Thursday, 5 June 2014

What to do if you can't access a paper you need

Today I found myself getting increasingly frustrated as I added to a literature review that I've been working on. Many of the articles that looked relevant were behind paywalls that my university couldn't get me through. So I vented my frustration on Twitter with the following tweet: "Have hit a load of paywalls today. How is a person supposed to write a comprehensive literature review?! #openaccess #ecrchat". It's very rare that anyone responds to my tweets so I was really pleased to receive a number of useful responses that I'd like to share below.

Inter-library loan
This was suggested to me by @lizgloyn and @kellywakefield. I must admit I have a vague recollection of being told about this in the past but thought it was one of those things not relevant to me. This system allows university staff and students to request papers and books that are not available in the university's stock. My university's inter-library loan website is here and gives further information. At this point I received a tweet from @lbinfo informing me that at Loughborough, staff can make 40 requests, which sounds pretty decent to me. I'm not sure how this compares to other universities but I'm assuming they are similar.

Open Access Button
@LisaLodwick suggested this, and I had actually already tried it. If you haven't heard of the OA button, I recommend checking it out and downloading it. This is useful in two ways - firstly it logs whenever someone can't access a paper, which is useful data in encouraging the move towards open access. Secondly, it looks for the paper in places that you may not have checked (although this has not yet worked for me).

This method was also suggested by @LisaLodwick with an accompanying relevant link. This requires writing a tweet with the hashtag and the paper you're after. I gather you then just sit and wait for somebody to tell you they have the paper, and then exchange email addresses. I'm not sure how well this would work for someone like me with few followers. Also, this method infringes copyright.

Ask the authors
This was the final suggestion, gratefully received from @Tom_Hardwicke. It was also me being lazy which meant I hadn't yet done it. I thought this might end up being the simplest solution, and as I searched for the author's email on Google, I came across their ResearchGate page. All I had to do was click a button and the request was done, no need to even write a message (although this did feel a little impersonal). Within a few hours I had a nice message from the author and a pdf to download!

Finally, I also wondered what to do if these methods didn't work, and all you had access to was the abstract which included some useful information - is it okay to cite the article without actually having read the whole paper? @kellywakefield suggested being explicit in the text to say that you are referring to the abstract, and @lbinfo agreed that this is acceptable.

Thanks all for your suggestions, and I'd be happy to hear of any other ideas below.

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