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10 research tools every PhD student needs

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Research tools can help PhD researchers keep their research more organised. Source: Jens Schlueter/AFP

A PhD is the penultimate academic degree. With their research that looks into solving critical world issues, PhD graduates help everyone understand the world around them better; hence the important role of research tools that help them achieve this.

A PhD requires candidates to collect and gather data for their dissertation so they can make an informed analysis of whether their hypothesis is supported, as well as deduce future probabilities and trends. This is often a time-consuming process – one has to search from the library and internet for literature, conducting experiments, writing and publishing papers, on top of the tedious task of formatting these sources.

Since a dissertation can be upwards of 60,000 words, how then to efficiently collect and compile everything? Now that the world has become increasingly advanced in terms of technology, it makes sense to know how to use the many available online tools to help with the research process. 

The right tools can help save time, effort and energy, helping you produce more accessible and visually presentable as well. You can even enjoy a better work-life balance since these tools will ease the long-drawn research.

research tools

These research tools can help free up precious time to concentrate on your PhD dissertation-writing. Source: Marc Wattrelot/AFP

Helena Hartmann – currently obtaining her PhD at the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Unit in Vienna, Austria – has compiled a useful list of research tools for PhD students. Many have found the list infinitely helpful (“superb,” “made my day”) and that is why these 10 top research tools that every PhD student needs are highlighted here in no particular order.

Research Tool 1: Journal Rater 

Have you ever struggled to choose a journal to send your research paper because when you are not sure which journal has good or bad reviews? The Journal Rater by @PhDVoice does that tiring guess-work for you.

This easily accessible database has ratings about the quality of the reviewers, the speed of the peer-review and publishing process and whether you should submit to a particular journal, among others. You can even include your comments and experiences, and choose to be anonymous as well; the best part is you know exactly which journals are great to submit.

Research Tool 2: Connected Papers

When you are doing a literature review and want to find connections between published papers, Connected Papers by @ConnectedPapers can help you do that. By entering a typical paper there, they will show a visual graph of similar papers in your field.

The more you explore, the more likely you can see trends, popular works and dynamics in your field. With more new papers published every day, Connected Papers helps you keep abreast of these important papers; you can also access their Prior Works to search for ancestor works in your field and Derivative Works for literature reviews of your field.

Research Tool 3: Citation Diversity Statement

Citation bias means having a tendency for a research investigation that shows benefit to be quoted more than those neutral or negative ones. Another definition is a scientist tending to cite research articles published in their preferred journals more frequently.

Checking and clearly indicating the proportion of male and female first and last-name authors can be a tiring. Using this citation diversity statement by Zurn et al is a helpful tool to reduce citation bias; you can easily append this simple and effective statement to your paper as well.

Research Tool 4: CRediT

CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) aims to recognise individual author contributions while reducing authorship disputes and enhancing collaboration. Through CRediT, authors can accurately show and describe their varied contributions to the published work.

Here’s how it works: the corresponding author should confirm the descriptions are accurate and that all the authors have agreed on this; the various roles are listed according to the categories. The CRediT statement should be given at the time of submission – this will then appear above the acknowledgement section of the published paper.

Research Tool 5: Unpaywall – OpenAccess

Unpaywall is an open database of 30,887,744 free scholarly articles from over 50,000 publishers and repositories. That means you can easily find, track and use this Open Access content; it is completely legal.

Unpaywall uses the DOI function to search for articles published in peer-reviewed journals; in fact Unpaywall has already been integrated into many worldwide library systems, search platforms and other information products. To use Unpaywall, go to any closed access article, click on the green button and you can get an Open Access version.

Research Tool 6: Create your own website

Any academic wanting their research and publications to be easily found should consider making a website. Hartmann found Dan Quintana’s Twitter thread tutorial on making websites easy and invaluable – see Hartmann’s website here.

In one hour, Quintana will show you how to make a website for free. All you need is a @github and @netlify account, and the downloaded @code – and your website with all your research and publications will be up and running in no time.

Research Tool 7: Excel Journal Database

If you want to have an easy compilation of your literature review sources, Stephen McQuilliam’s Excel Journal Database Webinar can help you in this aspect. In this Youtube video, McQuilliam explains step by step how to build an Excel database to organise your notes and bring them together for your writing.

Research Tool 8: APA Word Template

For researchers, having to format their papers in APA can be an arduous process. Fortunately, Nicolás F. Narvaez Linares’ tip may make many researchers sigh with relief.

In Microsoft Word, just type APA in the New Document Tab, and the APA template automatically pops up. A word of caution: this template uses the 6th edition of the APA so you may have to make some changes since the APA has now released its 7th edition.

Research Tool 9: Notion

If you have many applications and want to keep them all in one place, Hartmann considers Notion as the best one. Basically Notion acts as an all-in-one workspace – you can keep your notes, tasks, wikis and databases there in Notion.

Research Tool 10: Canva 

Finally, this design website is excellent if you have to prepare slides and figures for your presentations. The free, professional and nice designs can make your presentations more visually appealing.