Let’s imagine a fictional scenario together.
While doing a literature search, I found a reference to a great article on my topic.
It’s by an author I trust, the abstract looks amazing, I absolutely need to read it and add it to my literature review.
But there is no direct link to the full-text.
What do I do?
Well, you’ve go several options.
Let me walk you through them one by one.
Check your library’s AtoZ
Somewhere, on your university library’s website, there is a directory containing the titles of all the journals they have access to.
I’m sure it’s there somewhere.
Sometimes, it’s called “AtoZ”, sometimes it goes by another name.
Once you’re in there, search for the journal your article is published in.
Let me repeat that just to make sure you got it.
You need to search for the journal’s title, not the article’s title.
If your library has access to it, you will most probably see a date range next to the journal’s title: you might not be able to access all of the issues of the journal.
It could look like one of those:
- “1996-2002”: you can only access articles published between 1996 and 2002 (included).
- “2003-present”: you can access any article published during and after 2003.
- “two years embargo”: you can access all of the articles except for the ones published during the past two years.
Check if your article was published within that time bracket.
Then follow the link to the journal, log in with your library’s account, and look for the volume and issue your article is in.
If you need more help, ask your librarian, I’m sure she’ll be able to help.
But if your library doesn’t seem to have access to what you need, go to the next step.
Let’s just Google it
There aren’t that many circumstances in which I’m going to advise you to use Google.
It’s a great tool, but it’s just not the best one when you’re trying to do a thorough literature search.
(Yeah, I don’t particularly recommend Google Scholar either. But I’ll have to talk about that in another post sometime).
But this is exactly the kind of situation where it’s a perfect tool.
Namely: you actually know what you want to find.
For example, I wouldn’t use Google if I wanted to find peer-reviewed articles about the link between addiction and fandoms.
But if I have the article’s title (“Harry Potter and the end of the road: parallels with addiction”) and its authors’ names (Rudski, Segal and Kallen), then that’s when I should Google it.
My advice for an efficient Google search:
Copy – paste the title of the article in the search box (don’t type it to make sure that you won’t make any typos) and put it between quotation marks.
We’re using quotation marks here, because we want to narrow the search down to documents containing this exact phrase.
If you don’t find it immediately, add the surname of one of the authors at the end (not within the quotation marks).
You should be able to find at least the publisher’s page about your article. If they promote Open Access, you should then be able to access it right now.
If not, you might want to use this extra tip.
Most of the time, if the full-text of an article is available somewhere online, it will be available in a PDF format.
So if you don’t find your article right away and have a long list of results, you can try and search for PDFs only.
To do that, add filetype:pdf at the end of your search.
If there is a PDF containing this title somewhere, you will find it.
Just buy it
If you didn’t find your article using the method above, then it means that it’s probably not freely available anywhere.
But your first Google search (without the “filetype:pdf” bit) should at least have unearthed the exact page about this document on its publisher’s website.
So, hey, you can just buy it from them.
But if you’d rather not pay full price for it (it can be quite expensive!), you still have some other options.
Ask the author
In my opinion, it’s always worth a shot.
If you’ve found the publisher’s page for the article, you will find a lot of information about it.
And, most often, one of them will be the email address of at least one of the authors.
So nothing keeps you from writing them a (nice, polite) email explaining why you think their article seems interesting and asking (again, politely) if they would be able to send you a copy.
It doesn’t work every single time, and you have no guarantee when and if they’ll send you the article.
But it does sometimes work.
Ask your library!
You’re going to get tired of me saying this all the times but, hey, I’m a librarian, you can’t expect me not to!
The thing is, your university library probably runs an interlibrary loan service.
You pay them a small fee (often much less than what you would have paid if you had bought it directly from the publisher) and they will find a copy of the article for you.
Why didn’t I led with that you ask?
Because, here is the secret: the first things your librarian is going to do when receiving your query?
1. Check if the library doesn’t have it.
2. Google it.
3. Ask the author.
So you might as well do it yourself first: it could save you a little bit of time.
So, what do you think of those techniques? Have you tried them before? Did it work? Tell us all about it in the comments!
The above banner was made using an image by Marcus Ramberg.