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17 Research Databases for Free Articles

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Not every academic or student has the means to access research databases with full articles from big-name journals. 

Truthfully, many reports in journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Advanced Materials, and Cell—prestigious publications that charge subscriptions or per paper fees—are not available through open access. This means that authors may search for sources from the vast array of free articles available online. 

Tip: Is an article you hope will help prove your thesis locked behind a paywall? If so, there are still ways to find free, high-quality sources.  

This is where research databases for free journals (and the free articles inside them) come in. By employing open access, they provide a vast repository of studies. Anyone can use these, irrespective of the limit on their academic expense account. 

Our role here is to guide you through the best of them.

The Legitimacy of Free Research Databases

Remember that not all research databases are created equal. 

Some free publications exist to provide a home for low-quality research that does not belong alongside meaningful literature. These publications often charge authors a hefty fee to secure immediate publication—no peer review, no questions asked. Experienced academics know these to be predatory journals; steer clear of the research in them.

However, other free publications are legitimate and only allow high-level, peer-reviewed research to grace their pages and pixels. 

You will find in these free research databases a vast repository of cutting-edge research. Not only that, but each article is free of charge, all the way from abstract to conclusion. Referencing these free articles will make your paper more robust.

How to Use Free Articles from Research Databases

You should, for the most part, concentrate on citing peer-reviewed journal articles as your main sources in your research paper. 

Include high-quality works on your references page. In the same way, add further depth to your study by citing well-regarded material from research databases.

Tip: Use footnotes to prompt the reader to look at the bottom of the page for further details.

Are Peer-Reviewed Articles Better?

Peer review is the process of subjecting an author's research to the scrutiny of experts in the same field. By definition, peer-reviewed articles are more reliable. They are also of a higher standard than articles that have not been peer reviewed.

Put simply, the words "published in a peer-reviewed journal" generally indicate that research has met the gold standard. This is just as applicable to peer-reviewed articles as to those in the most prestigious journals.

Nevertheless, particularly in scientific disciplines, researchers will say that peer-reviewed articles do not guarantee excellence. They are also at the mercy of anonymous reviewers.

Often, and especially when the subject matter is of niche interest, peer reviews can be less than meticulous. The standing of the peer-reviewed journal goes a long way toward determining whether an article is of high quality. 

How to Spot Legitimate Articles from Research Databases

Assessing whether the articles you are citing are legitimate can take considerable effort, especially in this publish or perish environment. 

An effective starting point is to review recent issues of an unfamiliar journal. Do this with an eye to ensure that the content is credible and topical. In addition, ensure that authors with a positive reputation in their field have written them.

Have a look at the journal's website to see if it lists the basics that all publications should provide. These include contact details and a functional phone number.

Assess its policies, particularly in terms of peer review, author requirements, and plagiarism. Within the 17 databases we have provided are some of the best free journals. You can use the papers from these journals to augment your study.

Searching Research Databases

Choose the Right Words

By mastering the use of research paper sites, you will find a wealth of free articles to augment your study.

Consider the following four tips:

  1. Forget how you would normally search with Google. Instead, select the keywords you need and link them with "AND" and "OR" to return the most satisfactory results.
  2. Use asterisks for truncation (i.e., providing the "trunk" of a word so that all forms of it will appear).
  3. Use question marks as wildcards (i.e., "organi?ation," to return both US and British spellings).
  4. Perform detective work by assembling a list of unusual words that commonly appear in studies in your area of interest.

Use Identifiers

It can be time consuming to have to wade through a long list of articles. To limit the drudgery, use identifiers. These help narrow your search to only articles that fit your parameters. 

Tip: When scouring free papers online, first identify the type of article and/or discipline and then narrow it down further. By doing this, you will exclude any extraneous studies. You will be well on the way to identifying the best articles for your study.

Use Database Filters

Another method to tighten up your search for free articles in academic journal databases is using database filters.

Even the most basic databases have filters that enable you to filter your results. This might be by article type, subject, publisher, or location. They will also allow you to narrow the scope of your search by using advanced search options. These enable you to set limits by date range and even by demographic data.

Using database filters judiciously will help you find the right sources quickly and effectively.

Download Our Free Research Database Roundup PDF

Merudio Research Database Roundup

17 Academic Research Databases to Try

There are many academic search engines you can use to find free publication journals and their contents. However, their breadth and varying focuses can be more of a hindrance than a help. 

Ease the process of trawling the internet for appropriate and applicable sources. Check out our list of academic journal databases. These search engines have had the quality of their content vetted. This is to ensure that you are on course to find the best sources.

1. Digital Library of the Commons Repository

The Digital Library of the Commons Repository provides free and open access to thousands of articles from around the world. It maintains a focus on commons, common pool resources, and common property.

Commons refers to a common property that allocates a suite of rights to a group. This field covers matters about open knowledge and the public domain, open science, and the free exchange of ideas. The repository's focus areas are wide-ranging and cover a number of disciplines, including adaptive systems, environmental policy, and experimental economics.

The Indiana University initiative has a simple interface and contains a working paper archive of author-submitted papers. In addition, it has a full-text digital library and links to reference sources. You can view these websites for research by document type, date, author, and title, among other filters. Keywords will help you hone in on the research sources you need. 

Pros

Over 10,000 articles have thus far been assembled by the Digital Library of the Commons Repository. Although the subject matter it hosts is broad, the repository uses software that is compliant with Open Archives Initiative standards. This enables efficient self-archiving for authors.

Cons

This is one of the more niche academic journal databases and contains a fraction of the articles that can be found in other databases. In addition, peer review is not required of articles submitted for admission to the repository.

2. arXiv e-Print Archive

With nearly two million free articles published in arXiv, this academic journal database focuses on eight technical fields: physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative finance, quantitative biology, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics. 

arXiv is a curated research-sharing platform supported by Cornell University that is open to all users. Papers submitted to the site do not go through a peer review. However, submissions are subject to a moderation process. This ensures that they correspond to the subject area and have scholarly value. 

The site offers scholars a wide range of services, including article compilation, production and retrieval, and search and discovery.

Pros

The arXiv project states that the publication of free articles in the academic journals database prior to submission can benefit researchers—especially early-career scholars—as well as the entire scientific community. 

Its team says that so-called arXiving assists in building a professional academic identity, while its open research function reduces academic inequality.

Cons

Articles are not peer-reviewed, but arXiv's use of moderation helps to establish their academic authority.

3. Paperity

Paperity claims to be the "first multidisciplinary aggregator of open access journals and papers."

It collates not only article abstracts but also articles' full text. Based on Paperity's latest figures, its content amounts to nearly nine million research papers from over 16,500 journals.

Since it is multidisciplinary, the research database covers all areas of study. It claims to index only genuine scholarly literature. To do so, it uses proprietary technology to gather detailed information about each document included in its article directories. This ensures that irrelevant entries do not flood the database.

The service assigns permanent URL addresses to each article page. This means that authors can link to these pages with the assurance that they will not become invalid.

Pros

Paperity is run as a start-up, and it incorporates iOS and Android apps for smartphones and tablets. It provides full-text search and RSS feeds, and it shares aggregated metadata with other academic services.

It also claims to help authors reach their target audience, disseminate discoveries more effectively, and maximize research impact. The aim of the service is to aggregate "100% of open access literature, published in any place around the world, in any field of research."

Cons

It is dependent on donations, which might lead to the slow rollout of new features. Peer review is not available through the service.

4. Dryad

The Dryad Digital Repository set out to be a curated resource that "makes research data discoverable, freely reusable, and citable."

To do so, this research database covers all academic fields and focuses on search, presentation, and discovery. 

Dryad has its origins in an initiative by a group of leading journals and scientific societies. They sought to adopt a joint data archiving policy. It aims to be an open, simple, and not-for-profit community-governed data infrastructure. 

All content is free to download and reuse under a Creative Commons zero license.  

Pros

Dryad has been built for mobile usage from the ground up, which means that it is able to provide a better mobile experience for its users. All of its components are open source and built from MIT code, and the modular framework it employs is designed to make the development of new features faster and easier. Research data can be submitted by authors in any format.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

5. CORE

Core offers free and comprehensive access to millions of research papers from around the world. 

Having aggregated more than 10,000 data providers globally, Core contains around 220 million open access articles. This makes it the biggest collection of open access texts used by researchers, libraries, and software developers.

The aggregated content comes from thousands of institutional and subject repositories, in addition to journals, and covers all research disciplines.

Core provides support to content consumers and content providers by working collaboratively with them. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to organize research content and support users in pursuing their interests. The service harvests content from free online academic journals, including peer-reviewed articles.

Pros

As one of academia's best research databases, Core has set out to enrich scholarly data by using state-of-the-art text and data mining technologies to aid discoverability. Simultaneously, the research service supports a network of open access repositories and journals with innovative technical solutions.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

6. PubMed

The US National Center for Biotechnology Information developed PubMed, a favorite among free research paper sites. It includes more than 33 million citations for psychology journal articles, biomedical literature from Medline, and a bibliographic database of life sciences and biomedical information. 

Citations in PubMed primarily come from the biomedicine and health fields and related disciplines. It is one of the best journal article databases for psychology.

Results may include links to full-text content from publisher websites and PubMed Central. PubMed Central is a full-text archive that includes articles from journals reviewed and selected by the National Library of Medicine.

Pros

While many of PubMed's resources are behind paywalls, users can filter their search so that it returns only free, full-text results. A component of PubMed is citations for books and some individual chapters available on Bookshelf, a full-text archive of books, reports, databases, and other documents related to biomedical, health, and life sciences.

Cons

PubMed does not include full-text journal articles. However, links to the full text of research papers are often present when available from other sources, such as the publisher's website or PubMed Central.

7. OpenDOAR

The global Directory of Open Access Repositories, known as OpenDOAR, is particularly helpful for researchers and students who are looking for an educational database that is easy to search. 

Using Google Custom Search, OpenDOAR trawls through open access repositories around the world. Then, it returns relevant research across a complete range of disciplines, including law journal articles. 

Indeed, users can browse through thousands of registered repositories based on a range of features, such as location or software. It hosts repositories that provide free, open access to academic outputs and resources.  

OpenDOAR does not connect to peer-reviewed journals. However, each repository record is carefully reviewed. This enables it to provide a trusted service for the academic community. Repositories listed in the educational databases align with OpenDOAR's inclusion criteria.

Pros

Researchers are able to find institutional, subject-based, or governmental repositories of open access material, while repository administrators can compare the structure and content of repositories and adopt best practices in their provision. Analysts can use OpenDOAR to chart the growth of repositories and repository content in the UK and around the world.

Cons

Peer-reviewed journals are not linked to the OpenDOAR repository, although human assessment is performed to ensure academic rigor.

8. EThOS

EThOS, a service developed by the British Library, is the UK's national thesis service. Its goal is to maximize the visibility and availability of doctoral research theses by providing free papers online. 

EThOS's role is to provide a national aggregated record of all doctoral theses submitted to higher education institutions in the UK. It offers free access to the full text of as many theses as possible.

The database of journals contains some 500,000 theses accepted by over 120 institutions. Around 260,000 of these also provide access to the full-text thesis. This is either through downloads from the EThOS database or via links to the institution's own repository.

Pros

The digitization-on-demand service is a unique feature of EThOS that brings newly born theses and older print content together to a single location. Every month, around 3,000 new records are added, and an additional 2,000 full-text theses become accessible.

Cons

EThOS is limited to doctoral research theses and therefore lacks wider academic research. Users of the digitization-on-demand service ordering a copy of a thesis may experience a turnaround time of up to six weeks.

9. ScienceOpen

Functioning as a research and publishing network, ScienceOpen is an independent start-up company based in Berlin and Boston. It provides a freely accessible discovery platform that sets out to "put research into context."

With well over 50 million published articles, it provides context-building services for publishers of open access journals. Advanced search and discovery functions combine with post-publication peer review, recommendation, social sharing, and collection-building features. 

Of the scholarly databases, ScienceOpen is one of the most interactive. It has features that help researchers promote their research, make an impact, and receive credit for it. 

Users can add to the context of an article with comments, recommendations, or post-publication peer reviews. In addition, researcher-led topical collections provide opportunities for discovery and communication.

Pros

The advanced search function is highly detailed, allowing users to find precisely the articles they are looking for. Smart filters, topical collections, and input from the academic community enable researchers to find the most relevant articles in their field and beyond.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

10. CIA World Factbook

Unlike other resources on this list that provide free access to journal articles, CIA World Factbook is not an online journal directory or repository. Still, the CIA World Factbook is an extremely useful peer-reviewed article database. 

All the information contained in CIA World Factbook is free to access. It provides data and details about every country in the world, including information about history, geography, transportation, and much more. 

Pros

Information presented in CIA World Factbook is collected from and coordinated with a wide range of US government agencies, as well as from hundreds of published sources. It is in the public domain and may be used freely by anyone at any time, without needing to seek permission.

Cons

The resource is limited in terms of the sources of its data.

11. Semantic Scholar

Semantic Scholar, a free research tool for scientific literature, is a unique and easy-to-use education search engine that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to sort through millions of papers based on search terms. Paywalls stand in the way of some articles. However, users can expect mostly full-text results. 

Semantic Scholar's article directories include extensive advanced search options. They allow users to search by cell type and brain region. They also include many peer-reviewed articles.

Part of its mission is to accelerate scientific breakthroughs using AI. In addition, the service's research team studies information overload and develops AI tools to overcome it. Its product and engineering teams deliver these features to millions of scholars each month. 

Pros

Semantic Scholar was launched in 2015 as a groundbreaking project at the Allen Institute for AI, a non-profit research institute founded in 2014 with the mission of conducting high-impact AI research and engineering in service of the common good. It has more than 50 direct partnerships with publishers, data providers, and aggregators that provide content from more than 500 academic journals, university presses, and scholarly societies around the world.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

12. Directory of Open Access Journals

As a multidisciplinary, community-curated directory, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) gives researchers access to high-quality, peer-reviewed journals through scholarly source websites. 

All of its services are free of charge, including indexing. All data are freely available to researchers using its article directories. 

It launched in 2003 with 300 open access journals. Now, the DOAJ has archived almost seven million articles from more than 17,000 journals. It allows users to either browse by subject or search by keyword. The independent scholarly source website covers all areas of science, technology, medicine, social sciences, arts, and humanities.

Pros

The DOAJ is a coauthor of the "Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing," which provides the basis of the resource's criteria for inclusion. Under these principles, newly launched journals are encouraged to apply for inclusion as long as they meet various criteria and provide open access.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

13. JURN

JURN is a multidisciplinary search engine that helps users find free academic articles and books. This academic journal database is for independent scholars, students, and teachers in developing nations. 

Its appearance is similar to Google's, whose power it harnesses to search through a curated index. Established in 2009 to comprehensively cover the arts and humanities, JURN now also contains selected universities' full-text repositories. This is in addition to many free open access journals covering science, business, and law. 

Pros

JURN has increased the scope of its index for open access articles following its acquisition in recent years of open journals covering ecology, nature, paleontology, business, law, economics, defense, mapping science, and geology. It now indexes well over 5,000 English-language journals.

Cons

Although it is used the same way as Google, it requires more than one or two simple search words. Indeed, better results come from the use of Google search modifiers, such as the "intitle:" modifier or putting phrases in inverted commas. 

Still, it is remarkably simple to use, though it works best for academics who have an adequate grasp of Google's more involved search capabilities to return free open access journals.

14. Social Science Research Network

The e-library of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) provides free journal articles across more than 65 disciplines. These include health, physical and social sciences, and the humanities. 

The scholarly search engines scan a searchable library containing full texts or abstracts. In addition, academics can access full-text content for more than 816,000 of the service's million-plus papers.

The SSRN supports open access by allowing authors to upload papers to the platform for free. Indeed, upwards of 15 million downloads occur each year, with more than 154.5 million downloads since the service's inception.

Pros

Searching an individual's name in the author field on the search page provides a directory of scholars that has authors' contact information, including email, mailing address, and telephone and fax numbers.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

15. Zenodo

The OpenAIRE project was born from the open access and open data movements in Europe. From that project came Zenodo.

Zenodo has tools for big data management and extended digital library capabilities for open data. This allows Zenodo to provide free papers online.

All fields of research are welcome in Zenodo. Currently, however, it primarily covers astronomy and astrophysics.

Zenodo assigns all publicly available uploads a digital object identifier (DOI) to make them easily and uniquely citable. At its launch in 2019, Zenodo had around 2,500 records.

Pros

Uploads are made available online as soon as a researcher hits publish, and their DOI is registered within seconds. A versioning feature allows datasets to be easily updated, and a restricted access mode enables anonymized clinical trial data to be shared with only medical professionals.

Cons

Since it has only been available for a short time, Zenodo still has only a limited number of resources. However, it is growing.

16. Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science—better known as PLOS—is a heavy hitter in the world of open access scientific research and retrieval. 

A non-profit organization, PLOS publishes seven open access and peer-reviewed journals. These journals cover all areas of science and medicine. They have a reputation for rigorous reporting, peer reviewing, and immediate availability without restrictions.

Articles are available through PLOS's education search engine. PLOS applies a creative commons attribution license to everything published on the platform. This allows authors to maximize the impact of their research by making it available to anyone.

Under this license, authors agree to make free scholarly articles legally available for reuse. This is without permission or fees for virtually any purpose. In addition, anyone may copy, distribute, or reuse these articles as long as they cite them properly.

Pros

Since 2001, PLOS has been propelling the movement for open access alternatives to subscription journals, and it established the first multidisciplinary publication inclusive of all research, regardless of novelty or impact. A published peer review history is available to give authors and reviewers more options to increase the transparency of the publication process by making decision letters and review comments available for published manuscripts.

Cons

More user feedback is needed.

17. dblp Computer Science Bibliography

The dblp Computer Science Bibliography is an online index of major computer science publications. It focuses on peer-reviewed journal articles.

According to the latest figures, dblp has amassed nearly six million free online articles. These appear in 1,785 journals by almost three million authors. In addition, it has published proceedings from more than 5,500 conferences.

It can be hard to tell where a scientific field starts or ends. As such, the bibliography does cover some hybrid fields. This is the case as long as they are of significant interest to the computer science research community.

Pros

dblp is particularly strong in its coverage of conferences and workshops, which account for almost half of the index's distribution. Journal articles make up 40%, with the remainder incorporating editorship, books, theses, reference works, and informal publications.

Cons

The dblp Computer Science Bibliography covers publications only from computer science, and it mainly focuses on international publications written in English, although there are some exceptions to this rule.

Download our free list of research databases now.


Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Find Peer-Reviewed Articles for a Thesis?

When completing your thesis using effective academic writing, it is essential to cite all the outside sources that you have used to inform its progression. However, it is also important that these sources be peer reviewed. This indicates that the research in them is rigorous. 

Tip: Some of the research databases in this article are peer-reviewed article databases. However, not all of them are. If you still need more sources, you can always locate them using one of your library's numerous databases.

To check that a journal is peer reviewed, scour its website for an editorial statement or author instructions. Either should indicate the submission process.

If that fails, you can assess the journal against Ulrichsweb Global Serials Directory. This directory provides publisher information on more than 300,000 periodicals.

How Do I Get Articles for Free Online?

Not all research articles are available for free online, and often you will find yourself faced with a paywall.

However, there are ways to find quality open access journals for free through the judicious use of online databases. These can provide research that is sufficiently rigorous for academic purposes.

We vetted the 17 databases in our list for the quality of the research included.

Finding the right article within a database can be taxing, with some databases containing tens of millions of research papers. Thus, you should be sure to follow our basic tips on how to perform a database search. This will help narrow the field by using search terms and identifiers.

Tip: Once you have decided to incorporate an article into your research, include it in the references section. Otherwise, you can add it as a footnote.

What Are Research Databases, and Are They Free?

So, whether you're working on an undergraduate paper, a PhD dissertation, or a medical research study, you will require sources. These help substantiate your thesis and back up your discussion points.

A straightforward way to find these sources is through a research database. If your college or institution subscribes to one or more subscription databases, you will already have easy access to peer-reviewed articles. This is the ideal scenario.

However, not every academic or student is in this position. For those who are not, there are always free research databases that contain a wealth of rigorous and useful free online journals and peer-reviewed articles.

Conclusion

Our list provides 17 of the best research databases across a variety of academic disciplines. From these, you should be able to search for the sources you need.

The databases listed here should return studies that stand up to academic scrutiny.

Free List of Research Databases

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