Research tools that make your life easier

I had some fun over at Real Scientists DE this week and wanted to use this opportunity to ask researchers, which tools they find the most useful to add to my list.

GitHub |R Markdown |Unpaywall | Zotero | Overleaf | ORCiD | Google Scholar Alerts and Feedly |
Preprint Servers/Repositories | Podcasts | Twitter

1. GitHub

What it is: GitHub is “a web-based hosting service for version control using Git” (Wikipedia). An open source alternative would be GitLab (here’s a comparison of the two).

Why it’s great for research: It increases research reproducibility and transparency, facilitates collaboration, enables you to get feedback early on (or whenever you’re ready for it). GitHub takes a while getting used to (I am becoming more familiar it at the moment), but everybody swears it is worth it and wishes they had started sooner. Take a look at the Open Science MOOC Module 5: Open Research Software and Open Source to get you started.

2. R Markdown

R Markdown

What it is: R Markdown is a format for writing reproducible, dynamic reports. R Markdown files are written in Markdown, which is a simple markup language for formatting plain text. This Cheat Sheet gives an overview of how it works.

Why it’s great for research: R Markdown documents allow you to easily weave text and code together and are fully reproducible. You can also get your documents in various formats like HTML, PDF, or Word.

3. Unpaywall


What it is: Unpaywall is a browser plugin that enables you to easily (i.e., instantly) find Open Access versions of otherwise paywalled research papers.

Why it’s great for research: That should be pretty much self-explanatory, but on top of that Unpaywall also only gathers content from legal sources.

4. Zotero

What it is: Zotero is an open source citation manager.

Why is it great for research? When I first started using Zotero I thought “How did I ever live without you?” because it makes it ridiculously easy to keep track of your references and format them correctly. Zotero comes as an online platform, stand-alone software, browser plugin, and Word addon – and they all sync!! The browser plugin lets you collect articles with one click, which you can then organize through the Web or desktop app, and easily add to your Word document (with your preferred citation style).

5. Overleaf (and LaTeX)

Overleaf Editor [<a href="">Source</a>]
Overleaf Editor [Source]
What it is: Overleaf is a tool for real-time collaborative writing online. Overleaf documents are written in LaTeX, a typesetting system, or rich text mode.

Why it’s great for research: Overleaf provides a range of different templates, such as academic journals, project and lab reports, and theses, and makes formatting a breeze (once you understand how it works). Another cool feature is that you can see the final version of your paper as you type. Citation managers like Zotero, CiteULike, and Mendeley are also integrated with the writing tool.

6. ORCiD

My ORCiD Profile
My ORCiD Profile

What it is: ORCiD provides you with a persistent digital identifier to distinguish you from other researchers.

Why it’s great for research: ORCiD is not just great to identify researchers, which can be difficult with common names or name changes (e.g., due to marriage), but it also gives you a place to showcase your academic profile. Plus, it is super easy to add information to your profile, such as education, employment, publications, funding, and contact details.

7. Google Scholar Alerts and Feedly

My Google Scholar Alerts
My Google Scholar Alerts

What it is: Through Google Scholar you can set alerts to receive notifications about new content based on your chosen keywords. Feedly lets you create RSS feeds, updating in real-time, for any news source, blogs, or journals.

Why it’s great for research: Both of these tools are really useful to stay on top of current research in your field.

8. Preprint Server/Repositories

<a href="">SocArXiv</a>

What it is: Preprint servers and repositories are online archives that allow you to make your research papers Open Access by depositing a copy of the manuscript (Check Sherpa/Romeo to find out which version you are allowed to share).

Why it’s great for research: Self-archiving enables you to reach the widest possible audience, increases your chances of getting cited, and receive feedback early on. Social scientists, take a look at SocArXiv!

9. Podcasts

The Ezra Klein Show
The Ezra Klein Show

What it is: Podcasts are basically radio shows on the internet.

Why it’s great for research: Personally, I find podcast awesome for a range of reasons: they are my favorite running companion (and let me find my natural speed easily), they inform me about topics I previously was unfamiliar with, they reignited my love for political science (which got a bit damped after the 2016 US elections), and they are great to unwind. Here are some of my favorite podcasts: The Ezra Klein Show, Serial, FoundMyFitness by Rhonda Patrick, The Tim Ferris Show, and Worldly. (I’m always happy to learn about new podcasts!!

10. Twitter

<a href="">My Twitter Profile</a>
My Twitter Profile

What it is: A social media platform.

Why it’s great for research: Twitter is great to disseminate your research, to learn about current developments, to find collaborators, as well as for public and interdisciplinary engagement.



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