Before Christmas, I delivered a webinar for the Researcher Development Programme at UWTSD on the subject of online technology which can help researchers. There are a wide range of web-based applications which can support many aspects of research as well as aiding communication and collaboration. Many of these are available as ‘apps’ and hence easy to use on a range of web-enabled devices, and the majority are free to use.
Several online tools can be helpful for planning and reviewing, and are particularly useful for visualising information. Mind-maps are good for this sort of activity, and whilst a pencil and paper could suffice, digital forms of mind-mapping give outputs which are clear and easy to read and re-use. A good example of this is ‘Mindmeister’ (https://www.mindmeister.com ), especially because it allows real-time editing by one than one person, and hence provides options for collaborative activity. Offline, downloadable mind-mapping software is also available, eg. Freemind (http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page . ‘Flowchart’ tools such as Gliffy (www.gliffy.com) and Diagramo (www.diagramo.com ) can also be very useful, particularly for planning logical sequences such as the paragraphs in a literature review or thesis.
Many online tools have ‘social’ aspects allowing for sharing of information, and one such is ‘social bookmarking’ which allows individuals to collate and tag useful web-pages. Tags are searchable (if made publicly available), and hence useful resources can easily be shared and located. One current example of this type of tool is Diigo (https://www.diigo.com ). Social media in general can be very useful for research, and applications such as Facebook and Twitter give opportunities to ‘follow’ experts, share knowledge, promote research, and receive feedback from peers.
Referencing is an important issue for anyone aiming to write research articles, theses, or academic essays. Many academic institutions promote specific applications such as ‘Refworks’, but there are also free online tools that can be very helpful. One example is ‘Mendeley’ (https://www.mendeley.com). This provides an online store of articles, reports etc, and because of its ‘social’ nature, there are options to locate similar sources. Perhaps most useful, though, is its referencing plug-in for Word which seems to have a wider range of referencing styles than Word itself, and easier editing options.
Another set of online tools relates to the use of surveys, a quantitative research method that is common in the social sciences. These tools can be useful because they allow anonymity of response, and ease of analysis. Examples of online survey tools include Surveymonkey (https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/ ) and Google forms (https://support.google.com/docs/answer/87809?hl=en).
Survey websites such as SurveyMonkey also contain other tools such as sample size estimators, and a good example of this sort of tool can be found at: http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html. This is particularly useful if you are dealing in % values, and allows adjustment of population size (a lot of other calculators just assume a very large population).
You can view a power-point presentation which covers more information and tools at: http://www.slideshare.net/cpdavies1/information-technology-to-support-research , and a there is also a YouTube video available of the complete webinar at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8lYyZ9jRUY
By Dr. Christine Davies, 9th February 2017.