How to get free (and legal) access to journal articles behind paywalls: the Open Access Button

I’m sure all of you engaged in research will be familiar with messages such as this:


It’s an example of what you see when you are trying to access a journal article and hit what’s known as a paywall. If you’re lucky, your institution has paid for a subscription: you log in and voila! The PDF appears! If you’re not so lucky, you might feel stumped and as if the only way to read the article is to pay the requested cost.

But, this isn’t necessarily the case? Did you know that usually authors are entitled to make a free version of the article available via their institution? If you’ve ever come to me asking for an article you can only find behind a paywall and I email you back a PDF in 5 minutes, it’s most likely that this is the version I’ve found.

So now you want to know how to find that version yourself? This is where the Open Access Button comes in!


Using the Open Access Button

You’ve got two options when it comes to using the button.

  1. Bookmark and each time you need to use it open a new tab, visit the site and paste the URL of your article into the box.
  2. Use the extension (a.k.a. bookmarklet). This is something you also add to your bookmarks toolbar. When viewing the article you want to access click on it and you’ll get an Open Access Button pop-up.

How does it work?

1. Finding an article


Once you’ve entered your URL or clicked the bookmarklet you’ll get a whirling circle of orange dots and a message telling you your article is being searched for. openarticleIf it’s found, this lovely blue button appears. Success! You have your article šŸ™‚

2. Requesting an article

If, unfortunately, an open access version of your article isn’t found, that’s not the end of the story. You can request the article šŸ™‚

If the Open Access Button can’t find an open access version of the article you want you’ll see something similar to the screen below.


You need to enter something in the How would getting access to this research help you? to proceed. Complaints or rants about open access or the article not already being free to read won’t be accepted. Something along the lines of “I’m researching [your research topic] and would like to read your research.” will be accepted, but remember this message will be sent to the author and is your chance to persuade the author to bother to make their research accessible to you.

After you press submit your request will go into a queue for the Open Access Button team to check and send the request. They make sure your message to the author makes sense and isn’t rude etc., add it to some generic text explaining how the author can deposit their article in an institutional repository (including how they can check what their publisher allows), check any automatically retrieved email address for the author and then email the request to the author.

Hopefully the author will respond to the request and be able to deposit their article in an institutional repository. When they do you’ll receive an email you informing you the article you requested is available.



3 thoughts on “How to get free (and legal) access to journal articles behind paywalls: the Open Access Button

  1. Pingback: Open Access Button

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