Thing 02: Collaboration tools

Scholars in a study
Abraham Delfos, The Scholars (1798).
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Welcome back to 23 Research Things, with the first of two posts exploring tools to help you collaborate with other researchers. Next week, we’ll be examining in detail three major file-sharing tools: CloudStor+, Google Drive and Dropbox. This week, though, we take a slightly broader approach and look at the collaborative potential of three very different applications. Thing 02 has been written by Bernard Lyons, Electronic Services Librarian (Law Library) in collaboration with Hero McDonald, Arts Librarian.

Getting Started

This week, we look at three tools that can be used collaboratively to share information and ideas. Each tool is very different in function but they all illustrate the way in which digital applications are increasingly designed to allow for collaborative use.



Refworks is a web-based reference management tool, with attachment capabilities, and with RefShare, a module that allows you to share individual references or your entire database. Refworks is free for University of Melbourne staff and students and you can access it here using your university username and password. You will then need to create an account with Refworks itself. There is a limit of 20 MB file size per attachment and 200 MB per account. Refworks interacts with Word, Excel and various information databases and library catalogues.



We looked at this note-taking app last week, but it’s worth remembering its sharing capabilities. The basic version is free; the premium version is US$5.50 per month or US$47.00 per year. With a free account you can upload up to 60 MB of data each month, with unlimited storage; the premium account lets you upload up to 1 GB of data each month, again with unlimited storage. It works across various platforms: Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows and can be used alongside Word, Excel, email and RSS feeds.



Prezi is a web-based presentation tool. You can start a free account by signing up with your email address. Paid accounts are also available (US$4.92 and US$13.25 per month), which allow for greater storage capacity, private presentations and ‘premium’ support. Prezi can be also be used on the iPad and it can work alongside PowerPoint.


Using these tools collaboratively

Refworks is a reference management tool; it stores, organises and manages your references, and is website based. It will also insert them into MS Word for you, and converts them to your citation style. It comes with Refshare, a module that has a variety of options for sharing references with multiple people. It also allows you to share attachments with those references (though always make sure you have the appropriate rights to share that material). You can also share your preferences and citations and you can set the level of access that others have to your reference library: users can have read-only access, you can allow them to comment, or you can give them full access, allowing them to add to or edit your library. For researchers writing a document together, especially if they are in different locations, it’s a great collaborative tool for sharing references. RefWorks also works in conjunction with Google Drive.

Try this: Look at some of these videos to see how easy it is to collaborate with RefWorks.


As we saw last week, Evernote allows you to take notes, organise them into notebooks, bookmark useful webpages, annotate and highlight them, and make useful lists. It’s also a great way of sharing your notes, allowing you to send them via email to a colleague, and you can also share links.

Try this: Have a look at Evernote’s video on Notebook sharing.


Prezi is a zooming presentation tool that uses animation to produce presentation slides that are far more dynamic than anything possible with PowerPoint. We’ll be looking at Prezi in more depth in Thing 12 but for this week you should note that, being web-based, multiple people can log in to Prezi at the same time. You can thus collaborate in real time on a single presentation with colleagues across the world: very useful for international conferences. It also allows for online editing, uploading of image and video files and inserting them into a presentation.

Try this: have a look at this sophisticated prezi and see what you think compared to Powerpoint!

Bernard Lyons, with Hero McDonald.


These are just a few of the many digital tools that can be used collaboratively. I must confess that personally I haven’t needed to work collaboratively on my research. I’m in the final stages of my PhD, so I’m more likely to climb the stairs of my ivory tower and firmly lock the door behind me; there’s a great—if solitary—view from the top. However, I did co-author an article recently, which in hindsight could have been done more efficiently. My colleague and I tended to email drafts back and forth and it was at times a slow process. Next week, we’ll be looking in detail at some useful file sharing tools that I certainly could have made use of. Do you regularly undertake research in collaboration with others? If so, which apps or programs have you found most useful?

Mark Shepheard

5 Responses to “Thing 02: Collaboration tools”

  1. paul g says:

    I was surprised that you didn’t mention the ol’ Google Docs in this blog. Sure, a bit clunky, but certainly worth a mention when you are discussion collaboration:

    I’ve used it extensively with colleagues across the globe, and paired with Google Drive or Dropbox, it works well for our projects. Well, okay, a bit clunky but it does work!

    1. Mark says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the comment. You’ll be pleased to know Google Docs/Google Drive is coming up next week, along with Dropbox and CloudStor+. Was using Google Drive just this weekend to share dynamic documents that needed regular updating; it worked very well.

  2. Caitlin says:

    Zotero too can be good for sharing through ‘Zotero Groups’ (it might also be coming up in a later ‘thing’).

    1. Mark says:

      Thanks for the tip, Caitlin. Zotero should be coming up in Thing 16.

  3. Lee says:

    I coauthored a paper with a couple of mates and one of the hardest thing was managing the references. We are working in different institutions. Next time I might try a shared refworks or online endnote library… Can you share an endnote library?

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