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7 ways to get access to full journal articles

Are you hitting paywalls on peer-reviewed journal article you want to read? You have options!

May 1, 2016

You've searched Google Scholar and PubMed. You've found the papers you want to read. And…. you've hit a paywall. A paywall for a single journal article, between $30 and $60.


Why didn't they prepare us for this in grad school?


Well, because University folks have "free" access to all journal articles because their University pays for it. But the average SLP? Not so much! Below, we'll explain how to find full journal articles for free.

First, note that the primary way to obtain a journal article is to go to the publisher’s website and simply pay for it. Publishers own the journal articles, so when you search for an article's title, the journal's website is almost always the first thing to pop up. Just like anything else you’d need for therapy—books, toys, treatment materials—scholarly articles do have an associated cost. (Not a fan of that cost? You're not alone. 

Seven ways to read full journal articles for free:


1. Download Unpaywall.

This is just a must-do. Download the app, Unpaywall. It installs within your internet browser, and as soon as you open a link to a journal article, it'll direct you toward the full journal article for free (BOOM!). This is your single best option. When that doesn't work, proceed to the next steps.


2. Do a basic "Google" search for the article.

Not a Google Scholar search, but a regular Google search. As stated previously, the first site to pop up will be the publisher's. That may or may not be "open" (free access). But, subsequent hits on your Google search will be places like ResearchGate or the author's own website. These are good places to find free journal articles. Every single month, we find approximately a third of the journal articles for free using either the Unpaywall app (above) or a basic Google search.

3. Ask the author for it.

There are legal versions of the journal article that author can share with you, and it's their job to know which ones those are! Most authors are happy to share. Simply find the email address on the article page (or Google the person), and email to request a PDF. Just note that you CAN NOT share an article an author gives you with large groups of people, or anywhere online. The author gave it to you, and so if you share it further, you're responsible for whether or not it's being shared legally. Remember— the publisher owns the article, not the author.

4. Access ASHA journals through your membership.

If you're a member of the American Speech-LanguageHearing Association (ASHA), you get access to their journals for free. If you’re additionally a member of at least one ASHA Special Interest Group (ASHA SIG), you get the access to all of the Perspectives publications too. You'll also want to ensure you're logged into ASHA's website when trying to access journal articles.


There are many reasons to belong to ASHA, but journal access is certainly an important one. NOTE: Similar perks exist for UK, Canadian, and Australian professionals; check with your national organization.


5. Visit a university.

Many universities offer public access passes if you visit the university library in order to obtain materials. There are often limits (e.g. you can only use the computer to access journals for one hour), and the details of what you can get access to vary widely among schools. But it's worth looking into, because you may be only a short drive from all the articles you want. People also will sometimes ask someone they know at a university to get an article for them (this isn't generally legal, but depends highly upon the nature of collaboration between the person asking and the person sharing the article).


6. Get it from you employer. 

People who work at large hospital systems (or other healthcare networks) are often surprised to learn that they actually have journal access similar to what universities have. Ask your employer about this or try contacting the medical librarian at your facility.


7. Pursue other search options. 

It may also be helpful to look at what the scientist's university offers. Most universities have some version of an institutional repository (also called scholarly commons), where they host research published by their scientists. Sometimes free, but not always. First, you have to know what university the scientist publishing the article works at (usually shown on the journal's website). Then, you can look at a list, or just Google the university's repository. Searching repositories is a much bigger pain than Google, but, hey, if you want to save a buck!


Finally, we can't endorse this last one as an option because it's not legal. But, yes, some people are getting what they need through massive sources of pirated journal articles. And while we cannot recommend such sites, we do think it's important you know about things like Sci-Hub because of how it's changing the climate of academic publishing. To learn more, see herehere, and here.

What can we all do to support open science?​


Clearly there are many options, and the methods for accessing research articles for the general public are far from ideal. What can you do?  

  • Be part of the conversation on what SLPs need in order to provide evidence-based practice. 
  • Make sure your science colleagues know how to legally self-archive (that is, share their research online for free). Any time scientists do that, we'll be able to link out to their lab pages from The Informed SLP!
  • And if you're interested in learning more on this topic, view the video here.


Australian SLPs—did you know that you can access ASHA journals for FREE if you are a Speech Pathology Australia member? Here's how:

  • Visit the Speech Pathology Australia website and log in using your member details
  • Go to Resources for Speech Pathologists > Evidence-Based Practice > CINAHL database
  • Click 'Access the CINAHL database and begin searching for journal articles'
  • Click 'Access the CINAHL database and begin searching for journal articles' again
  • Search for the journal article you're interested in (e.g. using the article title)
  • Find the relevant result. At the bottom, there should be a link reading 'PDF full text'. Click it.
  • This includes access to the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology; the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research; Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools; the American Journal of Audiology; and Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups.

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