How to Access Journal Articles

Journal articles are the most important and reliable sources for academic writing. However, as I explained in a previous article, they are often hidden from people behind paywalls so that it seems impossible to read them without paying a large fee.

If you have an article which you are desperate to read, there might be a way around the problem. Try checking the following:

The journal’s website: Sometimes, prestigious journals will allow researchers to pay a fee to make their article available for free online. This is called “gold open access” and if an article you want to read has been paid for, you should be able to easily read it on the journal homepage.

Repository copy: If the researchers can’t afford to pay a fee to make their article available straight away, some journals will allow them to “deposit” a copy of their article elsewhere after a year or two. This is called “green open access”. If the researcher has deposited their article elsewhere, you should usually be able to find it easily by searching (not Google Scholar) for the article name in speech marks.

Digitised copy: If the journal article is a very old one, it is likely to have entered the public domain. That means that its copyright has expired and it is likely to be available online for free. Try searching the journal name on or GoogleBooks to see if you can find the volume your article is contained in.

Draft copy: Lots of tech-savvy academics have profiles on academic social networks like or ResearchGate to discuss their research. If you search for the academic’s name on these sites, you might find an early form of the article available for free.

JStor: JStor is a website which contains millions of journal articles. If you create an account you can read lots of these for free, but usually you can only read three articles per month.

DeepDyve: DeepDyve has a free membership option which allows you to “preview” lots of journal articles, including some which aren’t available anywhere else! The only catch is that you only get five minutes to read each article, unless you are willing to pay their subscription fee!

Academic library: If you live near a university or research library, you can usually become a visiting member. Academic libraries will own physical copies of lots of journals. In addition, if you have access to the computers inside the library, you will often find that being on a university computer gives you free access to articles which you would normally have to pay for.

Public library: If you are a member of a public library, your library will often let you place an inter-library loan request for a journal article. Public libraries will make a charge for this – in the UK it’s usually about £10 – but it is still cheaper than paying the online fee.

Society: Lots of journals are run by learned societies. For example, the Herpetological Journal is run by the British Herpetological Society. Often, members of those societies get free access to old articles, and becoming a member of a society is still usually cheaper than buying access to an article online!

If you found this article helpful you will love our University Preparation Package. This course gives you the ideal introduction to academic writing and critical thinking, and comes with unlimited tutor support and 24/7 access to our online classroom environment.




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