A Tip on Tracking Down Scholarly Articles

I read a lot of scholarship, both for work and for fun. I tend to read mostly in the social sciences and the humanities, and almost never in the natural sciences. A decade ago, nearly all scholarship was locked behind database paywalls and virtually unavailable if you weren’t associated with a university. In the last decade or so the open access movement has made a substantial impact on the amount of scholarship available to the non-university affiliated. Here are some tips on how to unearth some (but not all) current scholarship.

First, use Google Scholar. (scholar.google.com).

For demonstration I’m going to use “science fiction” “octavia butler” as my search. (I put terms in to quotation marks to force the search to look for those two words next to each other. This quotation mark trick works in nearly every search engine.)

Here is my initial results list. Note, however, the date of publication. (I think the search algorithm is using some combination of ‘most cited’ combined with ‘most accessible’ and emphasizing works with the keywords in the title.)

Ten years ago, probably none of these would be freely available, but now you are free to read all three top results. Click on either the title name (to be taken to the JSTOR site) or directly on the link in the righthand column ([PDF] jstor.org).

I’m not sure what the ‘Sort by’ date function in the lefthand column does, but it brings back radically fewer results and so I don’t really trust it. If I want to look at more recent articles, I use the year restriction tools listed under ‘Any time’.

So far, so good, but here’s the option I think most people miss. If you click on the title and it takes you to a paywall, it’s still possible the article is available. Click on the link that will give you a number of versions (‘All X versions’). Sometimes one of those versions is the freely available version posted in the institutional repository or on the scholar’s webpage.

In this next example I’ve restricted my search by selecting 2018 in the lefthand column (just materials published since 2018). In the example I’ve circled, if you click on the title you are taken to Proquest’s dissertation database and you only get a sample of the dissertation, and not the whole thing. However, if you click on the escholarship.org link you are taken to the whole dissertation.

In the third example I’ve moved to page two of my results list and I see a book option. If I click on the title, I’m taken to the database which requires I pay or am affiliated with an organization that pays. However, clicking on the link in the righthand column takes me to a complete .pdf of the book.

Here it is. Stages of Transmutation: Science Fiction, Biology, and Environmental Posthumanism.

More and more scholarly books are being made available to allow open access to scholarship. Not the bestselling ones, and not the most notable, but I’ve been kind of amazed recently at how much is available through Google Scholar. Presumably because no one reads scholarship, and no one buys it, so you might as well give it away to those dedicated enough to hunt it down.

We still have a long way to go before most scholarship is freely available, but a tremendous amount is accessible now. Keep in mind that, just as with news sources, there is a spectrum of quality within scholarship. Some disciplines expect more from their scholars, and even within disciplines the journals fall on a spectrum of quality. Google defines scholarship broadly so you may find undergraduate honors theses mixed in with results that include notable scholars publishing in journals with a high impact factor.

I also use the ‘Create alert’ feature so I get emails when there are new publications using that search term.

This results list is a good example of Google including results I wouldn’t consider reputable scholarship, but I suppose that’s the risk I took when I chose the term. So, it’s not perfect, but it’s a way to dig up (often) high-quality information outside the traditional Google/Bing/DuckDuckGo strategy.

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 076 of 100)

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