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7.4.2: Open Access Sources

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    How Do Open Access Sources Differ from Library Sources?

    Domain Names

    If you can't find peer-reviewed information on your topic in the library databases, you may be able to find peer-reviewed sources through open access searches. This may apply if you have a very current topic and scholarly articles haven't been published in the databases yet. Major contributors of information to the Internet can generally be organized into four large categories, each of which uses a different ending in their "domain" name. Domain names are critically important for online researchers, as they quickly give you a significant hint about the origin, intent, and reliability of a website:

    • .gov = government agencies
    • .edu = educational and research institutions
    • .com = commercial enterprises
    • .org = organizations (Warning: Anyone can get a .org domain, whether they are an organization or not!)

    Google Searching by Domain

    Since so much of the Web is commercial (.com), and commercial sites probably want to sell you something, it is handy to know how to restrict a search to educational institutions (.edu), organizations (.org), or government (.gov) sites, which may be more reliable sources of information.

    The quickest way to limit a search to a particular domain is by typing the following after your search terms in Google:

    • site:edu to limit results to education sites
    • site:gov to limit results to government sites
    • site:org to limit results to organization sites

    Example: "global warming" site:edu

    Google Scholar

    Google Scholar is a Google tool that allows for a simple method to limit your search to scholarly literature. Search results include journal articles, books, theses, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, universities and other websites. Google Scholar results are very likely to be appropriate for use in academic research papers.

    Unfortunately, many articles found in Google Scholar will not provide the full text of the article for free. Instead, they will ask for a fee to read the article. You typically should not cite articles that are not available in full text. You should be able to freely access and read the full article if you want to include it in a paper. If there is a link to the right of the title, it is most likely free from that link. If you cannot find it for free, ask a librarian if they can get it for you.

    Searching Google Scholar

    From the homepage (, enter your basic search terms or click on the "Advanced Scholar Search" link for more options:

    Examine your results. Any website in your result list that has [PDF] next to it means that the full text is available by clicking on the PDF link. Google and Google Scholar are just the tip of the iceberg when searching for academic resources outside the library walls. There are hundreds of open access journals that have been initiated over the last several years by universities and other non-profit organizations that contain reputable, scholarly content.

    Open Access Journals

    Open Access is a movement that universities are supporting in order for important discoveries to get out into the public domain -- for free. Over the last century, the large journal and textbook publishers have increased the cost of accessing their journal content, making it difficult for colleges and universities and scholars like you, to access cutting-edge research in your field of expertise. So universities are getting together to make the entire publishing more transparent and less expensive.

    The list below is constantly growing. Here are a few of the major players recommended to faculty and students:

    Caution When Using Sources from the Open Web

    When faced with the challenge of writing a research paper, some students rely on popular search engines, such as Google, as their only source of information. Typing a keyword or phrase into a search engine instantly pulls up links to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of related websites—what could be easier? While the Web is useful for retrieving information, you should be wary of limiting your research to sources from the open Web.

    Despite its apparent convenience, researching on the open Web has the following drawbacks to consider:

    • Results do not consider the reliability of the sources. The first few hits that appear in search results often include sites whose content is not always reliable. Search engines cannot tell you which sites have accurate information.
    • Results may be influenced by popularity or advertisers. Search engines find websites that people visit often and list the results in order of popularity rather than relevance to your topic.
    • Results may be too numerous for you to use. Search engines often return an overwhelming number of results. Because it is difficult to filter results for quality or relevance, the most useful sites may be buried deep within your search results. It is not realistic for you to examine every site.
    • Results do not include many of the library’s high quality electronic resources that are only available through password-protected databases or on campus.
    • Because anyone can publish anything on the Web, the quality of the information varies greatly and you will need to evaluate web resources carefully.

    Nevertheless, a search on the open Web can provide a helpful overview of a topic and may pull up genuinely useful sources. To get the most out of a search engine, use strategies to make your search more efficient. Depending on the specific search engine you use, the following options may be available:

    • Limit results to websites that have been updated within a particular time frame.
    • Limit results by language or region.
    • Limit results to scholarly works available online. Google Scholar is an example.
    • Limit results by file type.
    • Limit results to a particular site or domain type, such as .edu (school and university sites) or .gov (government sites). This is a quick way to filter out commercial sites that often lead to less objective results.

    Librarians are happy to help you find the best databases and search terms for your specific topic, but if these don't provide results, they can recommend credible open access sources and save you time.



    This page titled Gathering Your Sources (Part 1) (opens in new window) is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Crowther et al. (opens in new window) (GALILEO Open Learning Materials (opens in new window)).