Sometimes I work from home, and for security reasons it is not possible to connect to the campus computers. I use Google Scholar for finding papers and so, but from home, most of the journals can not be accessed.

Is it there some way in which Google Scholar or another academic search engine searches only in open access journals?

PS1: There is no way in which I can access my campus, really.

PS2: OK, I will give more details, since it seems that PS1 is not clear enough. I am working with other collaborators that are not affiliated to any University. I could do VPN and similar but I can not pass them such information, or any other way of passwords or access to the campus, etc. We can only work with the open access papers they find. If the interesting papers are under a paywall, then they are useless for us. I hope this clarifies my questions, and thank everybody for the useful comments.

  • 2
    If your university has online library by which you can request the books, paper, and so on, then you have to first log in to your library account and then open the new tab of scholar.google.com. Google scholar then shows you the paper (not only the open access journal paper) you are looking for along with your campus library name. You necessarily don't have to be in the campus computer for the papers.
    – ketau
    Nov 4, 2012 at 12:12
  • 5
    Your campus probably has a VPN or simpler off-campus bookmarklet that will give you access to journals. Or remote access to campus (ssh or RDP) + Dropbox.
    – mankoff
    Nov 4, 2012 at 12:19
  • 6
    I don't know how to change the search results as you want (and I don't see why you wouldn't want to know that the papers exist), but when I run into a paywall, I run a standard (non-scholar) Google search for the paper title. Frequently, a copy was posted to someone's web page and Scholar is trained to not use those copies when a published version exists. Nov 4, 2012 at 14:18
  • 5
    @Derrick - Your answer is not entirely correct. Google scholar shows every version of the paper, including the pay-walled ones too. All you need to do is click on "All X versions" and choose which source you want to use. Nov 4, 2012 at 16:01
  • 6
    @flow - thanks for the edit. But note that you and your collaborators are not restricted to open-access only. Preprints from the authors are entirely legitimate.
    – 410 gone
    Nov 5, 2012 at 12:54

9 Answers 9


This exact question has been asked at Webapps Stack Exchange:

Is there a way to configure Google Scholar to only show results where the document is freely available?

Quoting from the (unaccepted) answer there:

Unfortunately there isn't an option to restrict results like that in Google Scholar (I appreciate the idea, running into paywalls is very frustrating). I guess the argument could be made that you are limiting the articles/knowledge you could be exposed to be only looking at the free things. That and Google's recognition of what is accessible isn't 100%.

See over there for more information.

  • 2
    Besides not being helpful, this answer is incorrect: The question is asking about academic search engines in general, but the answer just say "Google Scholar can't do it" and leaves it at that.
    – Superbest
    Dec 10, 2015 at 16:14
  • 5
    @Superbest It is correct to say Google Scholar can't do it. I admit the answer is incomplete, but that's not the same as incorrect.
    – gerrit
    Dec 10, 2015 at 16:31

I'm not sure, whether you really meant open access journals, because when I'm searching at home and I'm too lazy to use the VPN of our university, I'm usually interested in publications I can access.

I wouldn't rely on Google Scholar alone, because I'm not sure whether they filter the results. When you study the advanced search of google a bit, you'll see, that some of the switches are really nice. One really important switch is the -filetype option. If you search for instance for image segmentation in Google Scholar you get instantly only results with a downloadable pdf file if you use

image segmentation filetype:pdf

Even more handy becomes this approach in a two step method. As you know, when you "put something in quotes" in google, you search for the exact string. This can be used to do the following:

  • find some preview of the article you want to download.
  • choose a very specific part of a sentence there
  • search for this part and use the filetype option

Non-scientific example: Sometimes I'm searching for piano notes of some popular songs and since everyone tries to make money with this, you often won't find a free, downloadable version. Therefore, I first search for something like "sheet music evanescence my immortal" and look at one of the first links, where you usually can see one sample page. Then I see, what's on the page and I use this information to adjust my search

"My immortal" "I'm so tired of" "Slowly and freely" filetype:pdf

and the first hit is a high-quality pdf with all pages.

The same approach sometimes works for scientific publications, because most scientists put their publication on their website. So while you have to pay on the journal website, you may get it for free somewhere else.

  • 1
    yes, this is a good idea! I have tried in scholar so search for some articles adding filetype:pdf, but some of the results are still inaccesible! Nov 4, 2012 at 17:51

When you run a search in Google Scholar, the hits are organized in two columns. The left column is for all hits (links + snippets) matching your search string. The right column (links only) is for the subset of those hits which are either free for everyone (OA) or free for you (based on Google's calculation that your institution has paid for access). For many searches, the right column will be sparsely populated. If don't search from an institutional IP address, then Google won't be able to tell what your institution has bought, and the right column will be limited to OA hits.

I believe this is one of the best-kept secrets about Google Scholar.

  • The hits are not "organized in two columns". Google just shows a PDF link if it can find one. There isn't anything secret about it.
    – Superbest
    Dec 10, 2015 at 16:12

No, there is no way to restrict google scholar searches to only open-access papers.

However, you have several options, to ensure that you can access pay-for-access journals that your institution has subscriptions for, even when you're off-campus. This neatly short-circuits the question of having to search only open-access journals. And see also the section below on "Hosting on servers other than the journal itself", which will allow you to find open-access copies of papers that are in pay-to-access journals, by looking on author's homepages and similar.

Shibboleth / Athens login

The login name and password you use for your campus network, may also serve as your login and password for one of the access aggregators, such as Shibboleth or Athens. So once you're at the online journal page of the paper you're after, look for "institutional login" or "login", and then search for the login details of your aggregator, and then for your institution. For example, most UK universities are part of the Shibboleth network, and get access via the UK Access Management Federation. So the login route is: - a link called something like institutional login on the journal page - a dropdown for UK Access Management Federation - a select-box to pick the specific university - university login and password

Hosting on servers other than the journal itself

Once you've done your usual search, and got the title of a potentially-interesting paper, then you can start looking for PDFs of it. First do a plain (not scholar) google search for the title, in double-quotes, and filetype:pdf. So if you were looking for the paper "Ninja Google skills", then you'd google for

"Ninja Google skills" filetype:pdf

If that doesn't work, check whether the paper is hosted on:

  • the university homepages of any of the authors
  • the preprint server at each of their universities
  • any subject-wide preprint archive for your subject area

Or email the author on the paper who's nominated as first contact, asking them for a preprint copy of the paper. A couple of sentences about why you're interested, and how you'll use it, will help.

Remote access to the campus network

Some people with this problem will have one or more means to access their campus network (although you do not. This answer is to help others as well as you, and their circumstances will not be identical to yours); a quick chat with one of the librarians, and someone in the university IT support team, should help clarify:

  • VPN into the campus network, then search; or
  • SSH into the campus network, then search; or
  • log in to the university library network web page, and search from there.

Failing all that, get creative

For some of the following, you'll need to check your university's terms and conditions, and official guidelines, to ensure that you play within the letter and the spirit of the rules:

  • Set up an in-campus server process that will receive remotely-submitted requests, search for a paper, and download it, and make it available to you. You might do this via a web-page, email, or Dropbox.
  • Share a Dropbox folder or similar with colleagues, and arrange that whenever one of you is on campus, and has a spare few minutes, you'll look for new requests in the shared folder, and if you find any, you'll download the paper and pop it in the Dropbox.
  • Ask your supervisor / department head (as appropriate) to mention to a very senior administrator that the University is failing its staff and postgrads in a key area, and that some form of off-site access is just part of being a university in the 21st Century.
  • 3
    While this is a very thorough and useful post, I had to downvote it. It certainly is not an answer to the question "Is it there some way in which Google Scholar or another academic search engine searchs only in open access journals?" In particular, please pay attention to the keyword open access journal, both in the question and in the title! However, this post might be a very good answer to a different (and more relevant) question, so perhaps someone should ask the different question... Nov 5, 2012 at 10:19
  • 2
    @JukkaSuomela thanks for the comment. I've amended the opening paragraph to directly answer the question, and to set the context for how the rest of the answer will be useful to the OP, and to others with similar problems.
    – 410 gone
    Nov 5, 2012 at 10:59

The type of journal an article is published does not necessarily have anything to do with whether you can access it for free.

Google Scholar very often provides you with direct links to free PDFs of articles published in journals that charge for subscriptions. You can access those PDFs for free because:

  • The author posted a copy on his/her webpage;
  • The author posted a copy on an institutional server; or
  • The paper (or a preprint) is posted on an open-access repository such as arxiv.org.

For instance, none of my papers are published in open-access journals. But if you search for my papers on Google Scholar, the first page has direct links to free PDFs for 6 out of 9 of the hits, and 1 of the remaining 3 is a book.

  • 3
    While your answer is true, it doesn't really answer the question as to how to limit Google Scholar to searching only free journals. Do you have any suggestions as how to achieve that?
    – eykanal
    Nov 5, 2012 at 17:00
  • No, I do not. . Nov 5, 2012 at 17:34

I'm not aware of a resource that limits searching in this way but if you are interested only in open access journals you could try using advanced searching on the http://doaj.org. Neither the search interface nor the content may be the same quality of the databases, but it would limit you to resources that were universally available. However, this seems overly restrictive of your research because your colleagues likely have some level of access to research through their own institutions, through public libraries and state-level consortia, or even through walk-in visits to local research institutions. Before limiting yourself so severely I recommend speaking with an electronic resources librarian on your campus to discuss all options and access. Sometimes library database licenses do allow for scholarly sharing of articles or portions of materials with colleagues that are collaborating in this manner.


You can teach the Google search to avoid non-free journal sites using this chrome add-on. May be after using for a few days, you will come across all the main non-free sites and add them to your blocklist.


I am not sure in which field you are looking. However, if you are working in quantitative science (physics, quantitative biology, computer science...) you might check out Scientillion which is searching open access databases and has more than 90% of open access articles in its results. Since it is including the eprint archive ArXiv you often get the full text of articles which appeared in journals later after being uploaded there. Hope, that helps.


Try Paperity instead!

It is an aggregator of exclusively open access literature. As of now, Paperity contains more than 1,500,000 full-text papers from 4,200 journals covering all academic disciplines. You can browse papers by journal, use full-text search, set up RSS feeds to follow new articles on a given subject (RSS is tailored to your search criteria) and read papers on a tablet or smartphone (iOS, Android). Paperity aims at aggregating 100% of open access literature ultimately.

Disclaimer: I am the founder.

  • thanks. can you ellaborate whether this app outperforms researcher.app? Mar 13, 2018 at 22:38
  • @flow "Researcher" indexes mainly toll-access journals; even if an article is open access, Researcher gives no indication about that; there is no full-text preview inside the app, so to actually read a paper you have to visit an external website every time, or download a file locally; there is no advanced search... In Paperity, all articles are open-access, so you never hit a paywall; there's an in-app PDF preview, no redirections to external websites; advanced search with ~20 different criterions to find exactly what you need... These are the main differences, surely there are some more.
    – mwojnars
    Mar 16, 2018 at 15:45

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