Tuesday, 23 July 2013

8 Great Tools for Academic Rsearch

The single, most important task of a graduate student is to do research. Research can be painful at certain times. Therefore, you want to make sure you have all the good tools with you to help you out. I will present you with my 8 favorite tools for research, which I find it very useful.

Here are the 8 great tools that I recommend you to try it out.

1. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is a great tool for you to search for paper (i.e. it is material gathering tool). It has a huge database of paper, combined with Google's core search algorithm, the search result that it returns is mostly very satisfying. It also provides the number of citations of a paper. This allows you to find important papers in a particular field very quickly. For more information on how to use it, read the following post which I have written.

2. Mendeley Desktop
Mendeley Desktop is a bibliography tool, which helps one to manage references and papers. Once you gather your materials in a folder, you can add it into Mendeley and it will (sometimes) fill out the paper information required for reference. Therefore, you don't need to type in your references manually. The best part is you can easily export references to Bibtex or Words, making it the best tool for reference management. You just have to give it a try!

3. Dropbox
Whichever stage you are with your research, storing your files in Dropbox is always a great idea. First of all, it guarantees you will always have a backup in the cloud. This also means that you can always download an important document from their site directly (you don't need the program). Here is how Dropbox works - it installs a program in your computer and create a folder. What set it apart from its competitor is its robust file syncing algorithm. I have used it so far and I have not seen it making dreadful mistake. If it thinks something might go wrong, it will make a backup of the older files. For those who have multiple computers, it is a great tool to allow to work across different computers.

For engineers, scientists and mathematicians, I am pretty you have heard of MATLAB. For those who haven't, MATLAB is a great software to perform numeric computation, graph plotting, data analysis and more. You can viewed of it as an enhanced version of Microsoft Excel. For advance usage of MATLAB, you do need to know some programming. But if you want to generate great graphs and plots, this is an excellent tool to use. Other than that, you can use it to find mean and standard deviation of large bunch of data. Whatever numeric computation you want to do, MATLAB is your friend! Here is a simple video to help you get started with plotting.

This is a tool for researchers that requires math in the research. MAPLE is a symbolic computing software. It is not meant to do what MATLAB is good at. What is symbolic computing? It is basically computation involving algebra. MATLAB and other programming languages do arithmetic, but not this baby. It does algebraic computation. If you want to do integration, simply type in the equation you want to integrate, right click, select integrate and out pops the answer. A great tool for lazy people like me (especially when you work with a lot of math). This site is a great place to start learning about this magical tool.

6. Latex
Face it, Microsoft Words is only good for writing simple document. Making a document with balanced spacing and correct section/equation/image/citation referencing is just not what Words is good at. Therefore, some people created Latex. Formally speaking, Latex is a markup language (like HTML). Therefore, using Latex requires some programming experience. However, it is an excellent tool to create documents that requires many iterations to write it up. It also has excellent capabilities of handling equations. Typically, Latex comes with a package of compilers. You can download the package for Windows called MikTex. The following tutorial site to help you get started on how to use Latex.

7. WinEdt
Latex is only a package of compilers. Unfortunately, it does not come with a front end Graphical User Interface (GUI). To avoid using command line and Notepad to edit and compile your Latex document, you can use WinEdt. WinEdt is a GUI that helps you to write your document and compile it. The downside is it is not free, but it is not too expensive. There are other options to WinEdt. However, I like to use it a lot because it has a lot of great functionality. One of them is it can show you the references to equations, images, tables and more when you type in the command "\ref{}". This way you don't need to memorize or find the name of (section/equation/citation) references.

8. Dictionary.com App
Do you have a smartphone and wished that it can help you with research? Well, it can. You can download the Dictionary.com App (it's free). It is a dictionary and thesaurus on your phone, which is a great tool to help you with your writing (and perhaps your reading too). It has a functionality called "Thesaurus", which is a perfect tool to use just when you need another word of the same meaning which you have used too many times. I like to use it on my phone because then I don't need to switch between windows on my PC. You can still use the website version if you don't have a smartphone.

That's all I have to share. I am confident that at least one of these tools will be useful for you when you are doing research.


  1. We are creating a new tool. Check bohr.launchrock.com

    1. Seems like an interesting tool. But it would be nice if you guys included more information about what the tool is capable of doing.


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