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Finding Current Research Using Free Online Resources

Image of 1883 microscope
Tolles’s Microscope, from 1883 Boston Optical Works catalog

Even the most experienced scholars can find it difficult to keep up with new research in their fields. So much is being published in journals and online every day that it can be overwhelming. So I’ve put together a list of websites to help you wade through the rising tide of research. These resources are available free to anyone via the Internet and offer useful tools for discovering new research in a wide variety of subject areas.

Smithsonian Research Online
While many people think of the Smithsonian as a huge museum (which it is), it also is home to nine research centers and a long list of research programs. Over the last few years, the output by Smithsonian researchers has averaged about 2000 articles, books and book chapters per year focused on our specialty areas within the fields of science, history, art and culture. Smithsonian Research Online (SRO) is a portal to that output and is managed by the Libraries.

On SRO’s landing page, you will find a number of search options, including a box for keyword searching. You also can limit your search by year and/or by museum/department, which helps to focus your search by broad subject areas as well. A link to an online version of the article is provided via our Digital Repository where possible. If you want to keep up with scientific research and reports from the Smithsonian, you can sign up for an RSS feed on the SRO page. Check out our previous blog post for more details about SRO.

Google Scholar
Since it started back in 2004, Google Scholar has quickly become one of the primary (and fastest growing) places to find scholarly research online. Its search robots are constantly scanning the Internet looking for journal and conference papers, theses and dissertations, academic books, pre-prints, abstracts, technical reports and other scholarly literature in virtually any subject area, then adding them to its extensive database, often with a PDF copy available.

Google Scholar's Advanced SearchRather than sticking with the simple single search box provided, I recommend using the Advanced Search, which you find by clicking the little arrow on the right in the single search box. The Advanced Search lets you restrict your search by author names, publication dates, and journal titles. It also lets you search either the full-text of articles (or article descriptions, if full-text is not available) or just search article titles. Given the vast number of items available through Google Scholar, these ways of limiting your search are really useful.

And once you’ve created a particularly productive search, be sure to create an email alert so that Google Scholar will let you know when any new items are added that match your search. You can do this by clicking the Create Alert envelope along the left side of your search results list. It’s a great way to stay up to date on your topic.

I’ve discussed Mendeley in previous Library Hacks posts, explaining how this free reference management program helps you save websites and papers in your own online library and then create bibliographies and citations in your own papers. But I didn’t go into detail on another cool feature of Mendeley: its free online library listing millions – yes, millions – of research articles and papers. Mendeley has taken the citations added by its 2 million+ users worldwide and created a crowd-sourced research library that can be searched by anyone, even those who don’t have a Mendeley account.

Mendeley logoWhile Mendeley’s library catalog offers a simple single-box search, once again I’d suggest using the Advanced Search. This gives you options to limit your search in a variety of ways, including author, publication date, document type (journal article, webpage, conference proceeding, etc.), and subject area. If your search results include open access papers or webpages, you should find a PDF and/or weblink in the record. But most of the records you find will only be citations, due to copyright restrictions. You can check a box on the right side of your screen to restrict your search results to only open access papers if you want.

So while you may not be able to get free access to everything you find in Mendeley’s free library, it is still a great resource. One reason I really like it – the items in Mendeley’s library are added by users. So you’re searching a list of what researchers are actually reading, not just what gets published! And you can see in a record how many users have added the same paper to their own library, which can give you an idea of how many of your colleagues are finding that paper interesting. One caveat: Mendeley is still more popular in the sciences than in other fields, so the papers available there skew toward scientific subjects. But the number of users from other fields continues to grow.

This one is definitely for all the scientists in the (virtual) house! ResearchGate serves as an information hub for more than 2.6 million researchers in science fields (which includes social sciences, computer/information sciences, and other so-called “soft” sciences). It provides a platform to communicate and share research with colleagues in your field, with the goal of helping the progress of scientific research.

ResearchGate logoWhen setting up your own free profile, you indicate the subject areas you want to focus on. Under the Publications tab on your profile page, you will find a list of recently added research papers in your chosen subjects. You also can add your own papers or claim authorship for your papers that were uploaded by others. The site’s collection currently includes over 45 million paper/article abstracts and more than 10 million full-text papers, and it draws from a number of well known sources like PubMed, IEEE, and Cornell University Library.

However, ResearchGate’s search function does not offer many ways to refine your search, even when using the Advanced Search. For example, you can’t limit by publication date to find just the most recent articles, and you aren’t able to resort your results list by date either. You could try adding a year to your search terms — for example, enter “genetics 2012” in the search box (without the quotation marks) to try to find articles on genetics published in 2012 or including data from 2012. It’s not a perfect solution, but it may help to focus your search somewhat. As you’re finding useful articles, you can bookmark them to create your own collection of research materials in your ResearchGate account.

DRIVER logoDRIVER stands for the Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research. This collaborative project brings together over 8 million documents from 386 digital repositories in 46 countries to create one searchable website, covering a wide range of research subjects. Many, if not most, of the documents are accessible in full-text online. (The exceptions that I found seemed to be books, rather than articles, which are less likely to be available in full-text online anyway.) The Advanced Search lets you work with multiple keyword search fields and also lets you narrow your search by publication date, language, document type, and repository.

You have several options for saving your searches, including creating an RSS feed so that you can learn about new items fitting your search criteria. If you create a free DRIVER account, you can add items you find to your own collection within DRIVER or send items to your Dropbox account. You can even join or create communities with other DRIVER users around shared interests.

JournalTOCs logoJournalTOCs is the largest free collection of scholarly journal tables of contents, covering over 21,000 journals (including over 5000 open access journals) from almost 1700 publishers around the world. The site offers several ways to search. With its simple search box, you can look for keywords in journal titles or in articles. For articles, you will get a citation with a link to the complete table of contents for the relevant issue, so you can see what else has been published in that journal. If the article is from an open access journal, you also will find a PDF or the full-text of the article. If an article is available through your institution’s subscription and you’re on a networked computer, it should lead you to the article.

Even if you can’t access the article itself, this site can help you stay aware of who is researching what and what is getting published where. You can browse journals by subject to discover those that cover your areas of interest. And after setting up a free account, you can choose journals to follow and get their tables of contents sent to you by email or to your RSS reader as a new issue is published.

CiteULike is a similar source for journal tables of contents, covering about 13,500 journals in various subjects. While it doesn’t offer much in the way of search options, CiteULike includes some journals not available from JournalTOCs. And remember – you can always request copies of interesting articles not available online through the interlibrary loan service at your local public or academic library.

This list is by no means complete! I’ve concentrated on sharing some of the larger, more subject-diverse resources that help scholars find current research. Have you discovered other online sources for new research, maybe focused in your own subject area? If so, please share them in the Comment field. And be sure to visit public and/or academic libraries in your area to do more comprehensive research. They offer access to subscription research databases that aren’t available free online, and the librarians are standing by to help you use them!

This is the latest post in our series, Library Hacks, where we take a look at cool and interesting online resources from the Smithsonian Libraries and the cyberworld at large.


  1. Trina Brown

    Hi Roddy,
    I saw your great blog post when I was doing research for my own post! I found it very interesting and helpful. Thanks for sharing it here.

  2. the internet is very useful in the field of Research and Learning
    Thanks for great article

  3. Thank for sharing this information. I, personally, find research report almost everyday and this article very helpful.

  4. Miami Realtor

    Hi. What sources do you recommend for legal information? Free resources, that is.

  5. Jual Tas Denim

    Thanks for finally writing about >Finding Current Research Using Free Online Resources – Smithsonian Libraries
    Blog <Liked it!

  6. lam

    Thank you for the work.

  7. Jason

    whats up guys?

  8. Raymond Campbell

    Free online resources is very important for everyone wanting to make a research online. Students and people from the academe really like the internet because there is no limit to their research..

  9. jason brown

    Information should be free, it should not be that we have to pay for it. but i guess no one wants to share secrets

  10. jason brown

    What are your views on hackers though?

  11. Trina, I had never heard of Google is huge! It is proving to be incredibly useful for my research on graphic design subjects (logo, brand identity, etc.). I think I understand now why Google has so many employees (this company is thinking of everything!).

  12. Trinkal Juneja

    very nice resources you have shared with us thank a lot for sharing.

  13. This is AMAZING! Also, thank you Trina for your recommendation to check out Google Scholar. That is going to be a time saver for sure!

  14. Trina Brown

    You’re welcome, Bruce! If I can help more researchers discover useful resources like Google Scholar, then I’m doing my job as a librarian. 🙂

  15. Joe Blake

    Thanks for the info. I’ve only just checked out Google Scholar now and it’s great! How come this isn’t more well known?


  16. Thanks for the list, it’s really helpful for me 🙂

  17. Sara

    Wow great blog. I enjoyed every bit of the article on this blog. I will recommend it to other people.
    Keep on the good work.


  18. Jonnie

    I saw your great blog post when I was doing research for my own post! I found it very interesting and helpful. Thanks for sharing it here.

  19. desfi

    it is really hard to finding current research. really thanks for the info. i hope its free and the content is full. cause there so many sites that just give you the abstract.

  20. I am really happy to read this weblog posts which contains tons of valuable
    data, thanks for providing these kinds of statistics.

  21. Thanks Trina for sharing this very helpful article
    I can see you really have covered almost eveything.
    It helped me quite a lot as I’m sure it will many others
    Thanks again for posting this here

  22. Cep Iwan Setiawan

    Great info, thank you for sharing.

  23. Caraspot

    it so useful for student who needs references as a complement of its research. I like this blog also because always give us an inspiration to do something

  24. Milika Hoting

    Thanks for the info

  25. robert

    Free online resources is very important for everyone wanting to make a research online. Students and people from the academe really like the internet because there is no limit to their research..

  26. Thanks for the list of great resources, i really love Google Scholar 🙂

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