All 17 entries tagged Research Skills

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March 07, 2011

Postgraduate Information Needs and Online Tools Awareness (PINOLTA) – a project report

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I've finally got around to reading this report that came out in June last year. It describes surveying and focus group activity amongst Cambridge University Postgraduate students, to find out about their information skills needs, attitudes and awareness. It often divides information skills into three categories:

Information Search
Information Management
Online Tools

I found the description of PhD students' reported differences in information needs from their Undergraduate days. Issues raised were:

  • Volume of Info they need to handle, leading to feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed
  • Independence expected of them
  • Depth and specificity of the information they are using
  • Timescale: the fact that their project is over 3 years and how to plan and work over such a timescale.
  • Crossing disciplines
  • Need to use different types of information resources
  • Less information is available at the cutting edge
  • Complexity of different library systems, moving from one institution where they are familiar, to another.

The majority of Science students reported that their information resources could be found online, whilst Social Science students were more evenly distributed in their agreement/disagreement with this perspective and Arts and Humanities students did not agree that most of their information resources were online. No surprise there!

Sources that PhD students reported using included: Google, Google Scholar, Google Books, JSTOR, Web of Knowledge and PubMed. I'd agree that all of these are good starting places for PhD students, but that those at the cutting edge or crossing disciplines or looking for depth and specificity will need to look at other sources as well!

I also found it interesting that only about 10% of those surveyed reported that a Librarian had advised them on how to "manage (organise, store, reference) their sources". Respondents could tick all sources that applied and the majority of those who had had advice had got it from other students (59.44%) or from supervisors (48.38%), although there were a variety of other options which were reported as sources by more respondents than the Librarian, including friends and family! (see page 28 for other options.) Of course, this is a Cambridge University survey, so it might be different at other libraries.

When considering online tools it seems that the postgraduate students were most interested in finding ways to filter all the stuff that might be relevant to them.  I like the way the questions were asked, with students able to tick from the following options for each type of tool:

  • I'm unsure how to use it effectively
  • I don't think it would benefit me
  • I'm happy with my current strategies
  • I'm too busy to investigate
  • None of my colleagues use it
  • I am not confident using online technology
  • My supervisor would not approve

Online tools were divided into the following categories:

  • RSS feed readers and aggregators
  • Web bookmarking tools
  • Citation / referencing tools
  • Social / academic networks and discussion forums
  • Micro‐blogging

In general, respondents seemed unsure of how to effectively use RSS feeds, and don't think that social networks will benefit them.

I also found it interesting that, when asked about experiences of Library training, it seems that PhD students reported that it was too basic for them and more tailored towards Undergraduate needs than their own.

I think that's one of the advantages of us having a Library team dedicated to looking at the needs of Researchers and I believe that our own offering for Research Students through the RSSP is at the appropriate level, but we do need to keep listening to the needs of our community and developing our offering to suit.

January 31, 2011

Literature searching for PhD students

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These slides were delivered by Library staff at a workshop last week (and previously in November), as part of the Research Student Skills Programme co-ordinated by our Student Careers and Skills department.  

The slides themselves are pretty dull and more as a kind of handout for students to re-cap, but the session is much more interactive, with live demonstrations and time for students to search during the session itself.

January 27, 2011

Survey of Information skills preferences

The Library has launched a survey of research and academic staff to find out which information skills you value the most. Please follow the link from our staff-only page about the survey, if you would like to tell us your preferences and inform the Library's support for researchers.

December 10, 2010

Make a DOI into a link

I'm always surprised at the things I do daily that non-librarians don't know about. I'm starting a new tag, "quick_tip" on this blog for such occurrences...

Turn any DOI into a link by appending it to

December 07, 2010

How to get your ideas adopted

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A few e-learning interested staff got together last week to watch a recording of one of the presentations from the recent JISC online conference called "Innovating e-Learning", in our Teaching Grid. The session we watched was called "How to get your innovations adopted (and change the world)" and was led by Anne Miller. I found it particularly enjoyable and enlightening.

Anne spoke about four stages of resistance to new ideas:

  1. Blindness: don't see the idea at all. Filtering and force-fitting your idea.
  2. Frozen: aware but give excuses and block it out. "It's too expensive" "It's not my priority".
  3. Interested: "tell me about it"
  4. Integration: people think it's always been that way.

Exploring what each of these stages mean in the context of trying to get your own idea accepted strikes me as a very useful exercise, and Anne's tips on how to get past the first two stages sounded like good advice.

Getting people out of the frozen stage might involve evidence that the status quo is not OK, in such a way as to shock the people who you are trying to get to accept your idea but it is important to also connect with things that people care about and to foster a sense of psychological safety: they may need to be told that it is OK to fail so that they will be willing to try in the first place.

A colleague of mine has ordered a copy of Anne Miller's book for the library! -

November 23, 2010

EndNote: advanced tips for researchers

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EndNote is a kind of reference management software. There are plenty of other reference management softwares available, but EndNote is the one supported by the University.

There are two kinds of EndNote: the one that goes on your desktop and the one that is available over the Web. The Desktop version of EndNote is the most powerful one, offering more formatting styles for your reference lists and greater capacity for storage. IT Services run courses on how to use EndNote Desktop and will support the software so if you are having installation difficulties, get in touch with them. The Library supports the simpler Web version and that is what we usually demonstrate in sessions that we offer through the Research Student Skills Programme and the Window on Research series - although we do have advice for Desktop users as well (see below).

Many researchers will want the full power of EndNote Desktop, but you can store up to about 10,000 references on EndNote Web. There's a comparison of these two different software products, EndNote Web and EndNote Desktop available at:

You can have both EndNote Web and EndNote Desktop and regularly synchronise the two accounts, so that you can have the power of Desktop on the computer that you use most regularly and the advantage of access to your references over the Web, from wherever you are. Be careful to ensure that you synchronise regularly and in the right direction, if you are managing two such EndNote accounts!

In terms of organising your references, note that Endnote Desktop doesn't have "folders" of references, it has "groups" of references. Whenever you import references, always add them to a group immediately, or they will be cleared out of your account and you'll lose them if the network connection fails or when you sign out. Create a draft or temporary group and put them there if you intend to sort through them at a later date, and add imported references to it regularly throughout your searching session.

It is probably not a good idea to set up different EndNote accounts or libraries for different projects because you will not be able to use all these accounts with the "Cite while you write" function. If you try to, you will get separate references lists appearing in your document. So it's far better to have one EndNote Desktop library for all your projects and uses, whilst setting up different "groups" within that library. You could also use your own system of tags to categories your references into different sets. We recommend that you use the "Label" field rather than "Keywords" for this purpose because imported records often come with their own Keywords, and these will pollute your own set of tags if you haven't kept them in a separate field.

If you're having technical problems with the EndNote Desktop software itself and you are a member of the University of Warwick then you should direct your enquiry at IT Services.

November 15, 2010

Three literature searching tips after talking to some researchers today

1) Create personal accounts on whichever databases allow you to, so that you can save your search histories and create and save marked lists: watch out though, different database accounts work in different ways and not all will save searches automatically or allow marked list saving. This may mean that you have to "sign in" as well as "logging in", the former being your personal account and the latter being your University account and entitlement to create such a personal account. Terminology varies though, so again, watch out.

You can then refer to previous searches whenever you get the chance to resume your lit searching, avoiding searching for the same thing twice and reassuring yourself that you were thorough the first time! You can also set up alerting services once you’ve created the sophisticated search string that asks for precisely what you’re interested in, so that you don’t have to keep re-visiting the databases and re-running your searches. Alerts might be available as e-mails or as RSS feeds. If you want to read more about alerts and RSS feeds, then I recommend library pages at:

2) Web of Science, within Web of Knowledge covers a lot more than just science and is a source of impact factors for journal titles and citation scores for individual articles. DON’T FORGET that you need to select the Web of Science tab once you’re in Web of Knowledge, if you want the citation links between articles, and select the JCR database if you want impact factors.

3) If you need help forming your search strategy and learning about subject specialist databases, I recommend contacting one of our Academic Support Librarians.

October 18, 2010

British Library Growing Knowledge exhibition

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I absolutely love the video clips on this website. The exhibition looks fascinating too, so I hope I will be travelling to London in the near future so that I can call in. There are plenty of links to research projects which have used some of the innovative software and techniques on their website, under the heading "start researching".

Of the video clips, I think that the one on Good Research is particularly good for librarians and new PhD students, and the Scholarly Communications one ought to be seen by all researchers who are interested in getting published in the near future!

The Modern Library clip certainly prompts more thought on where we're going and what we should be offering. Other clips explain a lot more about how the online digital information age has enabled research through making materials more available but also how it has shaped new research techniques through its proliferation.

All the clips are a few seconds off 5 minutes in length, which is just about right for including in a presentation with other content. Only problem is that I can't find a way to embed them in my own powerpoint slides or download them for use, so I'll have to rely on a fast enough Internet connection if I want to show any of these clips in my own presentations.

August 18, 2010

Finding research online – BEPress Research Now

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One of the reasons to put your work in an open access repository is to make sure that people can and do find it, read it and cite it. Repositories store your work and help to make it discoverable. There are lots of different kinds of repositories, and some are designed to house not only full text items (as Warwick's own WRAP does) but also records describing publications. A librarian would call a descriptive record a "metadata only" record, even if it includes the abstract as well. Hosting such metadata only records would enable the repository to present a complete list of publications by a particular author, and a complete listing would make the repository into a kind of "profile site". One of the reasons that Warwick's repository does not work in this way is that we also have a system called "MyProfile" that authors can upload publication details to.

"Profile sites" all seem to work in slightly different ways. Some support records of information beyond publication lists, such as conference attendance, author's blurbs, etc. Some will also support the uploading of full text files, so they can work in a similar way to a repository. Some allow searches for publications described in their data, whilst others will only support searches for an author, returning an entire profile in results lists. They are browsable in very different ways and they support different kinds of interactions between the authors whose details they store. They all have slightly different aims and functions on offer to the author. What they have in common though, is that they list authors' publications and as such are a potential tool for dissemination about the author's work. How does an author know which site is going to promote their publication data most widely or most effectively to the other researchers and communities who they need to reach? Authors can't be expected to use all of the potential profile sites available out there, so which are the best ones? I don't have the answer (yet) but it's something we're investigating on researchers' behalf.

This particular site is a very interesting one because some institutional repositories are hosted by BEPress, who also publish journals and who also own and promote a site called SelectedWorks where authors can list their publications, so it's what I would call a profile site. The repository, the journal publisher and the profile site all have metadata about scholarly work, and that metadata is of value because it is what makes the content discoverable. This site is potentially a very rich source of information for researchers, so that they can find out about each others' work. 

Are researchers using Research Now to discover content? I don't have the answer but it is something that researchers can assess for themselves to some extent because one feature of SelectedWorks is that it will apparently give the author statistics about numbers of people accessing content that the author has uploaded to SelectedWorks.

Of course, repositories are also finding ways to present authors with these kinds of metrics at the article level. And so are some publishers. So authors will be able to find out what is a good route for disseminating their research... although they'll no doubt take access numbers from any source with a healthy level of scepticism, because all of these different services are measuring the statistics in slightly different ways and what the numbers don't tell the author is what actual impact their work has had. But it's a start...

Would I, as a librarian, recommend that researchers go there to search for content? There are so many places for researchers to look, to find out about research of relevance to their work, and this site would be on my list. It has quality content, it has some nice searching and alerting features and researchers need to achieve a degree of comprehensiveness in their searching that means they ought to use this source if it is relevant to their discipline. 

August 12, 2010

Advice for researchers on how to use blogs as a way to find out about research

I've been blogging about how researchers might use a blog as a project website, but there are plenty of other aspects to blogs! The RIN report at: that 12% of their survey's respondents write blogs at least occasionally, and 21% comment on blogs.

If researchers are blogging and engaging with each other on blogs then there is material of potential value out there for other researchers to find and use. What advice should librarians offer to researchers about how to use blogs?


  1. An ordinary Google search will sometimes turn up blog entries in the results.
  2. You can search for blogs on Google Blogs: see their advanced search form for ways of specifying blogs of interest to you. Technorati is another popular blog search engine:, and Bloglines works as both a blog search engine and a feed reader: it will make recommendations of similar blogs to those you've already chosen (see below for information about handling blogs and feed readers).
  3. If you've put together a targetted Google search, you can also set up a Google Alert so that you get regular e-mails of new material meeting your search criteria.
  4. Once you've found one blog of interest, look on that blog for links to other blogs that they have found (sometimes called a "blogroll").
  5. If you blog yourself and people comment there, you may find that they also have blogs.


If you only want to follow one or two blogs, look out for the option to subscribe via your e-mail address, so that you can read their content amongst your e-mail. If the blog you are interested in doesn't offer this, you could always leave a comment asking whether they could set it up for you. Many blog authors love to hear from their readers.

As you find more blogs of interest to you, you may need a way of collecting at least some of them so that you can read their entries when and how it suits you, rather than having them pop up amongst an already busy e-mail account. An efficient way to do this is to use an RSS feed reader, which is a tool that will aggregate the entries from the blogs you've found (amongst other types of content) and present them to you in a customisable way.

RSS feeds are a mechanism by which content is pushed into another environment than that in which it was originally published. Any blog that uses blogging software will have an RSS feed. Note that your RSS feed reader can also be useful for keeping up to date with other kinds of published content such as podcasts and journal or search alerts, and not only blogs: some will even work with e-mail accounts, so that you can choose to view your e-mail in your RSS feed reader!  

When you collect RSS feeds, you might feel that you're giving yourself more work to do. Following all these blogs could be a whole lot of work, but you don't need to treat it that way. Just because you know a new posting has been made to a blog of interest to you, you don't have to read it... after all, you don't read every page of a journal. 

The two feed readers I hear about most often are Google Reader and Bloglines but there are plenty of others. When choosing a feed reader, look out for features that help you to organise the feeds in ways that suit your needs. You can try one feed reader out and then export the feeds to import into a new feed reader, if you want to explore more.

We have a video describing more about RSS feeds at:


If there is a blog of crucial relevance to your work and you check your e-mail regularly but you're never going to check your feed reader more than once a month then combining a subscription to the crucial blog in your e-mail whilst watching other sources in your feed reader would be a good approach.

Quickly unsubscribe to any feed that appears less relevant than you thought or produces more content than you could ever follow. Consider adding the URL of the blog to your favourites, and you could go and search that blog for content on a specific topic when you need to know about their work.

You can install a "notifier" on your desktop, so that your feed reader can tell you when there is new content waiting for you to read.

Get your RSS feeds on your phone or on an iGoogle page or in any other environment that you like to use already.

If you maintain your own blog, you can look for functions in your feed reader to to publish your blogroll from there.

See a librarian about ways to optimise your alert notifications and RSS feed subscriptions to suit your own working style!

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