As a scientific language editor, I often need to browse articles when editing. But without a university/institute subscription, getting free access to the literature can be tricky.
Although the number of open-access journals is increasing, many articles are still locked behind ‘paywalls’. This means that to read the full text of a particular article, you have to purchase it, or subscribe to the journal for a hefty fee. I doubt my clients will accept that add-on cost.
But free versions of paywalled articles are sometimes available, for example if the author has uploaded it elsewhere. Impactstory is a non-profit open-source, web-based service committed to making research data freely available to all. In April last year, they introduced Unpaywall, a web browser extension that can retrieve open-access articles immediately and automatically. For free.
Unpaywall can be installed into Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox browsers. It takes seconds and you don’t even have to restart your computer. It works automatically, while you browse, so no need to insert the article’s DOI into a search box. And don’t worry: Unpaywall only retrieves articles from legal sources.
It’s pretty user friendly. A few seconds after finding an article, an Unpaywall symbol will appear at the side of your screen. If an open-access version of this article is available elsewhere, a green unlock symbol will appear. Clicking on this symbol allows you to read it for free. A grey lock symbol tells you that no open-access version was found. Unpaywall finds a free version at least 50% of the time, which makes life a little easier (and cheaper) for the self-employed language editor.
Claire Bacon is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and a research scientist turned editor who runs a business called Bacon Editing.