There are a whole bunch of useful tools and websites out there on the internet that can be useful for both researching itself as well for sharing research outputs present and past with like-minded others! I thought I’d gather some of my favourites that are applicable to the majority of researchers regardless of field into this blog post. I feel the internet is a rich resource of information that can (and should) be accessed, added to and interacted with. I have no doubts that there are other many useful things that I’ve forgotten or don’t know about, so tell me what I’ve missed in the comments and I’ll add it to this post!
If you are like me searching for papers used to be as simple as going to Google and selecting ‘Scholar’ from the drop down menu. Despite some anger from researchers when this happened however this option is now banished deep in the depths of Google’s ‘Even more’ product menu. What is really infuriating is that once you finally navigate to scholar you have to enter the search terms a second time! I am using the bookmarklet application scholarfy, which makes doing a search for papers a one click process once more, which is very helpful!
Social media – sharing and discovering literature
You may have a university profile page that lists what you’re doing, but these can be poorly updated and may be difficult for others to find without a direct link. There are many ways to interact with your research community and profile your work online, but I think it probably depends on what you are researching to where the majority of discussions and interactions are taking place. To enjoy using social media you need to find a site which shares information in a way you are comfortable with and you should also think about whether you want to separate your personal and research feeds (e.g. Facebook is not something I would myself use for research). Personally I find Twitter very useful for gaining lots of snippets of information from many different users (in many different fields!), much of my reading is supplied by the people I follow, and I like the short format and the ability to follow and unfollow people without the usual social obligations. However, it isn’t for everyone and it isn’t where everyone is! I know some people are active on Google+ and other sites exist. There is also blogging (as you can see) which allows for more extended commentary and provides a good stage for discussion. There are several blogging providers out there, but as this post is on WordPress I will recommend that! Indeed you may want to combine the two – advertising a new blog post on twitter for example!
But you may also question how successful your social media strategy is. You could share your content using tools such as Google’s URL shortener (there are many more) that provides you a shortened version of a web address, particularly handy on twitter where space is limited to 140 characters per tweet, but it also allows you to see analytics about the users who click your link such as number of clicks, geographic location and where they clicked the link! Another handy tool is Altmetric whose beliefs are that in this socially connected internet that the sharing of research articles is a type of citation metric. It uses the DOI (digital object identifier) from articles and collates results linking to it from across several social networks – providing each DOI with a score based on both how many times it has been shared and in how many different social mediums. They also provide widgets that can be dynamically embedded on websites and blogs.
With all the social media there is(!!!) it is a good idea to have a centralised landing page where users can see all the different online profiles and pages that you use for research purposes and navigate to the ones most preferable to them. This also allows you to be passive on many of these sites – where people can discover you and your link to your landing page, but to which you don’t feel the need to actively push information. It’s also worth mentioning here that some blogs e.g. WordPress allow you to automatically push new blog posts to several different accounts. You might want to create a landing page for yourself (I have!), or could quickly create something that looks quite snazzy on something like about.me for instance. Not only does this allow you to gather all your links into one place, but it also allows confirms to others that you are the you that they think they know!
On a similar note for many people it is very likely that there is another researcher with the same name as you(there is a Stephen Beckett studying the science of chocolate for example! Yes I am jealous.) or if not there could be in the future. For some unlucky people there may even be two people with the same name researching in the same field! Having an ORCID profile and ID allows the distinction between which research articles belong to you and not and is also integrated with figshare (see Storage) as well as many journals, this could be useful if you do become particularly prolific and is something that should be linked with google scholar profiles.
We’ve all heard the stories of people losing all their work just before an important deadline, but things don’t have to be like that anymore – make sure you back up your important files somewhere! That somewhere could be a USB or external hard drive, but there are plenty of places online that allow you to store your data in the cloud for free. Dropbox (2GB +500MB per referral), Google’s Drive(15GB) and Microsoft’s Skydrive (7GB) are all potential places to look after your files and also allow sharing of folders with other selected users. Indeed there may be files that are in a completed state that haven’t been published in a journal, but may be of benefit to your research community. Things like datasets, code, posters, presentations, images and media are all valid research outputs that you could be sharing; figshare allows you to upload these kind of files to the web and gives each a DOI, or a permanent website address, which isn’t strictly necessary for citations, but it does help allow them to be more widely available and accessible! In this way figshare also acts as a preprint server in a similar way to arXiv, but it is not limited to just articles and the remit on the types of articles is not limited. They also have a great widget which allows you to dynamically embed your uploads to your own website or blog – such that they can be previewed in the browser. To prove it’s effectiveness I shall archive this post on figshare.
I’m also starting to get excited about Github, which is an online repository primarily used for coding, but I’ve also seen examples of people using it to write articles. Github tracks changes line by line between different uploads of your files (the different versions) which allows you to see what’s changed and also allows several people to work on the same project, presumably at the same time without worrying about overwriting someone elses edits. It also possible to copy (or fork) other peoples projects to make your own edits, that could be merged with the original at a later date or treated as a separate branch. I’ve only just started trying it out, but it seems really cool!
It is also now possible to work on spreadsheets, presentations and other documents in the web. Analysing the pro’s and con’s of these might be a blog post in itself so I will quickly mention that both Google and Microsoft offer online Office tools and that others exist, including the popular zoomable presentation tool Prezi which is certainly worth a look. I also wanted to mention writeLaTeX which is based on LaTeX software popular amongst mostly mathematical based researchers due to how nicely it formats equations, but now includes a dynamically updating previewer and automatically debugs the article code, which makes it much improved from when I last used it in an offline state! In addition it also has many journal templates ready to use, includes options to collaborate on articles online with others (at the same time), generates pdf’s very quickly and allows you to push your articles to figshare (which I have done with this post) or F1000 research very easily.
To reiterate what I said at the top, this is in no way a complete list of the types of tools that are available on the internet that could be useful to researchers. But if I have missed something glaringly obvious or you have other comments, please comment below!
UPDATE: I forgot to include the link to my figshare version of this document, it can be found here: