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Free research resources: Journal articles: free online access

A guide to free and Open Access resources available to students, alumni and the public.


Without access to subscriptions provided by a university library, many journal publications will be locked behind a paywall. Luckily Open Access Publishing and self archiving practices have lead to an increasing percentage of these articles being freely readable, published either as Gold Open Access, as preprints or in repositories through Green Open Access.

Preprint articles will not include peer review corrections, so if you are planning to cite an article it is important to refer to the final published version. 

Google Scholar can be the best place to start when looking for an article, as it automatically provides links to many Open Access articles, institutional and subject repositories, preprint servers and academic social networks, as you can see in the example on this page.

Google Scholar Search

Browser extensions

If you come across a specific article which is behind a paywall, you can try to find an Open Access version by searching in Google Scholar or use browser extensions which give an alternate route.

All three examples below are designed to link to an Open Access PDF of an article directly from the publishers website. Each has a different interface and will produce slightly different results.

Your local library

Many public libraries in the UK can help you access journal articles through the Access to Research service. Free access is available to academic articles from most large publishers through library computers. This is a "walk-in" service, so you'll have to visit your local library in person and ask your librarian. A map of participating locations is available through the link below.

University repositories

Universities usually mandate that their authors deposit a copy of any articles they publish into their institutional repository. This will either be the final published version of the article, or an "accepted manuscript" (the peer reviewed text and author's final draft, without a publisher's typesetting). 

Many repositories are indexed by Google Scholar, so a PDF will appear available to download in the search results. If not, the 'all versions' button can provide links to other options. Here you can see an example of a PDF provided by the University of Reading's repository, CentAUR.

You can search across many repositories using search engines such as Google, Google Scholar or specialist Open Access tools such as CORE. You can also search a university’s repository directly if you are interested in the research of a particular author or a research department.

If you are struggling to find a specific repository try browsing OpenDOAR, the global directory of Open Access Repositories.

Pre-print servers

In some disciplines it is common to share research on a pre-print server before it is published in a journal. These are a particularly important source when you want to access the most recent research in a fast moving area. 

These papers have not yet been through peer review and so if you are using these as part of your studies, you need to be aware of this. Often fellow researchers may comment on the articles and, as a result, the paper may be modified and also later published in a fully peer reviewed form in a journal. Pre-print servers tend to be organised along subject lines and have become a significant communication outlet for new research for several subject areas. Items from pre-print servers are now included in bibliographic databases such as Scopus but should be clearly identifiable as non-peer reviewed. 

Researchers sharing their own articles

Researchers are usually keen to share their own articles. It's common for them to do this either on academic social networks ( and Researchgate are the most common) or on their own personal websites. If you've exhausted all other options in this guide, consider contacting an author directly. They may well be happy to share it with you by email.