Accessing research documents for free

I’ve read quite a bit of research while writing articles for this site. But accessing research documents for free can be an issue. I understand that the publications and authors deserve remuneration for their work, of course I do, but the simple fact is if you’re trying to research your birth and maternity care options, most individuals don’t have the budget to pay for journal access. Even if we did, every article that might be worth reading seems to be in a different journal!

A friendly librarian pointed me in the direction of an article she’d written with tips and tricks to access this information for free, so here is the benefit of her wisdom:

Get The Research.org

Get The Research owl logo

gettheresearch.org is a search engine that makes academic information both discoverable and easier to digest. You can use it instead of Google.

Get The Research flags each article with its “level of evidence” when they know it. Is the article just a report about a single incident (a “case study”) or a more trustworthy analysis combining the results of many studies (a “meta-analysis”)? Click on the tags above the article titles to learn more. They rank articles with higher levels of evidence higher in the search results to make them easier to find.

Advantages:

  • user friendly interface
  • evidence based quick overviews

Disadvantages:

  • new so there’s likely some bugs to iron out
  • it’s not clear what information is updated automatically

Open Knowledge Maps.org

Open Knowledge Maps logo

Open Knowledge Maps describes itself as “a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the visibility of scientific knowledge for science and society.”

It provides a visualisation tool, demonstrating topics and the relationships between them. Use it to get an overview of the most relevant areas of a topic and papers related to those concepts.

Advantages:

  • generates visualisations for your search terms
  • it has an option to visualise results of searches just from PubMed

Disadvantages:

  • still in development
  • it only analyses the first 100 papers based on relevance ranking

Open Access Button.org

Open Access Button logo - - accessing research documents for free

openaccessbutton.org allows you to search for an Open Access version of a paper using it’s URL (web address), DOI (permanent Digital Object Identifier) or title. It’s helpful with accessing research documents for free as you can use it when you’ve found a journal article you want to read, but the publisher tries to charge you to access it.

Advantages:

  • easy to use
  • no installing or configuring, unlike Unpaywall

Disadvantages:

  • it relies on academics submitting a copy of the article

Core.ac.uk

Core Logo

Core.ac.uk is a not-for-profit service delivered by The Open University and Jisc. Institutions store publications created by their academics and CORE allows these to be simultaneously searchable through a single interface. It can be used when you have a keyword search and want a more in-depth, systematic overview of a topic or problem.

Advantages:

  • search a lot of credible information, fast
  • there’s an API for text mining

Disadvantages:

  • you aren’t searching ALL the repositories that exist in the world. It’s possible you will miss a source

Directory of Open Access Journals

Directory of Open Access Journals logo

DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals. DOAJ is independent, and all DOAJ services are free of charge including being indexed in DOAJ. All data is freely available. It’s searchable by title or article. Can be used to follow a specific journal that consistently produces articles about a topic of interest.

Advantages:

  • all of the journals included are Open Access — no paywalls

Disadvantages:

  • there is a small chance of encountering a predatory (scam) journal – however, each journal does undergo over 40 checks before it is listed.

Directory of Open Access Books

Directory of Open Access Books Logo

All books listed in DOAB are freely accessible and therefore free to read, but this does not mean readers are free to do anything they like with these books. The usage rights of the books in DOAB are determined by the license. Please check the license if you want to re-use the contents of a book. Generally speaking, all books listed in DOAB are free to read and share for non-commercial use.

Advantages:

  • avoid annoying previews, this is the whole textbook, for free!

Disadvantages:

  • the idea of Open Access textbooks is still a fairly new movement, so there’s a limited selection.
  • you will have to buy the book if you want to own a complete physical copy of the material. Printing could infringe UK copyright law.

I’m sure this won’t always work to get you access to the article you want to read, but hopefully it will bring more research info easily within reach than before!

x Big Birtha

with thanks to Sheldon Korpet who wrote the article “How to access academic papers online, for free!” on which this post is based. Licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Research on Provision of Long Acting Contraceptives

Long-acting reversible contraception or ‘LARC’ describes contraceptive methods that you don’t need to use every day. This includes the copper intrauterine device (also known as the ‘coil’), progestogen-only intrauterine system (also known as the ‘hormonal coil’), progestogen-only injectable contraceptives (‘depo’) and subdermal implants (‘implant’). I recently mentioned another group conducting research on provision of long acting contraceptives. Looks like it’s a hot topic this year!

LARC is popular as it’s a highly effective method of preventing pregnancy. For some people it can be a positive option, but there are concerns that some may experience pressure to use LARC, or may find it difficult to get removed. Researchers from Lancaster University, working with the British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS), are studying LARC in the UK.

If you’ve been encouraged to use LARC, are over 13 and living in the UK, the researchers would love to talk to you!

Recruitment advertisement giving the details of the participant criteria - 13 yrs+, using contraception or have a need to use it, living in the UK.

For more information, please read the attached documents:

For further information, or to take part, please contact Taylor Burgess by email: [email protected], or complete the form below with your details.

Lancaster University Faculty of Health & Medicine logo
British Pregnancy Advisory Service logo

Permission to Contact Form

Please read the project information sheet, then select yes or no to answer each question.

Pictures of 4 different Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives


Gave birth between March and August 2020? Researchers need you!

Hello lovely Big Birthas! Did you give birth between March and August 2020? If so, researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) at the University of Oxford want to hear from you!

The researchers are trying to find out about the health and care of mums and babies during the COVID-19 pandemic. They want to hear from lots of different women about their pregnancy and birth experiences. They aim to make recommendations for how to improve maternity care for mothers and babies in the UK.

If you are aged 16 years or older, have a current address in the UK, and gave birth in the UK between March and August 2020, they’d love to hear from you.

All women who take part can enter a prize draw for a chance to win one of five £100 Love2shop vouchers.

Flier for the survey of people who gave birth between March and August 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you would like more information, there’s a leaflet here:


They estimate that the questionnaire should take about 20-25 minutes to complete.

You may have already received a letter about this survey. This is because some people were randomly selected by the Office for National Statistics from birth registrations and contacted. So, if you received this and have already completed a postal or online questionnaire, you don’t need to fill it in again. If you were contacted about the survey but you have not completed the questionnaire and you would like to take part, you can complete it online now or you can use the information in the letter you received to complete it later.


Our PSG Research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

The best thing about ParentingScienceGang was discovering all the other articulate people passionate about the issues of high BMI pregnancy. One such woman is Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our research at the Medical Sociology Conference in York in September. Mari has written a guest post about the experience:

Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our PSG research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019
Dr Mari Greenfield

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

I took part in the Big Birthas Parenting Science Gang as a Parent Scientist. I helped to decide the research question, design the methods we would use, and undertake some of the analysis.

When the project ended, we Parent Scientists had the data and the findings, but needed to decide what to do with them. My day job is a doula and researcher, and I’m passionate about choices in birth for all, regardless of BMI. Some of the stories women had shared with us were heartbreaking; stories of choice and power taken away, and of upset and trauma as a result.

Some of the stories were also uplifting, when women took power back; asserting their rights to make choices and decisions about themselves, their bodies, and their babies. Women had shared so much, giving time and investing themselves by telling their stories. I want to make sure we do justice to that. 

One way I can do that is to present our findings to a diverse range of audiences. In my day job, I frequently present research to conferences of academics, so I applied to the Medical Sociology Conference. Hosted by the British Sociological Association, it is a brilliant event which focuses not on what we do within health care, but how we do things, why we do things, and how we could do health care better.

our research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

Pecha Kucha!

My talk was accepted, in a format called Pecha Kucha. These presentations allow you to present 20 slides, and talk about each one for 20 seconds. It’s a challenging format because it makes you really focus on the key points you want to make. There is no room for waffle!

I wrote the both the initial application and the presentation collaboratively with Big Birthas and several of the other Parent Scientists, using the Facebook group to refine ideas and try things out, in the same way we had used it during the Parenting Science Gang project. It was lovely to have that very supportive and equal way of working. This is quite different from the creation of most other academic and medical presentations.

The high BMI ‘box’

I chose to focus on one of our findings, the idea of the ‘high BMI box’. Many women explained how, once in this category, BMI was the only thing anyone seemed interested in. They described having serious medical conditions ignored. One woman explained how the difference between her starting weight in her two pregnancies was objectively only 7 pounds, but in one this was ‘normal BMI’, while the other saw her put into the ‘high BMI box’. She eloquently described the differences this made to her care.

Programme excerpt about our research at the Medical Sociology Conference:

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

What does it mean to be labelled as having a high-BMI whilst pregnant? How does this label affect women’s experiences of navigating maternity services?

This presentation is based on a novel user-led Citizen Science collaboration between Big Birthas (peer information and support service) and Parenting Science Gang (Wellcome Trust funded user-led citizen science project).

The results described complex journeys, where interactions with healthcare professionals revolved around conversations of BMI-related risks to the exclusion of other factors, and ignored other events of the pregnancies.

Women also reported disrespectful and shaming language from healthcare professionals, and conflict if they asserted a decision that was not in line with the healthcare professional’s views.

This led some women to decline care that they actually wanted, or avoid attending appointments, to avoid conflict or denial of choice; a consequence which was particularly apparent when we examined how those women chose to approach their second pregnancies.

The presentation and our research at the Medical Sociology Conference was well received. Questions after the talk asked about both the Parenting Science Gang methodology, our methodology, and our findings. People spoke about how our research overlaps with work they are doing.

The Parenting Science Gang’s project is over, but the journey of the stories we collected is not. Next, I am hoping to work with some of the other Parent Scientists to turn our findings into a piece that can be published in a midwifery journal. Watch this space…

Dr Mari Greenfield

Academic researcher in maternity care, doula, birth activist. Special interests in traumatic birth and LGBTQ experiences.

Huge thanks to Mari for bringing our research to a wider audience, and for writing up the experience too!

Would you like to write a guest post for Big Birthas? Have you got experiences or a perspective that the Big Birthas audience might be interested in? Do you have a birth story you want to share? Please get in touch via the Contact Big Birtha page.