While completing my PhD one of the things I found most interesting and simultaneously difficult, was conducting research. Completing the classwork and courses was exciting because it gave me a glimpse into my field from a scientific viewpoint, but I found that conducting research required more than just learning new information.

Whether you are pursuing a grant, completing your thesis, or dissertation, or some personal goal, effective research will make the difference. So the question is, how to make it easier than it typically is?

First things first – you need to memorialize your  work product. What does that mean? It’s a fancy way of saying save everything you read or write as a digital file and back it up. Why?

a) To reduce the need to remember reams of information
b) To create a digital archive (library) to maintain your work effort
c) To allow for quick and easy retrieval of information
d) To increase your efficiency
e) To provide peace of mind

Once you’ve saved your work using one or more methods discussed in the video, you’re ready to dig into your research. There are countless ways that have been suggested for beginning a research project, so use whatever works for you.

You’ll want to begin mining for information relevant to your topic using some free tools. The following is a short list of tools I use and a brief explanation as to how they can help.

1. Paper.li

What this free ‘tool’ will do is act as a virtual assistant for you. Once you set it up, it will scour the Internet for you, and create an online newspaper that aggregates information from across the web on your specific topic. 

Paper.li is similar to Google Alerts, which gives you topics of interest sent to your email as it happens. The difference is that with Paper.li  you select the different content sources you want to search. In this way you can focus your search to very specific topics of interests.

2. Google Alerts

Google alert

Similar to Paper.li you can set Google Alerts to conduct very specific searches for detailed information, which will be sent to your email box, as it happens, or on a daily or weekly basis. Click this link to see a video on how to make Google Alerts into your personal virtual research assistant!

3. Qiqqa


Qiqqa is a freeware and freemium reference management software that allows you to collect and store PDF and other types of documents in one location. Then with a couple of mouse clicks you can add citations to your research paper, and create a bibliography or reference page instantly! Click this link to see Qiqqa in action before you install it.

So there you have it – 5  important reasons for memorializing your work, and 3 free tools to help you mine for research information.

If you found this tip (or any of the previous ones) helpful, you could do me a huge favor by posting an honest review, and sharing it with your network of friends and colleagues!

You can always email me as well!
Dr. Matthews