Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Research Hack: Ways to Browse & Search for New Articles

Want to follow new scholarship in your area? Want to search for articles? Want to do it free? Check out the Digital Commons Network and SSRN.

Digital Commons Network

Hundreds of colleges and universities use Digital Commons, a platform for posting publications by faculty, students, departments, and so on. The institutions pay to use the platform, but finding papers and downloading them is free to users.

UW Law is among those hundreds of institutions: UW Law Digital Commons has a growing collection of papers by faculty, articles and comments from the Washington Law Review and the Washington International Law Journal, and more.

Of course it's fun to browse UW Law's pages, but for research it's much more powerful to browse or search whole Digital Commons Network. A colorful wheel gives you a graphical way to visualize the different fields that are covered.

Digital Commons subject wheel. The caption in the center is
"Explore 3,166,425 works from 586 institutions."
A pop-up over part of the orange ring says "Explore Judges."
At the upper left is data about what's in the collection under Judges—
Works: 5,463; Institutions: 144; Downloads: 1,874,756

If you select one of the broad areas, you get a new wheel showing just that area and its subdivisions. Law has 451,717 full-text Articles by 172,248 authors. Altogether, the papers have been downloaded
178,014,929 times. (Numbers as of May 2019.)

Law Commons wheel. A pop-up says "Explore Indian and Aboriginal Law."
At upper left is data about what's in the collection under Indian and Aboriginal Law—
Works: 10,562; Institutions: 107; Downloads: 725,905. 

When you click on a subtopic, you see a list of the papers classified under that topic. Actually, you get two lists—the most downloaded papers ("Popular Articles") and then all articles, listed with the most recently posted ones first.

If you're like me, you might find the colorful graphics eye-catching but not terribly efficient for finding what you want. Good news! You have options. For example, you can see a list of the sub-disciplines within Law, and select from that list.
Law Commons list of Sub-Disciplines, in order of number of papers:
Constitutional Law, International Law, Criminal Law, Environmental Law, etc.
You can also search and then filter. For example, I searched for "deepwater horizon." In the left-hand bar I had the option to limit to Law or Environmental Law. I also could select articles where someone added the keywords "oil spill." And I could select recent publication years. (I don't think the papers from 1984 were about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even if they did satisfy the search somehow.)

The searching is very simple: just one box to enter a word or words. But it's fast and free.

If you'd like to follow what gets posted, you can sign up to "follow" a sub-discipline or an author or a journal. You just need to set up a free account.


SSRN was originally the Social Science Research Network, but it's broader now, including areas that are not very social-sciency at all, like the Biochemistry Research Network and the Music Research & Composition Network. SSRN has included law for a long time—so long that it now has well over a quarter of a million papers (278,637 papers as of May 2019).

SSRN offers more search options than Digital Commons. You can use the default search (author, title, abstract, keywords), or you can search just the author, or you can search the full text of papers. You also have some date options.

SSRN Advanced Search screen.
Choose whether to search title only; title, abstract & keywords; or full text.
Choose to search author. Choose to limit by date.

I like the ability to search within search results. For instance, when I searched for "wrongful conviction," I got 343 papers. I searched within that result for "eyewitness" and got the list down to 52.  How many of those also had "DNA" in the author, title, abstract, or keywords? Eighteen.

Another way to look for papers is to use the eJournals. Subscribers to eJournals get new abstracts sent to them via email. Whether or not you subscribe, you can browse them. For most work in law, see the Legal Scholarship Network, under Social Sciences.

For example, I can look at papers classified in the Immigration, Refugee & Citizenship Law eJournal. The default sort shows me the most downloaded papers, which gives a picture of what other readers have found interesting or important. If I change the sort to "Date Posted, Descending," I see papers posted within the last few days. I can also search within the Immigration, Refugee & Citizenship Law eJournal, for instance, looking for "deportation."

Our SSRN guide has more. 


You can do this too! If you already have something you're already curious about, go for it: try searching. If you'd like ideas about what to look for:
  • Within SSRN's Litigation & Procedure eJournal look for "federal rules" and "racial diversity."
  • In SSRN, search for "travel ban."
  • In SSRN, search for "federalism." Search within results for "sanctuary cities." 
More Hacks

Check out our other research hacks and writing hacks.

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