Finding open access academic research (without needing to log in)

*This post has been edited following the resolution of IT issues that the University experienced in October 2021.*

Next week is Open Access Week all over the world, but at University of Sunderland we’re bringing it forward a little bit so that we can help you find some good quality academic resources.

There is quite a lot you can access for free because it has been published open access.

Most of this post focuses on tools to help you find open access journals but there are lots of other types of open access sources too and we’ve created a list which you can access below:

If it’s journal articles you are after, read on to find out more about some useful browser plugins and open access repositories.

Most of the academic journal articles you will use are behind a paywall. You have access to a lot of academic journals because the University Library pays to subscribe to them – when you find an article on Library Search, or even when you log in with your University User ID after you find something on Google Scholar you are accessing our subscribed resources.

open access logo - an open padlock symbol

The good news is in recent years there has been a movement towards open access publishing in academia and many journal articles are published as ‘open access’ (free for the reader) or a free version of the article (for example a pre-print – an earlier version of the article before it was published) is made available by the author.

Open access research by University of Sunderland staff is available on SURE the University of Sunderland Institutional Repository – but how do you find other open access research?

Tools for Finding Open Access Journal Articles

Unpaywall is a database of over 29 million free scholarly articles. It harvests data from legal sources including university, repositories, government and scholarly societies as well as open access from publishers.

You can download a browser extension  Рwhen you find an academic journal online that you do not have access to the browser extension will search and see if a legal open access version is available.

Open Access Button

A site that searches the different aggregated repositories, open access and hybrid journals and those on authors personal pages. It searches for legal versions of articles and therefore does not search ResearchGate or You can search via the web page or download browser extensions.

They will also make a request to authors for you if an article isn’t already available open access.

CORE aggregates open access content -a project by The Open University and Jisc, it searches over 212 million research papers to help you find legal open access versions of the articles you need. It provides access to over 92 million free to read full text papers.

Although this tends to be a service used by institutions such as Universities, individuals can search directly on their web page too.

Can I just use Google Scholar?

Google Scholar can be a very useful search tool for open access research and we have written a guide about how to make the most of it which you can access on this blog. Google Scholar does however have some downsides when it comes to finding academic research:

  • it links to a lot of paywalled content– some of which you can access through the University subscriptions, but it is quite likely that you will find a reference and not be able to access it at all because it’s not open access and it’s not included in the University subscriptions. If this happens you can get an interlibrary loan – but below we give a few other ways to check if the research you need is available in an open access format.
  • it links to content that is uploaded without permission from the copyright holder – it’s best to check where your download is coming from. They are not all legitimate providers.

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