Software Tools for Better, Faster Research Collaboration

Edanz Learning Lab – research collaboration tools

Software tools have removed a lot of the manual, paper-based tasks of research. And they keep getting better and more innovative. Modern-day researchers can now focus more on the research itself, coordinate across distances, and keep everything together online.

Submission is all online, too, as is publication.

Edanz Smart Tools also speed up and empower your research. You can get going with them right away.

Let’s look at the main stages of research and the types of tools that can make your research a more time-efficient and enjoyable process.

What you’ll learn in this post

• How online tools can replace paper-based, time-consuming research collaboration processes.

• Ways to map and manage your research using cloud-based software.

• Recommended software for polishing up your scientific English and presenting it in a journal-ready format.

• Edanz’s own Smart Tools are designed for research and can be used, well, RIGHT NOW!

Brainstorming and idea-generating tools

Structured research almost always starts with idea generation. Collecting your and your team’s thoughts can get messy when you’re using sticky notes and whiteboards. There’s ample software to help research teams keep their ideas straight. So even if some team members are more “analog” and need to write things down, as long as you have someone taking notes, you can digitize and share the whole process.

Brainstorming and idea-generating software can be quite creative, and often crosses over into other uses, like life management and business.

Try these packages.

Coggle

Coggle is a brainstorming app for collaboration, with sharable mind maps and flow charts. With a public gallery, teams can see and edit others’ diagrams allowing for a more connective experience. Coggle’s free plan allows for downloads as PDFs and unlimited public diagrams. It’s a good solution for mind-mapping and even the paid plans are very affordable.

MindMeister

MindMeister is cloud-based for real-time collaboration and working together when you can’t physically be together. The tool has an easy-to-use interface with minimal buttons to confuse newcomers. MindMeister has community mind maps, where other researchers can share premade mind maps specific to your research niche. The free plan is quite limited, meaning the paid plans are needed to get the most out of the software. But they’re modestly priced. This feature-rich option is a great teammate when you’re formulating your ideas.

MindMup

MindMup perhaps excels best at getting you started. Using an online mind-mapping tool will be less familiar for most researchers compared with, say, word processing or SPSS. MindMup lets you quickly start in your first mind map for free. You can do structured writing, and storyboards, and save to PDF and PowerPoint, as well as Google Drive.

All three of these options offer similar features with different user experiences (UX). They’re all cheap add-ons to your research tool stack, as well, with monthly memberships under $10. Trial them, A-B-C test them, and add one of these (or another option) to organize your brainstorming process.

Social networking tools

There’s plenty written on social media in the sciences, but beyond forums for sharing ideas and for self-promotion, these forms of social media are also power idea generators. By networking and participating, these tools expand your academic (and social) connections while opening your mind to new ideas and perspectives.

ResearchGate

ResearchGate is an academic networking tool where researchers connect, collaborate, and idea-create by uploading articles, papers, data, and code to an online database. Researchers receive analytics on their posts including the number of times their work‘s been read and cited by other users on ResearchGate. It’s one of the most active social networking tools in the academic sphere.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has become indispensable for most adults in much of the world. Some regions (especially North Asia) haven’t gotten over the amount of personal exposure and self-promotion, but even they are getting there. LinkedIn has evolved from an online resume and job hunting tool to a Facebook for professionals. This includes researchers.

Using LinkedIn as a place to output your research/work is a way to show off your skills and find connections with similar researchers. Posts about new advancements in your field are a good way to start academic conversations that can in turn benefit your understanding of what you’re researching.

If you’re doing exploratory research, you can use LinkedIn as a research engine. By searching the questions and answers page and seeing the interactions different topics gain, researchers can get insight into different industries. This is a good article on using LinkedIn as a research tool.

Academia

Academia (often called academia.edu) is a networking site dedicated to academics. Like ResearchGate, academia.edu has post analytics, allowing you to track your posts in real time. Academia.edu makes making connections easier by simply “Importing contacts” from other social networking sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Edanz Learning Lab – research collaboration tools

Project management tools

Organizing your research and the deadlines that come with it is just as important as the research itself. Without project management tools, research can be chaotic and unorganized. Good research relies on collaboration and requires many revisions. Project management tools streamline this complex process.

The project management aspect of academic research can look a lot like project management in the corporate workplace. So these tools all have crossover with the working world.

Asana

Asana is a project management software for people and companies that prefer to work with lists instead of boards. The lists you can create are clean and present work straightforwardly. Often in research, all you need is an efficient set of lists to set out your ideas and thoughts. Asana is extremely easy to use, and implementation into your research process is quick and simple. It’s well suited for individuals and smaller tight-knit teams.

Trello

Trello uses the kanban (bulletin board) approach of visual boards and images instead of lists. The board, made up of “cards,” however, can still function like lists, or cards can contain lists. Trello has a social media feeling to its software and its style lends itself to researchers who prefer visual communication.

Trello works in real-time, allowing for continual updates and progression. The notification system broadcasts updates on the team’s progress. With a lot of members and moving parts on your project, this can really be helpful. Just tweak your notification settings or you’ll be waking up every morning to a mailbox full of Trello updates.

Infinity

Infinity is mainly created for business use but works just as well with research. It offers a flexible and color kanban-style project management setup. It lets you create unlimited boards, folders, and items and then share them with collaborators. The number of templates for different situations can be adjusted to your needs.

ProofHub

ProofHub provides seamless collaboration with a large array of features, from Gannt charts to time-tracking. A ProofHub feature is its ability to edit tasks as they’re active without having to end them and then re-assign them, excellent for collaborating researchers. ProofHub is accessible on any device or computer, so no need to worry about where you’re working. It’s a premium paid software with no free version so make sure to use their free trial before buying.

Literature search tools

We cover literature search in a variety of places on Edanz, so this section want be new to many. And indeed, if you’re at any sort of academic institution, you’ll likely have access to a big library of powerful databases, like ProQuest and EBSCO. Still, there are times when you need a quick online search or a different perspective on your search.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is the clear leader in the area of free, public literature searching. Yes, score one more for the Google behemoth (yawn), but it’s tough to argue with free.

Google Scholar is Google’s unique search engine applied to research papers and patents. It lets users find publications from all disciplines. The searching is free, and it will often turn up multiple locations of what you’re after. If it’s open-access or otherwise available, you’ll be able to save some of the heavier clicking and digging needed for the above mentioned powerhouse library databases.

Google Scholar has multiple export formats so you can almost always find the format needed for your citation style. Google Scholar’s main advantage is accessibility since you’re probably searching on Google anyway, so switching to the Scholar site becomes a natural progression. You can use the same Boolean operators and all sorts of filters. If nothing else, it’s a great “first step” for seeing what’s out there in there in the massive, seemingly infinite pool of literature.

Semantic Scholar

Semantic Scholar has substantially fewer articles in its database than its counterparts, but when used alongside Google Scholar it can offer different results. Its search engine is optimized to give more relevant and impactful results by finding hidden connections and links between papers/topics.

Connected Papers

We throw this one in as a wildcard, because it’s really quite brilliant and it does something the others don’t. It creates a visual map of linkages among the literature. Connected Papers is a bit of a different tool from the rest, as it is not a standalone database. It uses Google Scholar’s database and creates a unique visual map of all cited papers (and all papers since that have cited the original work).

By representing research citations as legs you get a feel of how interconnected research papers are. This tool is for getting a grasp of the research landscape of a particular topic. This sort of innovation is a wonderful contribution to academic society in general, so we give it a big thumbs up.

Reference management tools

Managing, organizing, and storing your references can be a massive job if done manually. Therefore, it is important to find a reference management tool that makes managing your references an easier process. For research projects large and small, a good reference manager can save many unnecessary hours and unneeded stress

Mendeley

Mendeley is a reference manager with a long track record. Mendeley can be accessed online and offline and works for both Windows and Mac devices, as well as portable devices (which is basically standard these days). It provides plugins for Firefox and Chrome that allow bookmarked websites to be put in your Mendeley library.

While this app used to be free, since its acquisition it’s become harder to access and coordinate across devices. But that doesn’t detract from its solid standing and reputation. If you pay to play, it should be more robust than ever.

PaperPile

PaperPile may be a less-familiar name, but it’s a very accessible solution. Its strengths are its simple cloud-based interface, low pricing, and easily cross-device ability. PaperPile’s design easily deals with large numbers of citations, with a robust search function. PaperPile automatically formats citations and bibliographies in the referencing style of your choice, but relies on metadata, like all in this category, so it may need some cleaning up.

EndNote

EndNote is a more elaborate and complex software than the previous two. It lets you to search databases and import the citation information into Microsoft Word. It excels in its ability to edit the output citations to specific styles, often needed in Journal publications. This is a premium product and is rather expensive for a beginner. Use the free 30-day trial if you’re interested.

Edanz Learning Lab – research collaboration software

Word processing and document preparation tools

If you’re writing for journal submission, odds are you’ll be required to submit it as a Microsoft Word doc. This means Word remains the de facto word processor, but you’re not limited to it. word processors allow you to save in Word doc format, so you may find something better, cheaper, or more scientifically suitable for your team. Specialized STEM sciences such as math and physics may also welcome LaTeX format, for which there’s now a terrific cloud-based tool.

Microsoft Word

Although it may seem like a boring choice, Microsoft Word is a user-friendly and smooth word processing and document-creating software. Now part of the cloud-based 365 package, it’s no longer device-dependent. It provides many different templates, easy file sharing, and the ability to export as a PDF. Yes, it still comes with a bit of a hefty price tag, but there are different plans and most institutions and workplaces provide it for students and employees.

Google Docs

Google Docs made its mark by (1) being Google and (2) making all the functions of Microsoft Office completely cloud-based and tied to your Google account. It lets researchers collaborate on ideas in real time with commenting and suggestion features. And it lets documents be created in a quicker, more streamlined UX than Microsoft’s.

It’s good for brainstorming as well, though Google Workspace is always adding more tools suited to specific tasks (see Google’s own article on brainstorming here). For a useful article on using Google Docs in research click here.

LaTeX (Overleaf)

LaTeX (pronounced LAY-tech) is a long-standing typesetting and document preparation system mainly catering to academics. This owes to its ability to elegantly format long and complex equations. There is a coding element to LaTeX so there is a learning curve, but if you get past that the customization and speed to which you can create stunning documents makes it worthwhile.

You can download LaTeX to your computer via the LaTeX installer, allowing you to use LaTeX offline.

The process of downloading and using LaTeX can confusing and less than user-friendly. This is where Overleaf comes in. Overleaf is a cloud-based LaTeX editor that removes a lot of the coding aspects of LaTeX while keeping the style and equation formatting. It also easily accommodates teams and enables fast rendering to see what the final product will look like. For many scientists LaTeX (with or without a UI like Overleaf) is a must.

Pages

Pages is Apple’s take on Microsoft Word. Free on all Apple products but in typical Apple fashion, unavailable for everyone else. Pages offers virtually the same as what Microsoft Word does. The only difference is how it looks. Pages is a minimalist word processing software that helps declutter the space around your work and helps you focus on what you’re typing.

It also has a Word export option. As few (no?) journals accept submissions in Pages format, this is probably something you’ll need. For a Mac-based team, however, Pages may be an attractive option.

Table and figure creation tools

Well, there must be a load of them! So much so, we devoted an entire article to great software for creating scientific figures and tables – give it a read.

English language checking tools

Excellent research is often error-free, but proofreading can be time-consuming, and often missed errors sneak through. Therefore, a good language and grammar checker is essential in quality research writing. There are many to choose from, so a combination of multiple ones would give the best chance of an error-free piece of research.

Grammarly

Grammarly is probably the best-known online and plug-in-based language and grammar checker. This owes both to its aggressive marketing and its continually evolving tool. It’s come a long way and gives far fewer bad suggestions than it used to.

Grammarly’s free version checks for various language mistakes in real time, with popups and using its robust algorithm that scans your writing. It’s quite intuitive and easy to get used to. The paid version picks up on more intricate errors and writing tones. Grammarly also has its own plagiarism checker.

The mistake with Grammarly is accepting all its advice. If your English isn’t at a very high level, Grammarly can sometimes do more harm than good if it misreads your intent. If you have strong English, it can be a big help, even for native speakers.

Hemingway

Unlike the other language and grammar checkers presented, Hemingway doesn’t provide detailed grammar oversight. Hemingway instead comments on the overall readability and writing style of your work.

When writing research, you not only want it to be grammatically correct but also concise and flowing; i.e., readable. Hemingway’s alternative language checker can give your research the appropriate tone and help prevent verbosity. That, in turn, keeps readers’ attention. Hemingway does have a paid desktop app, but the free online app is feature-rich. Try that first.

ProWritingAid

Like Grammarly, ProWritingAid is an online grammar and spelling checker. It’s different in that it provides detailed reports to help improve specific writing skills. It integrates nicely with Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Gmail, and others, helping you work it into your overall routine. It has a mobile app, too. Writing up your research can often be unstructured and great research ideas can come to you at any time, so having a writing aid that’s so integrated is a bonus.

And that’s just for starters!

There are more steps in the process and more tools to help. Dig and dig. Try them out. If they don’t work, dig again. New options are continually emerging from creative minds. Don’t overlook Edanz Smart Tools, as well. These are specifically designed for the research cycle. And you can use them right now.

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