Sunday, 16 November 2014

Finding research papers

It can be reasonably straightforward to find research papers online.  In this post I’ve outlined where you might find such papers, and how you can get copies of them.

1. Open Access papers and other sources
There is an open access movement slowly spreading through the journal world.  Whilst not all journals are open access, some do provide access to papers without charge to the reader. The downside is that their ‘impact rating’ tends to be lower and so academics may avoid publishing in them.

This website is a directory of open access education journals.  There are probably far more journals there than you will ever want to look at, but you might spot a few that look interesting.

There are other sources of educational research, and this helpful blog post from SUPER contains a number of links to research papers and information.

2. Searching.
Avoid the temptation to use a standard search engine to look for research.  Instead make Google Scholar your friend.

This allows you to search for articles in scientific journals, and cuts out the blogs, news articles and general clutter that a standard search engine would return.

As with all search engines, the more specific you are the more helpful the results are likely to be.  There is also an advanced search query which allows you to be more specific about what you want to include or exclude from your search.

So for example, if I want to find out about the research into gender equality in STEM subjects, then I would get the following results:

On the right of the picture you can see that some of the articles are available as a pdf – and if you click on that link it will take you directly to the paper.

Narrowing your search:
You can use the search fields on the left hand side of the page to narrow your search to a specific time range, or since a particular year and only look at more recent papers.  
You can also remove citations, which removes references to papers of interest in books or other papers.

3. Getting the paper
What if you've found a paper that looks interesting, but which isn't shown as a pdf in your search results?

The first thing to do is to read the abstract on the journal homepage.  This should be a summary of what the researchers did, and what they've found.  There will often be enough detail for you to decide if you actually want to read the paper.  Some journals will also allow you to 'look inside' which provides a longer extract of the article.

If the abstract looks interesting, then you will want to get hold of the paper.  However, I suspect that you, like me, might balk at paying £29.95 to read it. Thankfully, you don't need to pay.

Every article will have a link to the authors and their email address. It is a simple matter to choose one of the names - probably the first one* - and contact them by email to politely ask for a copy of their paper.

I have found that, when emailed, researchers are more than happy to send you a pdf copy of their article, and sometimes will send other possibly relevant papers. 

So there you have it.  An easy way of getting hold of research papers, even if you don't have university access.

*The order in which the names are written on a research paper is a complex matter of hierarchy depending on who did what.  Exactly how the order is determined depends on the research field, but in general, the person named first did most of the work, and the person named last is the professor or principal investigator.