Week 8: Research tools – Notetaking

This post is very personal as I have recently had my life transformed by notetaking software.

I started as Information Skills Librarian at the end of August. I was itinerant for the first few weeks in post and, necessity being the mother invention, decided to try out a new way of working. I didn’t want to lug around notebooks and also needed somewhere new to write reminders as I didn’t have a desk to cover in post-it notes.

Meg recommended that I try Evernote and I haven’t looked back. Although sometimes I do forget and take my notebook along; old habits die hard!

There are however, other tools available, and so here are little summaries of each. There is a useful chart comparing these and other tools in a blog entry from Zapier.


There is a desktop and online version, plus an app. The primary function is to store notes. You arrange each note (up to 25MB and 100,000 in total) into ‘notebooks’ (maxmum 250). There are also alarm and checklist functions, web clipper, you can add images and audio files and keep handwritten notes. It is all searchable to help you find it again quickly. You can also share notes and notebooks with others

The free account has a monthly limit on the amount of data that you can upload (sync) per month and the overall amount of storage space.


This is Microsoft’s notetaking software, so obviously works well with Office and you may already have it on your computer. The functions it offers are very similar and you can also access it anywhere. It particularly highlights the facility to make handwritten notes. If you start using Evernote and then change your mind, Onenote lets you migrate content over so that you don’t lose anything.


Not surprisingly, there is a solution from Google too. It looks more simple and is aimed at the post-it note brigade. If you want to keep longer, more detailed notes, the sticky is linked to a Google doc. It foregrounds its audio feature for capturing your thoughts.

There are several other tools out there for writing longer documents too. Here are just two:


This is an online LaTeX and Rich Text collaborative writing and publishing tool. It is aimed at the scientific community with a view improve the workflow of writing, editing and publishing. In addition to the LaTeX version, there is a WYSIWYG editor; a structured, fully typeset document is produced automatically as you type. It is used by a range of institutions and there are lots of templates to choose from.

The basic version (1GB storage) of this is free. The university has a trial of the Pro version until 17 December 2017.

Scrivener – cost involved

Aimed at writing a manuscript, it lets you write in small chucks that can be rearranged in any order. You can tag sections and these synopses can be treated as separate documents that you can use to get an overview of your thesis as a whole. You can also store your notes, audio and images in it too. Do consider data protection issues though when storing research data in online. There is a free 30 day trial available, followed by a one-off fee, plus the need for updates, at a discounted cost.

Image credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


Week 8: Resources of the week – Audio-visual Collections

There has been a focus on the written word in the past blogs and so to end the term, it seems only right to acknowledge the significant resources that Cambridge subscribes to for still and moving images, as well as audio. These can be research resources in their own right or used supplement the reading you are doing.

There is a very comprehensive LibGuide to help highlight these resources, but if you know what you are after, they are all available on the a-z database listing. You can search for other individual material (such as a DVD or CD) by limiting your search results on iDiscover on the right-hand side under resource type (click ‘show more’ if necessary) to ‘audio-visual’.

Here are a few highlights:

Still images

  • ARTstor – more than 1.9 million high-quality images for education and research from contributors world-wide, with a range of tools to support sharing and collaboration and construction of presentations
  • Cambridge Digital Library Digitised material and research outputs from the University of Cambridge. Many have been highlighted for their historical importance, uniqueness, beauty, fascinating content, or personal associations.
  • VADS (Visual Arts Data Service) provides access to a wide range of visual art collections, with over 100,000 images freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK.


Moving images

  • British Film Institute InView  includes over 2,000 non-fiction film and television titles from the 20th and early 21st centuries. The items are drawn from the BFI National Archive and came originally from the project partners: the BBC, Fremantle Media, Open Media, the National Archives, and the UK Parliament.
  • EUscreen offers thousands of film and television clips, photos, audio recordings and documents from audiovisual archives all over Europe. It creates access to the most significant European events in the 20th and 21st century.
  • Voices of science – video clips from the British Library exploring life stories in environmental science, British technology and engineering from 1940 to the present.



  • British Library Sounds presents 50,000 recordings and their associated documentation from the British Library’s extensive collections of sound recordings  from around world and covers a wide range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds. Many recordings can be listened to by the general public, but staff and students at licensed UK higher and further education institutions can listen to all recordings online and download the majority of them for academic use.
  • Independent Radio News audio archive A contemporary audio archive from the only UK radio news archive outside the BBC

Image credit: Photo by Matthieu A on Unsplash


Week 7: Research Tools – for presentations

Following on from last week’s post on copyright-free images, it seemed sensible to highlight a few more tools that might help you when giving a presentation. There are lots of different types of presentation and so it is difficult to generalise. You might be giving  an hour-long lecture, a 20 minutes conference presentation, or a Pecha Kucha at a workshop (20 slides for 20 seconds each). You might be speaking to peers or trying to communicate your research to the general public. Each will require a different approach, possibly tool and definitely level of detail.

This post doesn’t intend to give you tips about delivering your presentation; just how to work with the tools.


Let’s assume for the sake of this post, that we are talking about a 20-40 minute talk to an informed audience.

  • keep it clear and simple: a single concept per slide
  • limit the number of bullet points and words on a slide – they are not a script for you and people don’t have time or the inclination to read lots of text. Use it to pull out key points for your audience
  • keep text large and in a clear font
  • use images where possible to make a point. Your audience is far more likely to remember something visual (see last week’s post).
  • there are different philosophies to how many slides you should use. Some like to limit the number (you may have heard to the 10/20/30 approach of 10 slides per 20 minutes using a font of no less than 30 points). Others change slides with almost every sentence; each slide is very simple and usually contains just a single image and a few key words
  • practice with your chosen software, especially if it is new
  • have a plan in case the technology doesn’t work!

Tools to create a presentation

Powerpoint – this is the most popular tool for communicating your presentation to an audience. There is lots of customization, but you do need to have a good sense of structure; it won’t do much for the work for you. It works well for text-based talks. It is part of Microsoft Office and so there is a cost involved, but most university and personal computers will have access.

  • Google Slides – this is a free service, available on the web so that you can access and edit your presentation anywhere. You can also edit it offline. There are lots of existing themes, templates and fonts. It is also great for working collaboratively with peers and colleagues. It works with PowerPoint and looks pretty similar.
  • LibreOffice Impress – from the providers of the free and open-source Office suite. Explore this for drawing, diagramming and imaging tools.

Most of the following have a free version with limited number of styles or files; they’ll ask you to upgrade for greater flexibility.

  • Canva – this is a graphic design tool, one element of which includes free templates and themes for presentations. It has a very simple interface and uses a drag and drop approach to constructing your presentation.
  • Visme – The free version is limited to 3 presentations a month. It has an emphasis on “beautiful visuals”.
  • Adobe Spark – a storytelling app with a very easy to learn interface. Great for merging video and images into a presentation. Limited text editing features.
  • Prezi – All the range a few years ago, you couldn’t move for a motion-filled presentation. Prezi delivers a distinctive style of presenting, navigating around a single document, something very different to traditional slide transitions that you’ll find in PowerPoint. To get is free you need to sign up to the EDU standard package; but this is limited in what it offers.

For the big day

Make sure that you have your presentation in a variety of formats such as online, on USB, on your own device, and on paper!

Here are a few more tools to consider:

  • Slidedog – this is presentation software.. You can combine PowerPoints, Prezis, PDFs into a playlist so you don’t have to switch between software during your talk.
  • Slideshare – this hosts presentations for you to share with your audience. You can also deliver your presentation directly from the site.


*Image credit: Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash  https://unsplash.com/photos/bzdhc5b3Bxs

Week 7: Resource Focus – Newspaper databases

Read all about it!

There are a huge range of full text databases paid for by the university, which give you access to a fantastic range of historic and contemporary resources. These may be used by researchers across the arts, humanities and social sciences for their work, while staff and students in other disciplines may also wish to make use of these subscriptions to access daily news that is otherwise behind a paywall. In these cases too, don’t search for the newspaper on the internet, use a database.

All 52 databases are listed in iDiscover, so if you know what you are looking for, this is a good place to start.

Many individual newspaper articles are also indexed in iDiscover. Select ‘Articles and online resources’ from the Quick Search screen and then limit your search by ‘Newspaper Articles’ on the right-hand side. Click on an article title to link to the full-text. To search within a specific newspaper, it is best to use a database.

You can browse these by viewing the Newspapers LibGuide, which divides them into news archives and those for current news. Alternatively you can limit the A-Z listing to ‘newspapers, news sites’. Click on ‘All database types’ to get this option.

On the LibGuide, over over the ‘i’ symbol to find out the coverage of a particular database. This is really useful for the archives.

If you are looking for an article published recently, a good database to start with is Factiva or, for UK news, LexisNexis Butterworths. The latter also indexes a lot of legal resources, so much sure you select ‘News’ from the grey menu across the top. This lets you specify by publication, or conduct a search across all titles.

*Image credit: Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/_Zua2hyvTBk


Week 6: Research Tools – Copyright-free images

The last few entries have focused on social media. One of the best ways to get followers to read your Tweet or blog entry is to include an image and make it look appealing. Images are also key to presentations that you are delivering. You may even need to include them in publications or your thesis.

In many cases you’ll have your own photographs that you want to include. But if not, you need to make sure you consider the copyright of an image that you take off the web. To be sure that you have permission to use an image, you need to check whether it has a Creative Commons Licence. These come in a variety of forms and include some or all of the following requirements:

  • Attribution – Must acknowledge the author of the work
  • Attribution – Must acknowledge the author of the work
  • Non-commercial – Only the original author can make money
  • ShareAlike – New creations must be shared under the same rules

It is really important that you check what you are allowed to do with an image BEFORE you use it. Remember that artworks are different again and require permission from both the artist (or copyright holder, which may be a museum, gallery or individual) and the person who took the photograph.

There are lots of free sites you can use to get images and the following are all under a Creative Commons Zero Licence (CC0). This means that you can use them without credit (though it is good practice to do so), for personal or commercial purposes. You mustn’t, however, portray identifiable people in a bad light; for information see https://www.pexels.com/photo-license/ 

There are other free resources, such as Flickr  which give access to photos with a wide variety of CC licences; you must check individual photographs to see how you can use them.

*Image credit: Photo by James Donovan on Unsplash  https://unsplash.com/photos/kFHz9Xh3PPU

Week 6: Resource Focus – Theses

A fantastic way to learn about the most up to date research, is to read a recently passed thesis. If you are studying for a Masters by Research or a PhD, you can be assured that the authors have recently surveyed a significant proportion of the literature too. They will provide new sources for you to read and fresh insights to consider. There are lots of key resources to help you find relevant research in this medium.

UK Theses

The first place to start is Apollo, home to all University of Cambridge theses. There are over 2500 theses at the moment, including that written by Professor Stephen Hawkings. These are open access (freely available), unless an embargo has been applied. This might be because of sensitive data or if a product is waiting for a patent. These are as useful for looking at to see the layout of a thesis in your subject area, as they are for content and references.

EThOS is the repository to use if you want to search across more UK universities. Records date back to 1800, there are 142 institutions listed on the site, records for nearly 500,000 theses and the full-text of more than 160,000 of these is openly available. If the thesis you need hasn’t been digitised, you can request that it is scanned, though there may be a fee for this.

International Theses

Open Access Theses and Dissertations is an international portal for over 4,000,000 theses.

DART  is a European Portal with nearly 750,000 open access research theses from 611 Universities in 28  countries.

NDLTD  The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations has records for over 5,000,000 documents from around the world.

OAIster is a catalogue of Open Access resources. Choose Thesis in the Content Type drop-down menu.

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, is a subscription service, which means you need to connect via Raven. This provides abstracts for theses from 1743 to the present. If you find a thesis which you are interested in, the Inter-Library Loan service may be able to get a copy for you for a fee.

Week 5: Research Tools – managing social media

We’ve talked about how social media can play a role in your research methods, boost your profile, and act as way of connecting with peers around the world. But we also highlighted the vast swathes of information out there and how overwhelming that can be, especially for a time-pressed researcher.

Luckily there are lots of tools that can help to manage your social media accounts. They bring information to a single ‘dashboard’, so that you don’t need to check into multiple places every day. In addition, they help structure posts and break it down into separate themes, rather than having to scroll through one long list.

Here we’ll focus on just three of these tools.


As the name implies, this is just for Twitter. It is very easy to use, with a single menu on the left hand side. You can build collections, lists, and save searches to help manage what you find. It is visually quite different to Twitter and allows you to create separate feeds for different topics, events, and hashtags, which is really useful if you want to pull out all the tweets from a particular conference you are following. Also, it is great if you manage multiple accountsYou can tweet, view and follow from one dashboard; it does away with the need to log in and out.


This tool allows you to search across multiple forms of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, as well as the web. You select the posts, images and videos most relevant to you and store the results in a ‘story’ format. This can be chronological or thematic. It is great way of filtering what you find and storing it in a meaningful way, especially useful if you are using social media as part of your research methodology. If you’ve created something you want to share, you can embed it on a webpage or blog.


This is aimed at businesses that want to manage their many social media accounts (and so you’ll see that they want them to sign up to plans that cost money), but it works equally well for individuals (for whom it is free for up to three profiles). Set up streams based on keywords or hashtags and you can organise these into tabs to help manage things even further. The streams constantly refresh themselves so that you don’t have to repeat searches for relevant information.