As you know, it’s very hard to find free journal articles online. And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but here goes.
There is not one single legal website that provides free access to journal articles that require paid subscriptions.
There are a few illegal sites, the most famous being the ‘Pirate Bay’ of science which you can read about here.
I do, though, have a few suggestions if you’re looking for ways to find free journal articles that require a fee.
Abstracts are free. Why can’t I just read the abstract?
So you’re writing a story citing medical research papers and you need to access the full articles. A quick search on PubMed and you’ve found your studies. But, you can only access the abstracts. The full journal articles are behind a paywall – and they are pricey.
Regardless of whether you’re writing health news articles, features, website copy or blogs, a full journal article is generally a must-have.
If you want to write write quality content, you definitely need to read the full journal article. And if you’re reporting on a medical study you’ll also need to read the full study to ensure you understand the research.
Also, important details can be absent from abstracts. You might uncover an interesting statistic or piece of information in the full study. The best author quotes are often found in the discussion and conclusion. And, the abstract of a journal article is only the author’s interpretation of the results, after all.
Why aren’t journal articles free?
Many medical journals don’t give away their content for free. That’s because journals are a business. And just like any business, they need to pay their staff and make money to survive.
As a business owner, I understand and appreciate this – and I’m sure you do, too.
But I sympathise with writers who desperately need immediate access to medical journal articles and can’t afford to pay the article fees. It’s frustrating.
However, sometimes you might be lucky enough to find free access to the medical article you’re looking for. Here are a few methods that have worked for me in the past.
Browse all available websites hosting the journal article
If you know exactly which journal article you’re looking for, type the article title into your Google search bar.
I have actually found some free journal articles this way. I simply type the article title into both Google and Google Scholar and collate a list of websites that host the article.
You can also try PubMed’s LinkOut service. You’ll find this beneath the abstract on your Pubmed results page. LinkOut provides links to a variety of sources that host the full version of the journal article. One of these sources might be hosting the article for free. So make sure you check all sources.
Search engines for free journal articles
There are several medical journal search engines that only provide links to free journal articles. Some of the most extensive open access journals search engines include:
You could search by article title or subject matter – depending on your requirements.
PubMed is, of course, the most famous archive of medical journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM). However, Pubmed includes everything – free and paid. So by searching PubMed alone, you might not find free journal articles.
Open access medical journals
Some medical journals actually provide all of their content for free. These are known as “open access” journals, like:
Email the article authors
You’ll usually find the journal article authors’ contact details on the abstract. Phone numbers and email address details are often publicly available.
Don’t be afraid to contact the authors and ask them for a free copy. Depending on the reason why you need the article, they may be able to send the journal article to you free of charge.
But if your writing is for certain commercial purposes, then they may not be able to forward their article on. Different publications will have their own policies. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask, though. The worst thing that the author can say is no!
Libraries and institutions
If you’re a student – or, in some cases, alumni – your institution’s library may have subscriptions to paid journal content.
You should only be accessing this content if you’re a student or if your student membership allows for it. But investigate the opportunity. I studied at the University of Melbourne and recently discovered they have a similar offering for alumni.
Paying for journal articles
If you exhaust all the above avenues and can’t find a way to access paid journal articles, you’ll have to cough up.
But if you’re concerned about the cost of journal articles on an ongoing basis, consider the following:
- Ask your client or employer to pay for the article – ask for the fee to be paid as an expense on top of the fee that you have already charged for your work.
- Include a fee in addition to your quote – there’s no harm in quoting for a writing job and adding a line item for the journal article.
- Add the article as a tax-deductable expense – if you do need to pay for the article from your own pocket, don’t forget to include it as an expense in your yearly tax return.
- Subscribe to a journal service – if you’re doing a lot of medical writing and need to access journal articles often, paying for a service could be a good investment. It’s tax-deductable and will save you a lot of time and hassle. Don’t be afraid to spend money on your business and writing if it helps you to work more efficiently in the long run.
- Medical journal apps – there are journal apps – as well as medical dictionary apps – that can help you to find free content. Browse the Android or Apple stores to get a feel for what’s on offer.
What do you do when you need to purchase journal articles? Share your secrets below!