Finding and managing relevant information
As part of the “23 Things” programme, this week I’m going to write about some information sources and the way I manage the relevant publications I find.
Nowadays, the first thing you usually do when you want to know something about a specific topic is “google” it. It is quite common to find the first few links related to Wikipedia articles, as this tool has become one of the most extensive encyclopaedias in the world thanks to the contribution of online users. Wikipedia allows people to read and edit the articles and, in case there is nothing on the subject you are interested in, you can always be the first one to write about it!
Due to the fact that anybody can modify the articles, users have to be very careful when using the information extracted from this online encyclopaedia. However, it doesn’t mean that you should avoid using it! As a matter of fact, I strongly recommend Wikipedia for looking for some initial references. For example, last year I worked on a project with regards to the split Hopkinson Pressure Bar test and I did a deep literature review on the topic. Today, I typed “hopkinson bar” in Wikipedia and, despite the fact that there wasn’t too much information, the content was a great summary for people who just need a quick introduction about it (I won’t explain what it is, so you can now go and look for it on Wikipedia!). In addition, at the bottom part of the website you can always find useful references that may help you when trying to find more specific details. On the other hand, as it was previosuly mentioned, we have to be aware that some contents may not be 100% correct. For that reason, it is a good idea to check the tab “Talk” which you can use to see what other people think about the article or even propose corrections or future sections. Hence you can identify potential source of errors. Besides, that tab can be of extreme important when reading information about a very wide topic, as there are more chances of finding mistakes.
Another source of information can be podcasts and presentations. In these terms, I have been downloading podcasts for a while, basically to be informed of what is going on in my home country. There are a lot of different podcasts depending on the topic you’re interested in. For instance, you can find a huge amount of audios for specific sports and general news. On the other hand, in my particular case, there are no podcasts about my specific research area. However, I usually download some of the podcasts from different radio stations regarding the automotive world. The reason for this is that they always invite experts which are usually engineers and they talk about technical aspects of the cars, including materials, electronics, manufacturing processes… If you want to start looking for some podcasts, I recommend searching in the websites of different radio stations, iTunes or iVoox. Apart from that, thanks to 23 Things I have finally looked into another tool which a lot of people have recommended me for years: TED. This time I found a few interesting videos related to my research, such as the one presented by Peter van Manen (McLaren engineer) about how Formula 1 technology can help people. What is more, I also looked for some presentations at SlideShare and it worked surprisingly good! I actually found great presentations regarding the simulation of car body structures using composite materials (Audi) and the Finite Element modelling of composites.
Finally, I would like to write about some tools for managing references. Although there are people who prefer the “old school” referencing (i.e. doing it manually), there are some incredibly useful applications which are extremely easy to use. So far I have been using RefWorks, which is an online tool, where you can select the type of reference (e.g. journal article, book, presentation…) as well as the referencing style (e.g. Harvard style). Last year I also used Mendeley while I was studying at Cranfield University, but now that I have tried RefWorks I feel more confident with this last one as I can check my references wherever I am in a simple way. Now, thanks to 23 Things, I know there are many other reference tools which are available online, such as Zotero or Colwiz, and I will definitely give them a try to see how they work and, depending on what I see, I may move from RefWorks to one of them!