Best Academic Research Tools

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Academic research requires a lot of dedication and diligence. From reading the literature to writing up the first draft of your paper, engaging in academic research means that you are in an ongoing process of learning and growth. The goal is to produce insightful and rigorous research and contribute to the development of human knowledge. 

While my academic background is in the social sciences and more specifically educational studies, I believe that regardless of your discipline, social sciences or natural sciences, the research process, structurally speaking, is more or less the same. For mobile apps check out best academic research apps for research students.



Academic research tools



You start by identifying a problem you want to solve, based on this problem you highlight the knowledge gap your research will fill in, you create and apply an ad hoc methodological approach that outlines the theories and methods to use to collect and analyze data, you conduct a thorough scientific analysis of data, and finally you put together conclusions to share with the world.

Web technologies can be of tremendous help in this regard. There are numerous academic research tools that can help you in each stage of the research process. From research organization tools and academic research softwares to word editors and reference managers, you can definitely take your academic research to the next level by making web technologies part of the way you go about doing your research.

In this post, I share with you a collection of some of the best academic research tools to try out. These are all tools I use in my own academic research. I know there are several other academic research tools that are missing from this list. If it happens that you use any academic research tool other than the ones mentioned here please share with us on our social media platforms.


1. Academic search engines  

As an academic researcher, you will obviously be doing a lot of online search. Mainstream search engines such as Google or Bing won't be of much help. What you need is access to academic search engines. These are engines that allow you to search a huge database of academic literature from peer reviewed journal articles to academic books and theses. Some good academic search engines I have been using and recommending to research students over the past few years include :

  • Google Scholar
  • WorldCat
  • ERIC
  • ScienceDirect
  • Academia
  • RefSeek
  • Base
  • Semantic Scholar

I have already reviewed each of these academic search engines. You can access and read more about them in this post: Google Scholar Alternatives for Academics and Student Researchers.


2. Best websites to find academic books  

There are various online platforms that offer access to academic books and some of them are free. Popular among these platforms are Internet Archive, Google Books, and Open Library. Internet Archive is a non-profit library where you can search for and access millions of educational resources such as free books, movies, music, websites, audio recordings, videos, images, television programs, and many more.

Open Library offers information about books and provides links to help users search for, discover, borrow, and read these materials from the book collections in Internet Archive. Open Library also links to WorldCat allowing users to easily find books that they can borrow from nearby libraries.


Academic research tools



As for Google Books, this is a service that allows you to search one of the most comprehensive indexes of full-text books in the world. You can use Google Books to 'read, download, or preview books on Google Books. If you find a book you want to read, you might be able to read it on Google Books, buy it online, or borrow it from a library.'

For links and more sources I invite you to check: 12 best websites that offer free ebooks and audiobooks.


3. Citation generation tools  

Standing on the shoulders of other researchers and citing their work in your papers is something you will be doing throughout your academic career and beyond. In fact, proper citation of sources is a skill that anyone producing any kind of writing should master. As I stated elsewhere, correct and accurate citations do not only augment the credibility of your research but also help other interested researchers stand on your shoulder as well.

There is actually a wide range of free web tools that make it easy for students to generate citations in different style formats. Some of these citation generators include: Easybib, Citefast, Mybib and Citation Generator.


4. Citation and reference managers

Generating accurate citations is only part of the picture, the other part is to be able to organize these references in ways that make it easy for you to retrieve them later. As I stated elsewhere, the last thing you would want after a strenuous writing task is a messy bibliography with missing or unorganized references. It happened to me many times and I can assure you, you will not like it when it happens to you!

To this end, I suggest that you use a reference manager to help you keep track of your references and organize research sources. Each time you cite a source in your paper make sure to save it to your reference manager. When your reference or bibliography list is ready you can then easily export or copy and paste it right into your paper or document. 

Some of the best reference managers I have used include: Zotero, Mendeley, Endnote, RefWorks, and MyBib. To learn more about these tools check out: best tools to organize citations and references.


5. Writing tools for research  

When it comes to writing your research papers, you need to choose a powerful writing platform that offers features to help not only with the actual writing but also with things such as planning, brainstorming, collaborating, and formatting. There are different writing tools I recommend in this regard.

Starting with Google Docs, this is definitely a great option to consider. I used it to write some of the chapters of my doctoral thesis and I only switched to Microsoft Word because my supervisor likes the track feature in Word which, as it turned out, proved extremely helpful.

Google Docs is pretty basic yet it offers powerful features, all for free. From generating table of contents to co-editing and collaborating with others on joint writing projects, Docs offers all the functionalities you need to write your paper . However, for formatting your paper, Docs is not the best place to do it. 

I recommend Microsoft Word. It has way more advanced features that will definitely help you format your paper properly. There is also a third writing tool called scrivener which I use on and off. Among Docs and Words, Scrivener offers the most advanced features ideal for writing long research papers, essays, chapters, and books. Here are few resources to help you learn more about each of the three tools



Academic research tools


6. Presentation tools  

Presentations are part and parcel of your work as an academic researcher. You will be creating tons of presentations to share in conferences, webinars, and other professional meetings. Some of the best presentation tools I have been using over the last few years are Google Slides, Keynote, PowerPoint, and recently Canva.

All of these platforms are simple and easy to use. They offer various pre-made presentation templates and allow you to customize them the way you want. Canva is a recent addition to my list. I used to use it only for creating infographics and posters but since I started tinkering with its presentation editor it has become one of my best alternatives to the previously mentioned presentation tools. To learn more about what each of these tools offer check out:  best presentation tools for teachers and students.


7. Video creation tools  

As is the case with creating presentations, creating videos is another skill you need to learn to use in your work as an academic researcher. There are numerous video creation tools that enable you to create professional videos using simply a drag and drop interface. No prior video design knowledge is required. You can record your clips, edit them the way you like, insert annotations, add text to videos, and share them online or use them in your online conferences and webinars.

Some of the best video creating and editing tools I recommend for academic researchers include Wevideo, Flexclip, Veed, Camtasia, Kapwing, and Canva video editor. For recording your computer screen and creating screencasts and step-by-step tutorials I recommend using any of these tools: Loom, Snagit, Screencastify, or Screenomatic. For more video resources check out these posts: best tools to create videos and best tools to add text to videos.


8. Note taking tools   

Effective note taking is key to your success as an academic researcher. Make it a habit to note down key ideas from sources and materials you read. Our memories are fallible and limited. You certainly don’t want to trust your memory, especially with data that needs to be accurately cited and referenced. Capture your notes and thoughts  in text or audio and keep them organized for easy access.

Some of my favorite note taking tools that will help you capture, organize, and share notes include Google Keep, OneNote, and Evernote. For recording audio notes I recommend  Voice Memos and Voice Recorder. For generating transcripts of audio notes, you can try any of these audio transcription apps.


9. Annotation tools  

Annotations go hand in hand with note taking. When it comes to academic reading (and all types of reading for that matter), being able to annotate and interact with your text is key to improving your reading comprehension and information recall. Annotating involves adding your comments on the margin, highlighting key points, and underlining central ideas. 


Academic research tools



There are various tools that can help you with your annotations. For annotating web pages and online sources I recommend using InserLearning and Weava. For annotating PDFs my only go to tool is the mighty Acrobat reader. I particularly use its premium version as it offers way more features (e.g. filling forms, adding e-signatures, converting PDF to Word and many more). If you read and annotate on mobile devices I recommend these annotation apps: PDF Expert, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Notability. For more resources check out:
Best Web Annotation Tools and also Best Apps for Annotating PDFs .


9. Tools I used as PhD student  

If you are interested to learn about the tools I used while I was doing my PhD in educational studies check out  Best EdTech Tools that Helped During my PhD Journey. Besides featuring my favorite digital tools, I also included practical tips to help those of you planning to do a PhD make the best of this amazing scholarly journey.


Academic research tools



10. Research methodology  

Few years ago I compiled a list of what I believe are some of the best research methodology books that should be required readings for all research students. These seminal texts cover the entire research process and offer researchers  the required theoretical insights to help them understand the different research paradigms, how to craft a rigorous research methodology, learn about the various research methods, understand techniques of data collection, and explore ways to analyze research data. If you haven’t already seen it, check it in Best Research Methodology Books for Student Researchers.