponding author and (politely!) ask them to send you a copy. Their contact information, usually an email address, will be listed in the information you find about the article, either in a database record for the article or on the publishing journal’s page for it. Many authors are happy to share a copy of their work.
Three bonus ways that might work depending on where you live:
1. A nearby university library might offer access to articles even if you do not work or study there.
Members of the public are sometimes allowed access to university journal subscriptions through visitor access or a walk-in user service. You usually need to use the collections from a dedicated computer terminal located in a library and may need to make an appointment before you go. Do your research before showing up to make sure you bring the correct documents and equipment (like a flash drive) along.
2. Try your public library
In some countries, public libraries partner with publishers to give the public access to research articles. In the UK, for instance, many public libraries participate in the Access to Research scheme, which gives members of the public on-site access to over 30 million academic articles. Contact your local public library to learn what is available to you.
In other countries, your institution might have access to a massive collection of research articles and databases through the publisher/library/United Nations agency initiative Research4Life. Check to see if you already have access, and if not, if your institution might be eligible to join. Membership is only available on an organizational or institutional level.
Remember — even though you now have a lot of strategies for finding the full text of articles, research should never be led by the articles you can access most easily.
Good research is driven by first figuring out what articles are most relevant to your question and then getting the full text of what you need. One of the best ways to do this is to use a good discipline-specific database, like FSTA for the sciences of food and health.
Learn more about difference between discovery and access and why it matters for good research: Where to search — Best Practice for Literature Searching
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