There is a published research paper I would like to read. The website it is published in, charges what I think is quite a lot of money, considering that I won't use this for research or work.

I want to read this paper because its about a subject I am really interested in, but has nothing to do with what I study. I am a software engineering student and had never participated on any kind of research and I do not quite understand how all this things work.

So, the question is: is it right to ask for a copy of this paper to its author? If it is, how should I do it?

  • 2
    Sometimes, it is important to explain why you are interested in the paper.
    – user4511
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 11:55
  • 22
    Our present norms and customs, including contracts that authors sign with journals, often contain a huge amount of archaic weirdness based on how things were in the 20th century. Before the internet, people used to request paper reprints from authors. That made sense then. What you're describing is a situation where we reproduce that custom in the modern era, where it doesn't make sense. An example of what would make sense would be for the author to use a preprint server such as arxiv. Authors want their work to be widely read. If journals make that harder, then journals are the enemy.
    – user1482
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 15:14
  • 15
    It should be noted that most universities will provide access to their students to papers that are behind a 'paywall'. Ask your library on information for how to get access to such papers.
    – bdeonovic
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 17:10
  • 26
    I would be more than happy if anyone wanted to ask for my papers; just sayin' Commented May 26, 2014 at 17:57
  • 15
    in the modern era, where it doesn't make sense — What? Of course it makes sense, especially if the paper is in a discipline whose authors still follow the archaic practice of not making their papers freely available on the web. And by that, I mean most disciplines.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 5:13

6 Answers 6


I don't think that it could be a problem to ask politely for a copy of this paper. It is understood, however, that you are polite and say thank you.

So, if you are interested, you should show it that way. It doesn't hurt to ask.


Use a search engine to see if there's a free copy online – many authors put their papers on their own websites and, in some fields, on ArXiv or other repositories.

Ask your university's library if they already have access to a free copy online or have it on paper – libraries subscribe to as many journals as they can afford to and may also be able to obtain a copy from another library at less cost than from the publisher.

If neither of those options work, politely email the corresponding author (if there is one, or any author, if there isn't) and ask for a copy.

  • 9
    While "libraries subscribe to as many journals as they can afford to" is true and it cannot hurt to ask, the OP shouldn't get their hopes up too much as usually, if a library has a subscription for something behind a paywall, the respective university network will be recognized by the document server and the documents will be accessible when invoked from within that network. At least in my place, whenever I ever get to see a paywall on an academic publisher's site, it is sufficiently safe to say that my university does not have a subscription that would cover the respective publication. Commented May 26, 2014 at 11:37
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper Good point -- thanks for bringing it up. It's possible, though, that the OP tried to download the paper from a computer at home (perhaps I just inferred too much from the OP not saying something like "I tried to download it from a university computer but it was still paywalled"). Commented May 26, 2014 at 11:45
  • 2
    This would have been my answer, though I would like to add the minor point that in Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science, authors often post their papers to arXiv.org, even when it has been submitted simultaneously to a journal. Commented May 26, 2014 at 12:54
  • 3
    @O.R.Mapper It might be an old paper and the university library might have a dead-trees copy.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 14:14
  • 1
    @gerrit: As the question said the paper is published "in [a] website", I implicitly assumed this is about a sufficiently new paper to be published and distributed digitally. Otherwise, you may of course be right. Commented May 26, 2014 at 14:24

There is an issue with this question in that one request "is no request" but if this becomes systematic, each author starts to become a "server" for their papers. I am sure no-one would want to end up in that situation.

I personally do not mind if someone asks for a particular paper as long as they also engage in some scientific discussion on why they want it. There is of course no rule that says you must do that other than common courtesy. Fortunately, I am not in a position to get many requests but back in the day of paper reprints, it was known that some persons (still scientists) were simply collectors who wrote and asked for every paper that was published.

So in the end, if you really have use for a specific paper and you have a hard time finding it, don't hesitate to ask. Saying a few words about why you are interested in the paper may start up a positive conversation on the topic and your interest. The main point is: make it a positive event.

  • 6
    Regarding your first paragraph: a scientific article that cannot be obtained with friction close to the minimum allowed by technology is lost to science. An author who put himself or herself in a position where he or she is the limit factor in disseminating his or her work has renounced science, and might as well take a new occupation, such as patent lawyer. ArXiv is your friend, and so is dumping the article in the public domain before the publisher can extort the copyright out of you. Commented May 27, 2014 at 7:37
  • 9
    "each author starts to become a "server" for their papers" -- at least that would be an incentive to put a free version (preprint) on a computer server.
    – silvado
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 8:08

I am always thrilled when someone asks for a copy of one of my journal papers, because I have adopted the pessimistic view that this stuff never gets read. So yes, feel free to ask, so long as you are polite. And as someone else pointed out, it wouldn't hurt to indicate why you want to read the paper.



I've asked authors for copies of papers several times, always with a note about what in my own research led me to take an interest in that particular paper. The authors have always said yes. One even dug up an old paper copy and scanned it for me. I got the impression each time that they were delighted to hear that their work was relevant and interesting for new scholarship.

Usually the authors' agreements with their publishers allow them to make single copies on request, so legalities are not normally a problem.


Yes, from the authors' point of view it won't hurt to send the paper to someone who asks nicely (unless the corresponding author is the top scientist in the field and gets many unsolicited emails).

Check whether the author has profiles in research networks such as https://www.researchgate.net and ask them through the site's options. This is particularly better for those who keep their profiles up to date, as it gives you more potential of a networking than a mere email.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .