Technology Enhanced Research

This post is an adaptation of a newsletter I produced for internal consumption at my university. The original had more information that related to the licences and set up we have on campus. However, this stripped down version may be of use to others so I am posting it here.  Many thanks to colleagues on the ALT-members JISCMail list for their help in compiling it. I did not include all suggestions made there as many were not relevant to my audience or were duplications.

So, this is a list of tools that might be useful for those engaged in research.  I have organised them into sections, though this is rather clumsy as many have overlapping functions.

Interacting with Research Communities


Pirius logo

Piirus helps you to connect other researchers – it’s as simple as that. It was developed by the University of Warwick and is a free service. It can help you to:
• make contacts for your research within your institution and beyond
• find expertise on a specific topic or technique
• make interdisciplinary connections to refresh your work and widen funding opportunities
• improve the visibility of your research outside your institution
For more info and to sign up for a free account go to

academiaedu logo is much like LinkedIn but with an academic focus and allows you to share papers and follow other people’s research.

Research Gate

research gate logo

Like ResearchGate allows you to follow fellow researchers in your field and make connections. Initially it may appear that it is focussed on sciences but in fact all disciplines are represented and it is worth signing up for a free account if you are looking for people to collaborate with or expertise on which to draw.
Sign up from

Managing References



RefWorks says it allows you to…
• Organize and create a personal database online. Everything is done automatically as you import the reference into RefWorks.
• Format bibliographies and manuscripts in seconds – this saves hours of typing time and decreases the number of errors in creating tedious bibliographies.
• Import references from a variety of databases using the already created Import Filters.
• Manage Alerts – RefWorks has incorporated an RSS feed reader to allow you to establish links to your favourite RSS feeds and import data from those feeds directly into RefWorks.
• Searching your RefWorks database is fast and easy – RefWorks automatically creates author, descriptor and periodical indexes when importing so you just click on the word to perform the retrieval.

Write-n-Cite is a free plugin for Microsoft Word that lets you cite references from your RefWorks account directly into a Word document  You download it from your RefWorks account – from the Tools menu.



Endnote is similar to RefWorks but primarily runs on the desktop. In the latest release (v X7.2) you can use your EndNote online account to share a library with up to 14 collaborators and you have unlimited online storage.

EndNote says its products helps in the following ways:
• Makes your literature search fast and productive
• Builds an organized research library
• Collects full-text PDFs and adds your notes and annotations
• Delivers the famously easy Cite While You Write in Microsoft® Word
• Creates perfectly formatted bibliographies, endnotes and in-text citations
• Loves Mac® and Windows® equally
• Keeps it all synced up – on your desktop, online and on the iPad® app
More details from

Cite While you Write.

This is an EndNote plug-in that lets you insert references and format citations and bibliographies automatically in Word. It also allows you to save online references to your library in Internet Explorer for Windows. You access it from the EndNote tab on the Word toolbar (when installed)  and you will need to configure it (see Preferences) to link to your online account.

Mendeley and Zotero



Mendeley and Zotero are two other very professional and popular reference management tools and both are free. One thing to remember about all these tools is that if you choose one and don’t like it, you are not stuck with it. You can export your library to another one.
Here are the urls – Mendeley, Zotero



Another tool you might want to consider is ReadCube which integrates with Microsoft Word and works on all browsers, on both Macs and Windows machines and on iOS devices. I don’t know anyone who uses it, but after a major upgrade in 2014 it seems to be a high spec tool which some people may prefer. It’s more than a citation tool, it offers enhanced, optimized PDFs, personal recommendations and paper management and it syncs with the cloud so you can use it on multiple devices including iPads and iPhones. There’s a basic free version and a fully featured paid for version. More details here:



This is an app for your phone (as well as a tool you can use on your desktop) that allows you to scan books and journals and which then generates citations, reference lists and bibliographies. At present its rendition of Harvard style isn’t quite the same as our university’s but it is still useful to scoop up the data with your phone and then later adjust the formatting. More info from



Colwiz (Collective Wizdom) is yet another reference management tool but I have singled this one out as it is free and there has been a lot of buzz about it since it won an Association of American Publishers’ PROSE (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) award last year. Colwiz is designed to make reading easier with:
• a library feature to read, annotate and share research articles
• a calendar
• a tasks list
• cloud storage
• groups to aid collaboration
• a web clipper
• a citation plugin for Word and Libre Office
• social features for networking including publication pinboard and research profiles
There’s a version for Windows and Mac, browser extensions for Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari and apps for Google and iOS devices.

Collecting and Managing Information



This is a note taking and note managing tool that is downloadable and also web-based (so enabling syncing across devices). You can organise your notes into groups (notepads) and tag them. You can also upload files (not just documents) and you can email documents into Evernote. It also allows you to upload media and search through your notes (with tags and full text). There is a free version and a Premium paid for version. For more information see



With so many tools now offering bookmarking facilities (e.g. Evernote) and browsers allowing you to log in and see your ‘favourites’ on any device, some people may think that dedicated bookmarking services are a thing of the past. However, I still use and recommend diigo as a tool for managing my web activity. This is because you can do much more than simply save urls. For example, you can…
• Annotate webpages (so useful when you return to them later)
• Build a personal library with links, pages, notes, photos etc
• Organise your info so it’s easy to find on any device
• Archive webpages (so even if the url changes or the page is edited you can see what was there when you saved it)
• Collaborate with others and share info
• Mark webpages for reading later
• See what other people have bookmarked (so benefiting from their reading lists and being able to make contact with people with similar interests)
• Link it to your twitter account and save favourite tweets to diigo
And there are lots of features that are useful for those doing research, such as when you highlight a word on a webpage a dropdown appears that lets you search for the word with up to four search engines, do a blog search, search the site you are on, and if the word is a url it will search inbound links to the url so letting you find other websites dealing with the same subject.
I use the free version but the paid for version gives you added functionality including a research mode that “lets you re-use your saving preferences so that when you are in the research mode, the same set of tags, lists and group are automatically applied to every item you save or annotate.”. For more info see

Survey Monkey

Survey monkey

If you have a need to collect data online, Survey Monkey is an excellent survey tool not only for delivering the questions but for exporting and analysing the responses. The free version allows you ten questions and 100 responses but if you want more, you can use the e-learning department’s account. This allows:
• Unlimited questions
• Unlimited responses
• Skip logic (to create a custom path through your survey that varies based on a respondent’s answers).
• Cross tabs and filters. (Discover hidden trends by segmenting your survey results with cross-tabs and filters.
• Reports in various formats – spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, or SPSS files.
• A/B testing (Randomly segment your respondents to see different images or text).
• Question & answer piping (you can use piping to insert a respondent’s answer from a previous question to question and answer choices that come later in the same survey).
Also, this month, Survey Monkey has introduced a new feature called Basic Statistics. This displays mean, median, maximum, minimum, and standard deviation alongside your results, and is available on all multiple-choice questions including the Matrix/Rating Scale question. It is also a good way to understand Numerical Textbox results (where you collect multiple open-ended answers with a single question).

Analysing Data



NVivo is a popular program to analyse qualitative, non-numerical or unstructured data. The latest version allows you to
• import data from Survey Monkey
• work with social media including YouTube and twitter
• import data directly from EverNote
• order transcripts from within your NVivo project
• integrate with EndNote to identify and locate frequently used terms and tag them
• use a special browser extension (NCapture) to capture data from the web
The cost of a single licence (for use on two devices) is £370 with discounts available for multiple licences. For students undertaking research there is a special price of £78 for a 12 month licence or £55 for a just 6 months. Windows and Mac versions are available.
For more info see



This is another QDA (Qualitative Data Analysis) application. It lets you analyse complex phenomena that might be hidden in unstructured data, not only text but multimedia and geospatial data. Some of the many things you can do with AtlasTi are:
• Display four documents simultaneously and use drag and drop to link between them
• Upload video and audio and code them
• Use the built-in Analysis tool to create cloud views, run queries and see codes
• Create visualisations of your data (including graphical network views)
• Embed Google Earth and use geo-coding to make it available in your project
• Import data from surveys
The applications works on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.
A full single licence costs £485 (discounts for Mac and for multiple licences). Students can buy a two year licence for £78 or a six month licence for £41.
For more information see



You might also consider dedoose. This is cloud based (so you don’t have to download it or upgrade it as you’re always working on the latest version) and you don’t have to buy it. You can use the full version for free for one month and thereafter rent it by the month. It costs $12.95 per month for academic staff or $10.95 for students and there are discounts for research teams.
You can import text, photos, audio, video and spreadsheet data for analysis. It runs on all devices and enables collaboration. For more information see



There are many other QDA applications available apart from those I’ve mentioned. The CAQDAS (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis) Networking project is a good place to start if you’re not sure which is best suited to your research project. CAQDAS helps you choose the most appropriate package and can be found at

Microsoft Access

Microsoft access

Storing and interrogating structured data involves using a database. However, many people shy away from using a database in favour of a spreadsheet because spreadsheets are easier to set up and they are probably more familiar with Excel than Access. However, if you know from the outset that your research will involve collecting a lot of data and especially if more than one person is involved in inputting it and working with it, then a database is probably preferable.
Microsoft produces an excellent free online course on how to use Access. It might be worth the time and effort to do this before entering your data into the wrong program and then finding out much later that you cannot analyse it properly. The online course can be accessed from
You may prefer a non Microsoft database, in which case LibreOffice’s Base is for you –



SPSS stands for Statistical Package for the Social Sciences and is an IBM program used for statistical analysis.



If you are looking for an alternative to SPSS you might want to consider R, which is a free application for statistical analysis and is rapidly growing in popularity.
You can download it from Imperial College London’s website at and information about R can be found at




OpenSesame is free and open source software commonly used in Psychology departments but aimed at anyone in the social sciences who need to design experiments. The latest version (December 2014) can be downloaded from and there are versions for most operating systems. This video shows you what you can do with it .

It’s not all about text.



Brainstorming is useful not only for capturing ideas but for expanding and organising your thinking. There are many free web-based mind mapping tools available. This one allows you to share your maps and collaborate on them online.



Often you will want to bring into your research images (maybe photos, charts, infographics). However, very often we find that while we in the e-learning office have access to and are familiar with graphics programs (e.g. PhotoShop), most staff do not have access to a program. You can do a lot of basic editing (cropping and resizing) in Microsoft Office but if you need to do more, have a look at SumoPaint. With this you can edit images online (or you can download it). For more info see



If you record audio interviews, you may want to edit them for any number of reasons.

Audacity is an excellent, free program for recording and editing audio files. You can download it from



If you prefer videoing interviews or want to include video evidence in your research, you will probably want to edit the video. We recommend VideoPad which is free and to our minds better than Microsoft MovieMaker. You can download VideoPad from



Although we associate Panopto with capturing lectures it should not be forgotten how powerful the Panopto Viewer is and what it lets you do. After recording an interview or perhaps some sort of interaction or action, you can tag the recording and add comments to the recording’s timeline. You can then search it. Also, although the function is not 100% reliable, don’t forget that after processing you can search the audio track. If you want to pay for transcription, there are companies who can work directly from the Panopto recording and the advantage is that they have instant access and the transcription appears synchronised with the recording for future analysis.
Another use of Panopto is that you can distribute recordings to selective audiences and by embedding interaction into the recording (e.g. questions) you can collect data at a distance. The recording might be you asking questions or a recording of something else that you want a reaction to. The interaction can be recorded in Panopto shared notes or elsewhere outside Panopto, e.g. in a Google Drive spreadsheet.



This is a free tool for recording screen activity. You can use it online or download the application. Reasons to using this in research might be to record people’s online behaviour (e.g. how they use a program) or for presenting findings.

Netnography and Data Mining.

If you want to analyse data sourced from server logs, or you want to analyse data stored on websites including social media, the following tools may be of interest. There are ethical and legal considerations attached to their use and they do demand a relatively high level of digital literacy, though if you have the need without the expertise, you can normally pay for someone else to collect the data for you.



This is a tool by Martin Hawksey for archiving and analysing twitter hashtags. It’s free and is explained on his blog at . I’ve used this and found it quite easy to use.



With ethics approval you may want to look at structured data stored on websites and social networks and there are various web scraping tools available to ‘scrape’ such data from the websites. One such is ScraperWiki.
Such tools can provide a lot of relevant data very quickly. For example researchers at Liverpool John Moores University used ScraperWiki to analyse local hospital, council and demographic data to see patterns in ambulance callouts across Merseyside. Exeter University used it to look at activity spikes in online social interactions in order to understand the conditions necessary for something to go viral on the web.
You can download a one month trial version for free from . To use the tool properly you need to engage with some coding or you can pay ScraperViki to do it for you.



This is a new scraper tool and is free. There are quite a few tools available but this one looks to be well supported and relatively easy to use.

Ethics and legalities of Scraping.

I mentioned ethics approval before and I should also mention rights of access and copyright restrictions. These need to be considered when scraping, but should not put you off using this sort of technology. We live in the 21st century where the Web is all about us and not to use it in our research seems inefficient and also to be ignoring an important source of data. It should also be noted that last October the Intellectual Property Office issued a document called Exceptions to Copyright: Research which says “Text and data mining technologies help researchers process large amounts of data. Copyright law has altered to help ensure that if a researcher is carrying out non-commercial research they will not infringe copyright by copying material for a text and data mining analysis…”

Managing Feeds

Staying up to date with research in your field is always important. The key to managing this is to have new information piped directly to you rather than you having to manually check for new information. Here are some tools that will ‘feed’ you what you should be keeping on top of.



I use this for managing social networks including twitter. The free version allows you to create three social profiles and to organise data into streams. So, for example you might have one stream only showing tweets with a certain hashtag or only by a certain researcher.  Before I started using hootsuite I found it impossible to use twitter effectively as all the tweets were jumbled up. With this I can see the wood for the trees.

RSS Readers

RSS logo

Most websites with changing content (e.g. blogs, news sites) offer RSS feeds that will automatically publish to an RSS reader and browsers now display feeds themselves (if you add an RSS extension) as do many email programs including Outlook. However, for some reason which I cannot fully understand myself, I do not use them. Instead I use a program that emails me whenever one of my ‘watched’ websites change.

Change Detectors


There are many free web services that will monitor websites for you and tell you when they change and even highlight the change for you. I use ChangeDetection at The advantage for me is that I can add websites that do not offer RSS feeds and I can filter the emails in my email program.

Curating sites

ScoopIt logo

Sometimes you want to collect together research on a particular topic (to curate it). To do so, you need to be made aware of all new information on the topic, review it, discard what is of no interest and save that which is. A site that allows you to do this is scoopit – . You enter your search terms and scoopit serves up new webpages daily that relate to your terms. You then accept or reject them. If you accept them, they form part of your Scoopit page. An advantage for the researcher is that you can follow other researchers’ scoopit topics and can discuss new papers and articles with people with similar research interests. You can also build a resource over time that you wish to examine in depth later and which other people will find and possibly contact you about.



This might be a little contentious, but submitting your own work to Turnitin might be something you want to consider. Not only will it provide a check that you have referenced properly, it will add your work, under your name (don’t upload it under someone else’s name!) to the turnitin database, so protecting it against plagiarism by others. For more on this thinking see the University of Sussex’s Doctoral School Blog.

Google Scholar


I won’t deal in any depth with search engines as the library is best to offer advice in this area. However, I will just say that Google Scholar is more than a search engine that prioritizes academic sources, it also locates offline publications in academic libraries and it serves up full text articles if they are available online.
It also lets you explore related works, citations, authors and publications and create your own online library of texts and references. It is also a free citation index tool if you don’t have access to a paid for service like Web of Knowledge or Scopus.
Also, if you are an author, it lets you check to see who is citing your publications and it lets you create your own public author profile.


On Tuesday 27 January are holding a 60 minute live video event via Google Hangouts. This is the blurb:
The way academic work is published is changing. Along with traditional publishing academics are increasingly looking to digital channels to maximise the impact of their work. You may already be on Twitter and LinkedIn but how can you use these and other tools to enhance your research and widen public engagement? How much time should you be spending on your digital academic profile and what are the risks to your professional image and organisation?
By attending this #jobsQ Hangout you will learn:
• How to blend digital tools into your current work and conferences
• How to manage your time online effectively
• How to write for an online audience
• How to use a blog to increase your public engagement
• How digital networking can enhance your research
• How to effectively use online networking to find collaborators
For more information –

One comment

  1. Chris Higton · · Reply

    Hi Bob,

    I see you recommend Survey Monkey which is useful if you have a paid for account, However within Psychology and Counselling at Newman we have lots of students who need to distribute surveys online. I make the following recommend for ‘free services’ Qualtrics ( for when students have need less then 200 participants. or esurvey creator ( which will allow unlimited participants if you have a email address.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Postcards for Petrolheads

Classic cars caught unawares in their natural environment.

Ros Walker

...learning, education, technology and stuff

HistorianRuby: An Historian's Miscellany

Early modern historian. Loves gender, women's, social & royal histories. Ventures elswhere when interest is piqued. Blog may cover above themes or something a little more random. Find me on Twitter @ruthrblair


Historian and geographer, writer and researcher

Laurence Marks

away from the office..


Random cars we like

The Ali Lowe Commentary

The view from the shed...

The Lure of Speed

Vintage Motoring Blog

Rob Appleyard

My thoughts on learning, technology and stuff that makes me tick

%d bloggers like this: