Today, the average cost of a research paper is roughly around $30. This is because of the present model, which has publicly funded research locked behind paywalls established by publishers, who don’t really add much extra value by themselves. As a result, many researchers and other people who are aware of this issue have been looking for a better alternative to this existing system.
In fact, some people even go to the length of claiming that this model is one of the greatest hindrances on the path of human progress today.
However, discussing that is not the purpose of this article. Rather, I’m intending to show you how to avoid paywalls and download research papers for free.
Yes, that’s the good news: in this article, I will feature 10 best websites that allow you to download quality peer-reviewed research papers without paying the exorbitant fees charged by most prominent publishers today.
Best Websites to Download Research Papers for Free (Legally)
Disclaimer: Before we begin, I should mention that #1 & #2 websites listed here are technically illegal in some countries. However, thousands of academicians and researchers have praised these websites and believe that their services are not only justified, but also important for the better of our world.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what’s right and wrong. Let’s now take a look at my choices for the 10 best websites to download research papers for free.
Sci-Hub was originally launched by Alexandra Elbakyan, a Kazakhstani graduate student, in 2011. It is a website known for providing access to various academic articles and papers using education institution access and its own collection of downloaded articles and papers. In fact, you can download almost 99% of all scientific papers and articles in existence on Sci-Hub.
Needless to say, Sci-Hub is one of the most incredibly controversial websites in existence. On numerous occasions, people have targeted it for copyright infringement. Many internet service providers (especially in developed countries) have blocked it at present. Sci-Hub’s own statistics show that the chances of a request for download being successful are 99%. It processes more than 200,000 requests every day.
Sci-Hub works in a notably different way than most other platforms listed here: students, researchers, and other academicians donate their institutional login to Sci-Hub. When you search for a paper, Sci-Hub downloads it through that account and stores a copy of it on its own servers.
You can download research papers from Sci-Hub by following the steps below:
- Visit Sci-Hub’s webpage. (Use a VPN to access it if blocked.)
- Type the full name, DOI, or URL of the research paper you are looking for.
- Click the red “open” button.
In 2015, it was sued by Elsevier – one of the world’s most well-known publishers of medical, technical, and scientific research papers. However, that hasn’t led to anything as of now.
At present, many internet service providers have blocked Library Genesis. However, it is still accessible by virtue of its numerous mirrors.
You can find a research paper or book on Library Genesis by following the steps given below:
- Visit Library Genesis’ official website.
- Type the name of whatever you’re looking for into the search field, and click the “search!” button.
- Click on the name of a book or research paper in the list of results, and choose one of the available mirrors.
- Proceed to download the book or research paper and save it to your device.
This is a colossal database that harbors over 21 million academic articles from more than 50,000 content repositories and publishers. The articles in database are mirrored from government resources and hence downloading those is legal.
The developers claim that they have around 80-85% of all scientific articles available in their archive. They are also supported by grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
You can use the Chrome extension to easily access them anytime. For that, you just need to follow the steps given below:
- Visit https://unpaywall.org/products/extension.
- Click the “Add to Chrome” button.
- Click “Add to Chrome” on the Chrome Web Store page as well.
- Wait while the extension gets installed.
- Once you install it, the extension works automatically and turns up whenever you visit a paywalled research paper listed in Unpaywall’s open database. All you need to do is click the green Unpaywall button for the paper to open up immediately.
Unlike many other websites listed here, the services offered by Unpaywall are totally legal because it points to legal, author-posted manuscripts hosted on government and university web servers (generally known as Green Open Access manuscripts).
As a matter of fact, Unpaywall is integrated into several search platforms, library systems, and other information products all across the world. It has been helping make scholarship more readily accessible to people around the globe.
Directory of Open Access Journals
The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a community-curated website that features several peer-reviewed, high-quality open access journals. It was launched in 2003 with about 300 journals in its possession. Ever since, it has grown to harbor more than 10,000 open access journals spanning all areas of science, social science, medicine, humanities, and technology. The number of free articles featured on this platform is growing every day.
The DOAJ is maintained by Infrastructure Services for Open Access (IS4OA) – a non-profit charitable organization that wishes to offer the benefit of openly accessible publications and data to the global community of users. It asserts that open and wide distribution and dissemination of knowledge wil greatly benefit the human society all across the world.
Similar to Unpaywall, DOAJ is completely legal and its website is funded by sponsors, publishers, and non-publisher members. In order to find and download free research papers, follow the steps given below:
- Visit DOAJ’s official website.
- Enter your keywords into the search field in there, and press Enter.
- Choose the research paper you need to download
- Just above the abstract, you’ll see the “full text” button. Click it.
Open Access Button
Open Access Button was founded in November 2013 by a group of students who were fed up of running into paywalls. It leverages public repositories of research papers to make publicly funded research freely accessible to one and all.
Open Access Button is quite similar to Unpaywall in terms of functioning. However, the two of them differ in one significant aspect: whenever Open Access Button notices that an article is not freely available, it automatically notifies the authors to share it by putting it into a repository. The more people try to find an article via this platform, the more requests an author gets.
You can use Open Access Button by downloading their browser extension. For that, simply follow the steps given below:
- Visit the following URL: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/access-button/
- Install the Open Access Button browser extension by clicking the “Add to Chrome” button.
- Henceforth, if you are ever unable to access the research you require, just click on the Open Access Button to do it.
Don’t worry if you are not a Google Chrome user. You can still use the online version of Open Access Button by visiting the following link: https://openaccessbutton.org
ScienceOpen was established in 2013 by Alexander Grossman – a prominent physicist an professor of publishing management at the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences – and Tibor Tscheke – a software developer, content management specialist, and information scientist. It is a professional networking platform that is specially meant for scholars. It grants users access to more than 49 million research papers and over 20 thousand journals in all areas of science.
This platform is meant to explore new ways for opening up information to the scholarly community. Moreover, you can clearly see that the project has been achieving this goal gracefully so far.
In order to look for research papers using ScienceOpen, follow the steps given below:
- Visit the link: https://www.scienceopen.com/search
- Enter your keywords in the given search field. Apart from this, you can also search by journals, authors, publishers, collections, and so on.
CORE is known for maintaining a vast collection of open access research published in different journals and research repositories across the world. Its prime objective is to actively support the rights of citizens and the general public to access the results of research which they contributed towards by paying taxes. To accomplish this goal, it offers flawless access to millions of open access research papers.
You can find research papers using CORE by following the following steps:
- Visit the following link: https://core.ac.uk
- Enter your keywords in the search field available over there.
- Click the “search” button and wait for the results to turn up.
- In the list of results, download any research paper you need by clicking the “get PDF” button.
Once you enter a query, it will search for the same through all the research papers in the world and present the relevant matches to you. You can click on any of the results to see more details, and promptly site it from there itself.
This platform also enables you to download the paper through a few different, and completely legal, open access services.
Use Citationsy Archives from https://citationsy.com/archives/
Basically, when you activate this tool, it finds the DOI of the paper from the present page and then proceeds to search for it. It begins by querying various Open Access repositories like OaDoi, SemanticScholar, ArXiV, and the Internet Archive.
The developers are working on a soon-to-be-released feature that allows you to set your university libraries domain in the settings. PaperPanda will then automatically search for the required paper through your library. If needed, you will be able to set a different custom domain in the settings.
I’ve included instructions for using this tool below:
- Install the PaperPanda extension for Google Chrome.
- Pin PaperPanda to your browser’s toolbar.
- While visiting a page for a research paper, click the tiny panda icon in the toolbar.
- PaperPanda will now find the PDF file for you. If needed, you can open “settings” and adjust the domain it uses to find your papers.
Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
ERIC is a part of the United States Department of Education. It serves as a comprehensive archive of publications and is widely regarded as an excellent way of downloading research papers without paying the fee. It contains not only journal publications, but book sources and gray literature as well.
Both the journal and non-journal material you’ll find over at ERIC are peer-reviewed and reliable. It adds new research publications sources to its index database system twice a year.
You can access ERIC by visiting its official website: https://eric.ed.gov/
It is common knowledge that research publication is an expensive field – both for researchers and readers. The bulk of scientific studies are behind the paywall when the researcher refuses the pay the publication fee for open access publication. The average cost of downloading a research paper is about $40 – something not everyone might be able to afford. However, that’s what the websites listed in this article are meant to help you with.
However, before using any of these websites for downloading research papers for free, you must keep in mind that bypassing paywalls put up by paywalls is illegal in many parts of the world. Thus, you should consider using a VPN to protect your identity. Doing so extends a private network across a public network and allows you to send and receive data privately and securely.