In which I (slightly) disagree with Aaron

About questions pertaining to research he’s posted about Aaron wrote, “In an ideal world, I’d tell you to go check [the paper]. That’s what I do. But I recognize that I have access you don’t …” (Go read Aaron’s post. It’s excellent.)

I agree with everything Aaron wrote except the implication that you don’t have access. That’s mostly true (academics like me and Aaron have better access than you likely do) but slightly not true in one way: you can always email the author. Let me back up and tell you all the tricks I know for getting a paper without using academic perks.

  1. Is it really gated? Use Google Scholar to search for the paper. One of the links will be to the version on the journal’s site. Don’t assume it is gated. Try it. Some aren’t, though most are.
  2. Next, one of the links below the Google Scholar entry in the returned results will be “All N versions” (where N is an integer greater than 1 if there is more than one version out there). For example, check out the first entry returned in this search. See the “All 16 versions” link. Click on it. When you do, you’ll notice that some of the entries have a “[PDF]” in front of them. Usually those are ungated PDFs of the paper. (For the example I’m using, here’s one!) This works frequently, though mostly for older papers. Even newer ones sometimes have ungated working paper versions. A lot are out there.
  3. If you still can’t find an ungated version you can ask your network (on Twitter, for example). To the extent that will work will depend on the nature of your network. Depending on who follows you, that could be a long shot.
  4. The final ace up your sleeve is to email the authors. Most academic’s email addresses are online. You can figure out what institution they work at from the author affiliations that are usually available from the ungated abstract or excerpt of the paper online. In the rare event you can’t find the author’s email, you can usually find some email associated with his or her department. Use that in a pinch. In any case, email someone with an interest in expanding the visibility of the author or his/her institution and request the paper. This really should work quite frequently. Authors have PDFs of their papers and they are permitted to share them and even if, technically, they are not, they do anyway. You don’t have to tell the author much and you can absolutely make it sound like you’re doing research. Even if you’re not a researcher, reading a scholarly paper of interest is research. Just keep your email short and sweet, and don’t try to pull the author into a debate about the paper. (Many papers have multiple authors. You can email them separately in sequence. I am confident someone will send you the paper if you’re nice and don’t waste their time with a long email.) Here’s some sample text for such an email:

Dr. X,

I’m very interested in reading your paper titled, “[insert title]” but I do not have access to the full text. Would you be able to send me an electronic reprint? Thanks in advance for your help.

I have used all of the techniques above. I also have access to an online university library, which many of you don’t. Still, I would bet 99 times out of 100 I could get an ungated paper without such access. You all have better access than you think.

UPDATE: Here are two more ideas from Bruce Bartlett: “Another trick is to find the author’s personal web site. They often post copies of their own papers that don’t show up in a Google Scholar search. Also, check SSRN. I’ve noticed that some papers there also will not turn up as well.” SSRN is here.

PS: If you see a gated paper discussed on this blog and you want to do a service to the community, ask the journal’s managing editor if it would be possible for TIE to host an ungated version or if the paper could be made ungated on the journal’s site, if only temporarily (a few weeks or months). Some journals will help us out. I know this because I’ve asked some this in the past. But it takes a bit of work to do the asking so nowadays I almost never do. But if you want to, feel free! Then just let us know if an ungated version becomes available and tell us if you want the credit for the legwork attributed to you.



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