Ideally, your literature searches start with your university’s library, and systems such as EBSCO and ProQuest. But sometimes you don’t have access to a paid library, you’re an independent researcher, or various other reasons you can’t access research articles. So, if you need academic articles for your research here’s what to do.
Start your search with Google Scholar, which is good whether or not you’re enrolled in or employed by a university or other institution. Scholar links out to many full-text articles. But you don’t have to stop there. Google itself can often lead you to researchers’ pages on ResearchGate and other places where articles are available for free. CORE and ScienceOpen are directories of millions of open access articles. BioMed Central gives you access to its hundreds of journals with open access. Social Science Research Network leads you to nearly 1 million articles. Governmental sites, think tanks, and that’s just for starters.
I’ve listed up some of the many ways you can get research articles, even for free. Read on for links and descriptions.
Sites for finding research articles, mostly for free
As I mentioned, if you’re looking for research articles, you’re best off with access to a university library and its electronic databases. Whether or not you have that, Google Scholar is where to start.
Because Scholar is so massive, try to refine your Boolean search manually or using Scholar’s advanced options. This will help you account for similar terms, such as those that vary between US and UK English.
If you’re searching for articles on weight lifting and self-esteem, you can search
“Weight lifting” AND “self-esteem”, which gives you over 7,000 results already.
But a more complete search would be, for example:
(“weight lifting” OR “weightlifting” OR “weight-lifting” OR “lifting weights”) AND “self-esteem”
Now you’re up to about 13,000 results and you can start digging.
For some articles, you’ll see “All [number] versions”. The more the merrier, as one of them may be free. Click on that if you’re interested in the article.
Google – the regular Google
If you didn’t find the full text in Scholar, you can move your search over to regular Google. Copy the article’s title (highlight and ctrl-c) and in Google paste the title (ctrl-v). Put quotes around it for a more precise search. Enter filetype:pdf before the title to just find pdfs.
So as usual, Google rules, but you’re not done there if you don’t find what you’re after.
Wikipedia article on databases
The list of academic databases and search engines on Wikipedia has enough databases to make your head spin. Use this page to search in a specific field, such as biology, clinical sciences, or psychology.
PubMed Central. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US runs this site with 2 million+ open access studies related to health sciences. There are other accessible articles as well. There’s also the gov site PubMed, which is my go-to site when I have to edit references and add in all the author names for picky journals. Thank you, PubMed!
BioMed Central. BMC has nearly 300 journals at last count and many have open access articles. This site is your gateway to them.
Science Direct. They archive open access articles from 480 journals, covering chemistry, medicine, economics, engineering, and more.
Public Library of Science (PLOS). PLOS ONE is an entirely open access journal, with sub-journals on a massive range of topics. It’s increasingly becoming a desirable place to publish and, I can tell you as an editor, it’s really picky! The guidelines are a real pain, but they’re also quite yielding in some ways.
Social Science Research Network
Social Science Research Network. This is an open-access database with hundreds of thousands of published papers and works in progress. Being my main area of focus, this is a personal favorite.
Science.gov. The US government science agencies (yes, they still exist! [sarcasm]) turn out amazing work, and this site covers websites, technical report databases, journal articles, conference proceedings, and various other materials.
And many more sources of research article and materials
The above is scratching the surface, here’s a bunch more that you may find helpful. (Click on them and they’ll open in a new tab.)
- arXiv e-Print Archive
- National Bureau of Economic Research
- Open CRS
- RAND Corporation
- Pew Research Center
- Russell Sage Foundation
- Semantic Scholar
Libraries still rule, but you can find research articles online
The more I dug the more I was impressed with the sheer volume of resources out there. In fact, in my own doctoral research, there have been ample times when my library didn’t have full-text versions of what I wanted. But after a bit of Googling, I found it.