We’ve all been there. You’ve found a great journal article that is almost perfect for your literature review. But there’s a problem: you can’t access the article with your Athens login. So what do you do? Yell a few expletives, bash your keyboard a bit and explode with frustration? Well, you could do that. But then you’d have to clear up the mess – ergh. There are, fortunately, some alternatives to frustratingly bashing your keyboard that might help you get hold of that crucial paper, whilst also saving you from doing any serious damage to your computer. Or your hands.
Here are my top tips for overcoming one of the more frustrating elements of the literature review process.
Use an internet search engine
Now generally I caution against using internet search engines for finding research. Not because there is anything particularly wrong with the search engines themselves, but because many of the articles that you need to access are accessible via EBSCO (eg via PsycInfo, Academic Search Complete etc) which search engines can’t access. However, when you find that you can’t access an article you require, search engines can be really useful.
Let’s look at an example. I’m doing research on the psychology of news influence and I found this paper that looks perfect for my literature review:
Now, it’s important to note that this isn’t the publisher version of the paper*, this is actually the author’s version that they have deposited in their institutional repository (we can tell because the URL is eprints.aston.ac.uk – eprints is the name of repository software that many libraries use, and ac.uk indicates an academic institution in the UK). Fortunately, the good folks at Aston University have confirmed on the PDF itself that this is the final published version of the paper.
The thing to be aware of with repositories is that different versions of the paper could be deposited (this is dependent on publisher restrictions). So, the deposited paper may be a pre-print (ie pre-refereeing), a post-print (final draft post-refereeing) or the publisher’s version of the paper. If you have any doubt about which version of the paper is available in the repository, it may still be worth having a look through to see if it is worthwhile but it would be worth submitting an inter-library loan request if you find it is as useful as you suspected.
Email the author
Often on paper abstracts, you can easily find the email address of the main author of a paper.
If you are struggling to get hold of a paper, this might be good way to obtain a version of the paper. Academics often receive requests from students interested in their work and most are quite willing to share their research with them. Although they will not be able to share the published version of the article with you, they may well be willing to share an earlier version of the paper (the pre-print or the post-print). There’s no harm in asking! (Just be aware that you are asking a favour!)
Inter-library loan request
The alternative is, of course, submitting an inter-library loan request. More on how this works here (UEL staff and students only of course!). If you request a digital copy of the article it shouldn’t take too long before you receive it. Of course it’s not instant, but it should take no longer than four working days (sometimes it can be quicker!).
So, when you are trying to access an article and you come up against a brick wall, don’t despair! There are things you can try to see if you can get hold of the article you require. You just need to poke around online, get in touch with the author or complete an inter-library loan request. You should be able to get hold of the vast majority of articles during your studies using a combination of the above and our online databases. Of course there will always be articles that aren’t possible to obtain (due to publisher restrictions) but at least you have options!
* Researchers – published versions of research articles should never be uploaded and shared online unless the publisher has given you permission to do so! Speak to your librarian who will be able to advise on copyright restrictions for individual journals.