Even if you can’t get access to resources through a library, there are many high quality, peer-reviewed articles that you can access for free online. These resources may include journal articles that are free to read by anyone or articles that authors have made available themselves so that others can freely access their work. Resources that are made openly available are called open access. You can learn more about the movement to make all research open access on our Open Access Guide.
So, how do you find these resources?
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Below is a list of selected databases for searching for free articles. This is only a subset of the many collections that are available online. There are extensive lists of freely available databases maintained by Rutgers University Libraries and Oregon State University Library. You can also consult the Open Access Directory’s list of open access collections by discipline.
There are also a number of databases that collect preprints, or the first drafts of articles. Many of these drafts will not change substantially before they are published, so they’re a good source to use to determine whether the published article will be helpful to you. Some preprint collections include arXiv (physics, math), bioRxiv (biology), ChemRxiv (chemistry), Cogprints (psychology, neuroscience, linguistics), CORE (humanities), engrXiv (engineering), and Open Science Framework Preprints (search across multiple collections).
ResearchGate and Academia.edu are for-profit sites that are popular among researchers for networking and posting PDFs of their articles. You may find that articles that you’re searching for have been posted on these sites. However, two words of caution:
When searching for articles, you may hear about Sci-Hub. This is a site that provides access to research papers without any regard to copyright and often infringing on copyright. Sci-Hub is the subject of numerous lawsuits by publishers, and any use by individuals of Sci-Hub may constitute copyright infringement. Read more about Sci-Hub in the New York Times analysis "Should All Research Papers Be Free?"