No matter what your discipline, research can be a time-consuming task. While the internet has made information more accessible than ever before, it has created its own problems. The sheer amount of information available online can be intimidating. Indeed, clawing through the pages and pages of data is a chore in itself, and that’s before you take in the quality of the information you’ve found.
For those diligent researchers out there, we want to make things a bit easier for you, so here are five essential tools for researchers.
Let’s start with a big one: Google Scholar. This online research tool is offered for free by Google and is indispensable for any serious researcher. Armed with nothing more than a computer, an internet connection, and a subject for research, Google Scholar will give you a head start on any project.
At its core, Google Scholar is an academic search engine. It allows its users to search all manner of academic literature from journals and white papers to scientific articles and patents. Granted, there are other sites that offer a similar facility, but it’s the scope of Google Scholar’s service that makes it stand out. Not only does it search the best-known databases for academic papers, but it also has access to a slew of university repositories. This increases the chance of finding something relevant to your own research.
Furthermore, the Google Scholar search facility allows you to set up an alert. This will notify you should a new article or paper be released in your particular field, or from a particular person or institution. This ensures that your research remains on the cutting edge of your field.
Google Scholar lets you manage your papers, even in multiple libraries. Simply label each piece of research and let Google Scholar do the rest. It automatically displays citation numbers and the version of the paper you are reading. Even more important, it tells you what other papers have already cited the work in question. This lets you know if you are bringing up a new twist on the subject, or treading an already well-worn path. Likewise, Google Scholar will also alert you when anybody cites your own paper.
Whereas most productivity apps tend to be tailored to the corporate landscape, Trello is right at home in the world of academia. It’s a useful and dynamic visual aid that can be accessed by every member of your research team. Running the gamut from content ideas, to research, writing, and publication of papers, every task can be easily moved about the main project screen as needed. Certain tasks can be optimised, staffing changes can be accounted for, and everybody on the team can see where the project is going as a whole, as well as their own individual contributions and expectations.
In the field of scientific research, Mendeley is a must-have. For starters, it is an academic social network, allowing you to chat and collaborate with its six million users worldwide. It is also a powerful research tool in its own right. It helps you manage your references and allows you to import papers from other research tools such as Google Scholar. Of course, its own online database of academic papers is available to its users, who can add to it with their own completed work. Mendeley will automatically create a bibliography for you as you create your own papers. It will also generate detailed and accurate citations when you incorporate other papers into your research.
Originally intended as a tool for screenwriters and novelists, Scrivener has expanded its remit and become an essential application for any type of long-form writing, including research articles and dissertations. No matter how well researched your paper might be, if it is unreadable then it will go… well… unread. Scrivener helps you avoid this pitfall by adding important structure to your finished piece. You can set up your own layout if you wish, but the program comes complete with an extensive range of templates you can use. It also doesn’t require you to complete your work in order, so if you ever find yourself staring at a blank page, wondering how to compose your opening paragraph, you can set it aside and jump straight into the meat of your paper.
For the more traditional approach to research, we recommend Scanmarker. Scanmarker is a portable digital OCR reader. OCR stands for optical character recognition and is a device that can ‘read’ a page of printed text and then convert it into usable data. From a research point of view, it is invaluable. Sure, there’s a lot of information available online for most subjects, allowing you to copy and paste at will, but what about older texts? What about a research project that involves older tomes that have yet to receive a digital edition? Scanmarker is the answer.
Older OCR readers were cumbersome devices. They were designed to sit next to your PC and scan an entire page at a time. Scanmarker is a hand-held device, rather like an oversized pen, that can fit easily into a bag or coat pocket. The ‘nib’ of the pen is an optical scanner that you draw over a line of text that you find useful. The device scans it in real time, converting it to text data that you can copy onto your laptop or mobile device for easy manipulation.
This means you can select individual sentences, paragraphs, or whole pages of text. These can be incorporated into your research at will, guaranteeing accurate quotes for citation. Scanmarker also allows you to translate to and from different languages. This means that a foreign text that you might otherwise have had to dismiss or rely on someone else to translate need no longer be a barrier to your research.
A final benefit of Scanmarker as a research tool is that it can read back what you have scanned with it. Whilst of nominal use while collating your information, once you’ve written your article, having it read back to you helps you ensure that it makes coherent sense.