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May 31, 2012

Digital tools for research wiki now live

Follow-up to 22 May launch of 'Digital Tools for Research': online course for Warwick's researchers. from Library Research Support

University of Warwick researchers can now register and get started on our wiki-based course about using digital tools. More information is available on the Research Exchange's Early Career Researcher website.

May 18, 2012

22 May launch of 'Digital Tools for Research': online course for Warwick's researchers.

Writing about web page

Yesterday, I attended an event on "Embracing digital tools as an academic", where researchers discussed technology tools that they had been using and the ways in which they were useful. It's part of the work of the Digital Change programme at the University of Warwick.

There were three panel members, and they gave their examples first, before discussion was opened to the floor. A lot of the discussion was about Twitter and its use/value, and the question was asked "How long does it take to compose a tweet?"

The examples from the panel were all different: one researcher used a suite of different technology tools to manage all his research online (he was particularly keen on Evernote), and so although he has a Twitter channel, he never has to actually compose a tweet. Another researcher is very active in chatting and direct messaging on Twitter, and can spend some time composing the exact 140 characters to express her views on a conference or a research related thought. And the third panel member took the approach which I relate to most, being a combination of considered reflections on a blog and quick thoughts on Twitter, with feeds from the blog onto Twitter as well.

I came away from the event even more convinced of the value to researchers of investigating all sorts of tools, and finding ways to make them work for your own style of research and your own needs.

Which means that it is perfect timing that we are about to launch our "Digital tools for Research" online training programme for Early Career Researchers, building on the work previously done for PhD students in the blog based course "23 Things for the Digital Professional".

December 22, 2011

Recording information when literature searching

Some notes in preparation for revising RSSP Lit Searching workshop material... Merry Christmas to all!

Recording information

Every researcher will no doubt have their own way of doing this, but here are some methods to get you thinking about what might work for you. You don’t have to use only one method: I personally like a combination of the log book & accounts on databases, the filing cabinet and reference management software!

1) Index cards

Write the details of each item you might cite onto a card, and store/sort these.
Advantages: cards can be sorted by date, author, theme, relevance. Can be created without digital devices.
Disadvantages: cards can be lost, take time to create and cannot benefit from data export functions or be sorted using computing power!

2) A table

Record the details of all items onto a table: either a digital file or a printed record. NB it can be difficult to devise a table that can cater for all information types.

3) Log book

Information recorded day by day, into a log book (digital or print). This approach can be combined with the account functions on most databases and repositories where you can save records of interest and search histories.
Advantages: easy to re-trace your search steps and to plot progress.

4) A filing cabinet

Print out articles or front pages of articles (or photocopies of book title pages, etc), write the referencing details onto the front of them and staple notes with quotes and key concepts onto the print out.
This is similar to the Index cards mechanism and you can include some such cards into your filing cabinet as well, so could be useful if bringing back records from somewhere with little or no technology access.

5) Reference management software

Such as EndNote, EndNote Web, Mendeley, Zotero, Connotea
Advantages: data import functions can speed up your record creation process. ‘Cite while you write’ functions help you to keep track of references within your text as you write up, automatically creating your bibliography for you, within a document.
Disadvantages: sophisticated software takes time to learn how to use properly. Records are likely to need editing and supplementing even after importing. Referencing rules will also likely need editing to be sure that your data is represented correctly. Not always suited to research in the field if computer access will be limited.

November 16, 2011

Hootsuite: keeping Twitter in its place!

Writing about web page

I've resisted the charms and attractions of Twitter, until recently. It keeps intruding into my professional life though, and I can't ignore it any longer! I go to an event and there is a hashtag advertised for twitterers to use. Or I can't go but I can look at the event website and follow the twitterers who are there, and so get a sense of what is happening. Twitter is undoubtedly useful but it needs to be kept in its place. I have enough to do!

Warwick PhD students on on the 23 Things for the Digital Researcher course have been asked to tweet, and as a co-ordinating tutor , I have wanted to show support for our course participants by tweeting too. (Does that make me a 'Twuutor'? I love all the fun to be had with the name 'Twitter'!)

We're using Twitter to keep in touch with researchers and PhD students who use the Wolfson Research Exchange (fondly known as REx) and who also tweet. The REx itself has a twitter account: @ResearchEx, but I want to tweet in my own name too, including the entries from this blog.

How do I tweet as both me and the REx and not lose hours of my life?! Here is the story of one possible answer...

I like to schedule my blog entries in advance when I have lots to write about and time to write it. So I asked a colleague who tweets and blogs (Emma Cragg:, whether it is possible to do this with tweets on Twitter. Emma tweeted to ask her contacts and back came the answer "". (Thanks to Emma and her Twits!)

I found that I need to use Hootsuite in Mozilla Firefox: like so many great tools, it doesn't work properly for me in Internet Explorer. No matter, I'm used to having at least 2 browsers open! With Hootsuite, I can now view on one screen for my own Twitter account, all the tweets of those who I follow, all tweets '@' me and any direct messages for me via Twitter. Then on another tab I can view the same for the REx Twitter account, and I've also added my LinkedIn account, so that from one tool, I can monitor several social networking sites. I could also add Facebook, but that is more for my real friends these days so I don't want to link that one to my other accounts...

Even more cleverly though, I can tweet from Hootsuite as myself or as the REx, or even post an update to LinkedIn... I never do that latter but maybe one day I might. And I can schedule my tweets, so I can write a load at the beginning of each week... and stay active on Twitter without having to be tied to it 24/7.

Let's hope that I can keep Twitter in its place, as a useful tool to share information about my work and possible also to communicate with professional contacts, and stop it from becoming a burden or a distraction... feathers crossed!

July 04, 2011

How close are you to gaining one more point on your h–index score?

Writing about web page

Last week I found out about a Mozilla Firefox extension which I've linked to from this post. It looks very useful in that it calculates the h-index and various other index scores for the results of any search you perform on Google Scholar, once you've installed it. If you're an author wanting to know your own h-index then the trick is to get your results set to include all of your own works. The advanced analysis feature of the extension allows you to un-tick certain results from the calculations presented in the panel at the top of your results set.

Only 100 results are processed in the analysis, so it isn't going to be a great tool for those with hundreds of publications to their name.

The tool presents not only the h-index but also the g-index, which gives extra weighting to citations from papers which are highly cited themselves, and an e-index which counts "excess citations". You can read more about the e-index on PLoS One article published in 2009 at:

It also presents a “delta-h” and "delta-g" score which looks really useful for authors who want to know how close they are to raising their index scores.

March 16, 2011


Writing about web page

I created a profile on ResearcherID myself today. Until now I haven't bothered, because I have published no articles that Web of Science have indexed... but I had a go so that I can tell researchers about it, and it's relatively easy to just add your name and a description. It should be easy to add your publications too, from the look of things: you can upload from EndNote Web or you can search in Web of Science and add them directly. Once you've added your publications, you can decide whether to allow members of the public to see these or not... and they can also see information about citations to your publications.

Now that I have a ResearcherID, I could create a "badge" to add to my blog or website, which would link through to my ResearcherID profile. I'm not so keen since it says very little about me, but if I were a reasearcher with publications in WoS which are cited, this could be useful as a way of promoting my work and its high impact.

After creating my own profile, I had a quick look at how many others from the University of Warwick have created a profile: 125 have spelt the word University correctly and declared "University of Warwick" and two others with typo variations on the word "University", plus 15 who have declared that their institution is "Warwick University"...

March 10, 2011

Blogging takes effort…

Writing about web page

I've been looking around for examples of researchers who blog. This guy sums up some very useful comments for any researchers thinking of blogging. You can also follow a trail from this blog to his latest one, ( so it seems that although he wrote about the effort required, he has not abandoned blogging altogether... but is intermittent since the latest posting on that blog is from July last year!

March 07, 2011

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

Writing about web page

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.

March 01, 2011

Registering accounts

When you register your account with EndNote Web or some other online tool, make sure that you associate it with an enduring e-mail address or that you remember your username and password!

A recent contact lost stored references in EndNote Web after changing institution and therefore e-mail address and fogetting the password to that account so that the e-mail address associated with it could not be changed.

February 25, 2011

Social media: a guide for researchers from the RIN

Writing about web page

I really like the "links and resources" pdf associated with this guide, listing lots of sites of potential interest/relevance to researchers, in categories. It sometimes seems difficult to get a grip on all the many different sites and tools available online, and how they can all be used (there are lots of overlaps and quirky differences), so a simplified guide is very handy, and this single sheet also makes a great handout for our workshops!

The main guide itself explores some of the complexity. It uses case studies of researchers' uses of social media: researchers like to learn from other researchers, so this is a good approach. It often seems that the academic community is ideally placed to use social media tools, precisely because they like to learn from each other, but in my opinion this could also be a hurdle since there are many collaborative and networking practices out there already, just not using social media tools.

The guide is worth a read if you are a researcher who is new to social media, or a new researcher. My notes below might be a useful summary if you just want the gist of what it covers.

The guide offers to show the reader "how social media offer researchers an opportunity to improve the way they work" in its introduction. It reports that researchers use social media "to bridge disciplinary boundaries, to engage in knowledge exchange with industry and policy makers and to provide a channel for the public communication of their research."

In explaining what social media are, the guide puts social media tools into functional categories (as used on the linked resources sheet) and then into three higher level categories which seem to me to describe the strengths of social media: Communication, Collaboration and Multimedia. Criticisms of social media are acknowledged and answered with the perspective that there are so many tools with so many different possible uses, and that beneficial use can be made of them, with an awareness of pitfalls.

The guide describes four stages of the research cycle, around collaboration and that it is the many to many nature of social media that makes it different to other communication channels, and so potentially useful in each of these stages.

Stage i. Idenfication of knowledge
"Social media can help you to both discover more and to filter more effectively". This could be done through connections with a network of other researchers, whose reading you can see. The quality of your filter all depends on who belongs to your network!

Stage ii. Creation of knowledge
In this stage there are risks, such as jeopardising publication chances (journal publication agreements state that you have not previously published your research elsewhere) and providing people with "ammunition to criticise your work". It is important to be careful what you share when and with whom, but there are still opportunities to use social media to your advantage at this stage. My advice would be to consider only sharing with a discrete group of collaborators, rather than with the whole world. The guide suggests that you might wish to be open because you will get feedback as you go rather than waiting until the formal peer review stage. It summarises the sensible approach to this stage of the research journey very neatly: "Managing the balance between openness and disclosure requires you to think carefully about how you work and what you are trying to achieve", which seems to me to apply regardless of whether or not you are using social media.

Stage iii. Quality assurance of knowledge
Social media allow anyone to publish anything, but they also offer you the chance to filter what reaches you (and where it reaches you, although the guide doesn't mention that at this stage) and communities can recommend and comment on quality. The guide draws a parallel that I often describe myself, with social media activity being comparable to conversations at a conference: you can't take part in them all (nor would you ever want to!) but you can only take part in those of interest, if you are at the conference. You could view this networking site or that one as the conference, or you could view the whole social media, online world as the conference.

The guide has a wonderful quote on page 19, from Ruth Fillery-Travis, PhD Archaeology

I am attempting to get a paper published in an academic journal, but the really long lead time from first draft to publication is very off-putting as is the completely opaque process and the lack of any useful guidelines. I think traditional academic journals are really difficult to access for the first time because they tend to come across as more of 'who you know' than 'what you know'. 

Stage iv. Dissemination of knowledge
"Social media are above all about communication and are therefore ideal for researchers who wish to make their research more widely available." The guide poses a number of questions that researchers should think about when considering social media use at this stage, and it suggests that researchers are best placed to provide their own answers.

Section 4 of the guide considers actual tools, in each of the functional categories. I'm not going to summarise this part because the linked resources sheet is such a summary. I will add that there is really no substitute for just getting started with one of these tools and really exploring what it can do for you. Some of them have functions that are not entirely social, but which are also useful to researchers, such as storing web links and references just for yourself. You could even keep a blog for your research notes, and only allow yourself to read it!

The guide goes on to consider the problem of information overload, with the neat question: "If you feel that you have fallen behind in reading the core peer reviewed journals in your area, why would you want to start looking for new sources like blogs which are, by their nature, less reliable in quality?" The guide doesn't quite state that social media are in fact a good way to keep on top of traditional publications as well as more ephemeral content, but I think that that is what is meant and it is certainly the answer I would give. I read other people's summaries of reports and publications, in order to decide whether I want to read the whole thing myself or not!

A simple approach to reading is described, that researchers need to decide whether to read, park or discard a resource and the guide describes that social media can be used in this process. The example given is that social bookmarking and social citation tools allow you to park and retrieve content, and description of RSS feeds is then given. It is only a brief description, and it seems to me that we're moving beyond the need for descriptions of RSS itself and we need a lot more description of what those feeds are doing. There could be a whole guide written on the uses of RSS feeds by researchers.

We have our own brief guide to RSS feeds for researchers, under the heading "keeping up to date", although they can be used to do a lot more than that:

The RIN guide goes on to consider some elements of network theory, because the power of social media is  in the way you develop and use your networks. If you're going to choose to join a networking site then you will want to look at who else has joined it and what their interests are, and whether it is worth your while joining.  If you share a lot online anyway then people are more likely to include you in their networks (this might mean that they "follow" you or that they actively get in touch with you), and if you follow other people through social media then you will recognise people whose work interests you, who you will want to network with. You might use social media just to listen to others' work, or you might want to use such tools to broadcast about your own work, and the shape of your network might vary depending on your purpose. One very good piece of advice the guide offers is: "Being a connector between two networks can be invaluable, but being a connector between twenty can be exhausting. Therefore, thinking about the shape of your network, and how you manage your place in it, is vital." (p39)

The final thought of the guide is that: "...if you really want to understand what social media can do for you and your research, you need to start experimenting". I couldn't agree more!

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