How to get hold of papers when you don’t have access

Recently over on the Research Companion Facebook Group Sophie Buijsen asked:

“I am in the midst of trying to write my research proposal for my PhD application. Unfortunately I am currently not affiliated with a university or research body, so I am having a hard time getting access to academic papers to do my research to write my proposal due to the many many paywalls. Does anyone have any advice on how to get access?”

Here is what group members advised….

Lindsey Harper – “Google scholar is where I start all of my researching, only because it gives more refined results than a traditional database. Then I go to the databases to pull articles that aren’t there. Oftentimes, Google scholar has pdf versions of the article I need, but then again, the selection isn’t always the greatest. Best of luck on your proposals!”

I suggested “Helen Kara wrote a very good post on this recently – Ten Ways To Get Hold Of Academic Literature. Alongside the advice given in that post I often email press offices from universities to say I’m looking to read a paper and can they send it to me, that sometimes works if authors don’t respond. The other thing is to check access options as some places do offer free access, but you just have to sign up first”.

Umm Ibrahim – “If there are specific papers you require that you don’t have access to, I’m sure we/others can help you out. Or try the postgraduate forum.

Becca Weber – “Try the authors page on or Research Gate, also search open access at their institution”.

Daniel Reeders – “You may be able to pay to join the library of a local university and get online journal access that way”.

Neil Davis – “I’ve found that if you get the title of the paper you are interested in and stick it into google you will often find a pdf version on the the authors personal or university site. It’s not guaranteed by any means but seems common. Good luck with your searching and proposal!”

Sara Blackwell MacLean – “I would like to second this one. Google and google scholar will come up with completely different results to the same search. While google scholar will have a better more research focused search result, dont forget to search Google for access to papers or whole books off of blogs, academics personal pages that are not included in the scholar search”.

Craig Knott – “Even though I have access to a broad range of journals, I now use Sci-Hub to save me having the hassle of logging into sites when working remotely. Just paste in your link and straight to the pdf you go. Give it a whirl”.

Kerry Smallman – “If you install the lazy scholar plugin for your search engine, that will tell you if it’s available for free anywhere on the inter webs. If it’s not available for free, the best bet is to join a local uni library. You can usually join for 3 months for 30 quid or so”.

Other suggestions included asking friends or colleagues who did have institutional access to help find papers.

Do you have any other ideas? What has helped you get hold of papers, books or other resources when you don’t have access to a university library or similar? All comments welcome below.

[The picture at the start of this post is of the Mortlock wing of the state library of South Australia. It shows a large library with two walls of bookshelves, each full of books, running down the right and left side of the room; with an arched window above].

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