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Eco-Answers from the Pros: How to Find Research Articles in the Public Domain

It can be frustrating to locate current literature on a topic without bumping into paywalls that prevent free access to information. How can you find the relevant information within the public domain?

Google Scholar is a wonderful resource for finding current scientific literature for anything from carbon sequestration to the side effects of a new antibiotic. Though there is a lot of literature in the public domain, accessing it can be sometimes confusing. This brief explainer should help you navigate the paywalls of revenue-generating publishing houses to find the research articles that your friendly neighborhood scientists want you to read.

Though Google scholar is not the only search engine, it is fairly comprehensive and user-friendly. If you navigate to scholar.google.com, you can enter your search terms in the search box; I encourage you to try different terms and combinations of terms to find a variety of articles on your topic of interest. The articles will be sorted by “relevance,” but you can also decide based on the number of people who have cited an article in their own research (under “Cited by…”). Articles with more citations are more well-accepted, though very new articles may have very few citations. Once you’ve decided on what you want to read, you need to access the article itself. The title of the article is usually a hyperlink to the publishing center’s version of the article, which is often paywalled. However, most research is funded by taxpayer-supported programs and is in the public domain. To find these versions, skip the main hyperlink and click on “All N versions,” where N is the number of different places that the article is archived. Clicking on this will often give you a public option, generally a dot-edu or dot-gov site, which stores a public version of the article. Happy reading!

   ~Kristen DeAngelis, UMass Amherst, MA

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