How can I obtain technical papers?
16th October 2004
How can I get hold of technical papers? Are any published on the web?
Does a reference such as:
Salgado, L. & Azpilicueta, C., 2000. "Un nuevo saltasaurino (Sauropoda,
Titanosauridae) de la provincia de Río Negro (Formacion Allen, Cretácico
superior), Patagonia, Argentina," Ameghiniana 37(3): 259-264.
contain enough information for me to track down a copy?
How It's Done Today
Some technical papers, though probably not a very large proportion,
are available on the web. Unfortunately, the standard problem of the
web bites hard here: it's a big web, and it's hard to find your
way around it.
There are at least three good places to start:
- The newest and possibly best is BioOne at
which has an impressively wide range of freely available
recent technical papers, either to read on-line (in HTML) or
to download and print (in PDF). Still in the experimental
phase, and the searching is painfully slow, but it's
- The next best approach is generally to look on the webpage of the
Journal in which the paper was presented.
maintains an excellent page of links to various journals' home
pages: you can find it at
- Another place to try is the search4science web site at
but my experience is that it's recall is so-so and its
Papers that don't make it onto the web are available in paper or
microfiche at many University libraries. One correspondent drives
into Memphis and uses the Library at the University of Memphis.
Another works on-campus, so uses his university's library for what
material it has, but also points out that there are many more
available through interlibrary loan. Many non-academic libraries will
also be able to help here.
Additionally, many authors will provide xeroxes on request, but of
course that just introduces the problem of finding out contact details
for authors. One correspondent said ``just track them down, and call
or e-mail them with the request'', which makes it sound easy. When I
commented that ``I just don't know how this stuff works'', he replied,
``Neither does anyone else really. There's no standard procedure.
Hang in there.'' :-)
The good news is, although the way things work is far too loose and
haphazard to dignify with the name ``system'', it does work. I
know this because I tested it, and am now the proud owner of a nice,
new paper that (of course) I can't understand. Here's how it worked.
The amazing thing is, this apparently isn't unusual. It's how things
work. It does take a certain amount of arrogance to cold-call someone
who's never heard of you and ask for something, but as Thomas R. Lipka
says, ``This is the most inclusive group of people I have ever come
into contact with''. It's true.
- Someone posted
on the DINOSAUR mailing list (see
announcing the publication of several new papers, one of which
was about the fascinating and frankly impossible dinosaur
Sauroposeidon. I really wanted to read that paper.
The reference given for the paper was:
Wedel, MJ, Cifelli, RL & Sanders, RK. 2000. Osteology,
paleobiology, and relationships of the sauropod dinosaur
Sauroposeidon. ACTA PALAEONTOLOGICA POLONICA. 45 (4) : 343-
- I went to Jerry Harris's ``journal links'' web page, and found
the entry for the journal in which the paper was published -
Acta Palaeontologica Polonica at
- I bodged my way around the web site until I found the page for
the relevant issue of the journal, in the hope of finding that
I could download a copy of the copy of the paper. I couldn't,
- Along with an abstract of the paper, the web page contained email
addresses for the authors. I picked the first one listed,
- I sent a short message to Matt expressing an interest in the
paper, and asking whether there was any way for someone
without access to an academic library to get hold of a copy,
short of subscribing to the journal.
- He emailed me back saying that he'd be pleased to send me a paper
copy by snail mail, and asking for my address. He also flatly
refused to let me pay him for postage, copying costs,
- Since then, I have been happily swapping emails with Matt on a
wide variety of big-sauropod subjects - he's amazingly
friendly and helpful.
Stop Press. Since I obtained the Sauroposeidon paper by
the method described above, it's been made available online, along
with a lot of other material, on the web site of the Oklahoma Museum
of Natural History at
How It Will Be Done Tomorrow
There's a lot of interest in establishing an automated web-based
system for retrieving, if not actual soft-copy papers, then at least
definitive references and/or instructions for obtaining hard-copy.
No promises on this yet - it's at a very early stage.