With the average cost of a research paper hovering around $30, many researchers and other people familiar with the matter are wondering if there isn’t a better alternative to the current model, in which publicly funded research is locked behind paywalls put up by publishers, who don’t add much extra value at all.

Some even argue that the current model is the biggest brake there is on human progress at the moment. We’re not here to judge whether that’s true or not. Instead, we’re here to tell you how you can avoid paywalls and download research papers for free. That’s right! There are websites below that let you download peer-reviewed research papers without paying the outrageous fees that most major publishers like to charge these days.

Even though many of the websites described below are technically illegal, they are praised by thousands of researchers and academics around the world, who believe that the services they offer are not only ethical but also crucial for the betterment of the whole world. We’ll let you decide what’s right and wrong yourself, so, without further ado, here are top 7 best ways how to download research papers for free.

 

1. Sci-Hub

Launched in 2011 by Kazakhstani graduate student Alexandra Elbakyan, Sci-Hub is a website that provides access to academic papers and articles using educational institution access and its own cache of downloaded papers and articles.

Sci-Hub mirrors:

To say that Sci-Hub is a controversial website would be a serious understatement. The site has been accused of copyright infringement on multiple occasions, and it’s currently blocked by many internet service providers, especially in developed countries. According to Sci-Hub’s own statistics, there’s a 99 percent chance that a request for download will be successful, and over 200,000 requests are processed every day.

To download a research paper using Sci-Hub:

  1. Go to http://sci-hub.tw.
  2. Type the full name, URL, or DOI of the research paper you want to download.
    scihub
  3. Click the “Open” button.
 

2. Library Genesis

Library Genesis is a massive database of over 2.7 million books and 58 million science magazine files. The site was sued by Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publishers of scientific, technical, and medical research papers, in 2015, but nothing has come out of it yet. At the moment, Library Genesis is blocked by several internet service providers in the United Kingdom, but the site remains readily accessible thanks to the existence of a large number of Library Genesis mirrors.

To find a book or research paper on Library Genesis:

  1. Go to: http://libgen.io/ (which is the official URL of the site at the moment).
  2. Type your keywords into the search field.
  3. Click the “Search!” button.
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  4. Click on the name of the book or research paper you’re looking for.
  5. Click on any of the available mirrors.
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  6. Download the book or research paper to your device.
 

3. Unpaywall

Unpaywall is a massive open database of more than 21 million free scholarly articles. The articles come from over 50,000 publishers and content repositories, and you can easily access them using the Unpaywall browser extension for Chrome.

To download the extension:

  1. Go to: https://unpaywall.org/products/extension.
  2. Click the “ADD TO CHROME” button.
  3. On the Chrome Web Store page, click “Add to Chrome.”
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  4. Wait for the extension to install.

The extension works automatically, and it appears every time you visit a paywalled research paper that’s present in Unpaywall’s open database. All you have to do is click the green Unpaywall button, and the paper will instantly appear.

Because Unpaywall points to legal, author-posted manuscripts that are hosted on university and government web servers, which are often called Green Open Access manuscripts, the service it offers is completely legal. In fact, Unpaywall is integrated into thousands of library systems, search platforms, and other information products worldwide, making scholarship more accessible to everyone.

 

4. Directory of Open Access Journals

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a community-curated website that lists high quality, peer-reviewed open access journals. The website launched in 2003 with around 300 journals, and it has since grown to include over 10,000 open access journals covering all areas of science, technology, medicine, social science, and humanities.

DOAJ is maintained by Infrastructure Services for Open Access (IS4OA), which is a not-for-profit charitable organization whose aim is to provide benefit to the global community of users of openly accessible research publications and data. IS4OA believes that wide and open distribution and dissemination of knowledge will benefit society worldwide.

Just like Unpaywall, DOAJ is completely legal, and the website is funded by sponsors and publisher and non-publisher members. To use it to find and download free research papers:

  1. Go to: https://doaj.org/.
  2. Type your keywords into the search field and press enter.
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  3. Select the research paper you want to download.
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  4. Click the “Full Text” button located right above the abstract.
 

5. Open Access Button

The Open Access Button started when a group of students got tired of hitting paywalls. To fix the broken system, they launched The Open Access Button was launched in November 2013, leveraging public repositories of research papers to make publicly funded research accessible to all.

The Open Access Button works much like Unpaywall, with one major exception. When the Open Access Button discovers that an article isn’t freely available, it automatically sends a request to the authors to share it by putting it into a repository.

To use the Open Access Button:

  1. Go to: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/open-access-button/
  2. Click the “Add to Chrome” button to install the Open Access Button browser extension.
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  3. The next time you can’t access the research you need, simply click on the Open Access Button to access it.

If you don’t use Google Chrome, you can use the online version of the Open Access Button, which is accessible at https://openaccessbutton.org/.
sci hub

 

6. ScienceOpen

ScienceOpen is a professional networking platform for scholars that offers access to over 40 million research papers in all areas of science. ScienceOpen was founded in 2013 by Alexander Grossmann, a physicist and professor of publishing management at the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences, Leipzig, Germany, and Tibor Tscheke, an information scientist, software developer, and content management specialist. The purpose of Science Open is to explore new ways to open up information for the scholarly community, and it’s safe to say that the project has so far achieved its goal splendidly.

To search research papers using Science open:

  1. Go to: http://about.scienceopen.com/.
  2. Click the green “Search” button in the top-right corner.
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  3. Type your keywords into the search field. Apart from keywords, you can also search by authors, collections, journals, publishers, and other.
 

7. CORE

CORE is an aggregator of open access research published in research repositories and journals worldwide. Its chief goal is to support the rights of citizens and the general public to access the results of research towards which they contributed by paying taxes, and it achieves it by offering seamless access to millions of open access research papers.

To find a research paper using CORE:

  1. Go to: https://core.ac.uk/.
  2. Type your keywords into the search field.
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  3. Click the “Search” button.
  4. Click the “Get PDF” button to download any research paper you want.

Conclusion

Before you use any of the above-described top 7 ways how to download research papers for free, you should remember that circumventing paywalls put up by publishers is illegal in many countries around the world. To protect yourself, you should consider using a VPN (virtual private network) service, which extends a private network across a public network, enabling you to send and receive data securely and privately.