How to Read Scientific Journal Articles for Free Using UnPayWall.org

unpaywall.org extension review

Read Research Papers for Free Using UnPayWall.org

Did you know that you can legally read scientific journal articles for free even if they are behind a paywall?

Well you can now.

You can do this using unpaywall.org, a free, legal online service that I’ll show you how to use in the post below.

This is my review of unpaywall.org, a non-profit organisation that has made my fact checking life a whole lot easier.

The Open Access to Science Articles Debate

open access to science research data

Why Open Access Data is Important

It appears that there is a growing movement to create open access for anyone in the world to read journal articles.

This is one of those disruptive industries taking something that is currently, very expensive and finding a way to make it accessible to millions.

Major academic journal publishers make a big profit from universities, colleges, libraries and individuals who take out subscriptions to journals that they publish.

Then the publishers also offer you a pay per article vs a subscription route, which is very pricey. In my video below you’ll see the pay as you go prices range from $15- $36+ USD per article!

So you can see why a publisher might not want the research article pdf available for free to download. They are there to make a profit at the end of the day, which is fine.

I didn’t know that there are five major publishers in the world who control the scientific research being shared.

You can read more on the debate of this oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era here.

However, their concerns of loss of income from this this new type of disruptive internet service might not be an issue. According to Prof. Martin Eve this free tool might not affect subscription rates.

I guess many might argue against this search tool that lets you easily find these free access pdf’s.

❤️ I personally love the idea!

Who wouldn’t want an efficient legal way to find free information? That is the power of the internet!

The Founders

Unpaywall.org is founded by the same two founders of impactstory.org:

  1. Heather Piwowar
  2. Jason Priem

It officially launched on 4 April 2017 and has had more than 10,000 downloads in just its first few weeks.

Is UnPayWall Illegal?

No. Unpaywall.org finds PDFs that were legally uploaded by the authors from different open-access repositories databases worldwide. These legal articles are then accessed on demand by oadoi.org using a free, fast, open API.

unpaywall instructions

The Legal Way to Find Open Access Papers

There is an illegal competitor out there called Sci-Hub. Apparently, they use a scraping method which means they can find PDFs online that weren’t shared with an authors permission. So this would be the pirate option for those looking.

How to Use UnPayWall.org Extension

Installation Instructions

Here are the steps that you need to do to install the unpaywall extension:

  1. Go to unpaywall.org
  2. Choose either the official Chrome Browser Extension or Firefox Add-On
  3. Follow the steps in your browser to activate the extension/add-on
  4. Done

It really is that easy. No you are good to good to go hunting for free pdf’s which I’ll show you how in the next steps.

How to Use UnPayWall.org

Now that you have installed on your browser you want to use it see if you finally read the full text article of a research article vs the Pubmed summary only.

1. Navigate to the article on the journal website
You can’t use the Pubmed url page. You need to go the article page on the journal’s website. It is easy to do by following the link from Pubmed as you can see below.
2. Look for the green lock badge
If there is a free pdf version on the web then unpaywall will show a green unlocked icon on the right side of your browser

unpaywall free pdf badge example

Look for the Green Unlocked Badge

3. Click the Green Unlocked Badge
When you click the green badge then you will be taken to the the pdf they found in a new tab on your browser.

That is all you need to do, which is so simple.

You might see this grey badge sometimes, which means no free pdf was found.

Unpaywall Grey Badge Example

No Free PDF Found Example

Optional Settings

Badge OA Source Colour

You can set the colour of the badge to show three different types of open access sourcing.

  • Green – means it is a Green OA article on a preprint server or institutional repository.
  • Gold – means it is a Gold OA article available from the publisher under an open license.
  • Blue – means it is a Blue OA article that is available, but lacking license information.
Different OA source badge colours option

Example of different colour badges as optional setting

To be able to do this option follow these steps:

  1. Click the unpaywall icon in your browser window
  2. Go to settings
  3. Check “Color-code tab for Green and Gold OA”
Hide Certain Content Sources

This is an option to hide content sourced from

  • ResearchGate,
  • Academia.edu,
  • Researcher homepages,
  • Some IR’s (a.k.a institutional repository).

Apparently this option can decrease sourcing coverage by about 20%.

To be able to do this option follow these steps:

  1. Click the unpaywall icon in your browser window
  2. Go to settings
  3. Check “Hide content from less trusted sources”

Others Ways to Find Research PDF’s Online

You can also try these three other options

1. PubMed Institutional Repository LinkOut
Click on one of the link out badge or text link options that take you to the free PDF directly from the PubMed summary page. Click here to find out more.
2. Open Access Button
Another open access legal free way to get around paywall research articles. Search there database plus be able to send a request for access to the owner from their website. Click here to find out more.
3. Use Google Advance Operator Search
Use Google to try find a research pdf online using the filetype:pdf search operator. For example copy this with your custom title into a google search box to see how it works – filetype:pdf “Effects of Mattress Material on Body Pressure Profiles”. Click here to use the advanced search operators page.

Conclusion

I hope you found this tutorial useful.

If you are a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist you’ll understand how cool this new technology is helping practitioners who no longer have access to a uni library. Students don’t always realise the benefit they get with access to so many journals via their educational institutions subscription.

Here is a list Chiropractic research journals unpaywall.org works on or are open access:

I’m sure this service is going to grow and I hope I can help it go viral so that more people get to read the full length articles to get better informed and so make better health decisions.