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Preliminary Notes
Screen captures of existing solutions

Workflow Design Solution for the Junior Researcher

By Rebecca Cober, Stian Håklev, and Lixia Lin

Knowledge Community

Our design will address the challenges and opportunities faced by the junior researcher, specifically graduate students who are writing a major research paper or dissertation. Although our primary objective is to develop a workflow solution that will enable a graduate level university student to become more organized, efficient, and productive, we hope that our design will be generalizable to all students, including those at the secondary school level.


Challenges faced by the junior researcher

The junior researcher undertakes many difficult tasks throughout the lifecycle of the research process. These challenges include the dilemma of how to effectively organize a growing collection of electronically formated articles, the problem of how to efficiently acquire accurate citation data to match to these articles, and the question of how to aggregate and organize highlighted text, notes, email correspondence, tweets, and ideas. Although it is easier than ever for students to build their personal libraries of academic papers, and to share ideas through social media, the sheer volume of information can be distracting and overwhelming. Staying focused and on track, at the same time as strengthening connections with colleagues to further research interests, can be a challenging task.

Existing solutions

Currently, there are many resources available to the junior researcher that help to facilitate these tasks. For example, Papers uses an iTunes-like interface to aid in the organization of a student's electronic library. SciPlore is the first software tool that allows users to organize PDF and metadata using mind maps. A unique feature is the ability to add manual reference keys on the fly. DevonThink is a so-called "everything bucket" which lets you easily capture, store and organize PDFs, notes, and other files relevant to your research. However, there is no one solution that addresses all of the requirements of the junior researcher. Most graduate students have assembled a suite of software and social media tools that allow them to accomplish their research tasks.

Mindmapping tools can help the junior researcher to conduct research such as literature reviews and case studies. These tools support better understanding and interpretation of the research materials because they allow researchers to keep track of ideas articulated through brainstorming sessions. Potential areas of study that are overlooked or obscure can easily be identified and organized. To more fully interconnect and interrelate ideas being discussed, the tools facilitate the synthesis of raw data into coherent arguments, and allow authors to prune erroneous points from body of research, to unify and emphasize the main point, or to balance elements in a harmonious fashion.

Proposed solution

Our goal is to propose an integrated design solution that addresses the knowledge management challenges faced by the junior researcher, at the same time as encouraging the exchange and growth of new ideas among colleagues. We are calling our design idea "Researchr."

Related knowledge media themes

  • Knowledge building
  • Social media

Knowledge media used

  • Junior Researchr - fictional software
  • Social media tools, such as Twitter, Academia
  • RSS feeds
  • E-mail
  • Google Scholar
  • Electronic academic journals and publications

Design Process

Our investigative approach has been twofold: first, we wrote a future scenario of what our dream workflow solution looks like, and second, we researched and tested existing software solutions. By writing a future narrative, we were able to think deeply about the features that are most important to us for our solution; it helped us to imagine how these features could be seamlessly integrated together, Similarly, by considering the strengths and weaknesses of existing software solutions, we were able to experience first hand how software can transform workflow (see Appendix).


For our final design solution, we have created two design artefacts: a diagram that provides an overview of our proposed integrated workflow and a screen cast showing highlights of our ideal workflow scenario.

Diagram: Proposed Integrated Workflow Solution

Diagram summary
  1. Scholars obtain PDF files through a variety of channels directly into Researchr.
  2. A digital fingerprint is taken and sent to a server; metadata is identified, downloaded and matched to PDF file.
  3. If files do not have an online fingerprint, metadata can be added manually. This information is uploaded to the server, and is of benefit to all scholars in the learning community.
  4. Many researchers add highlighted text and notes to their digital files. Researchr collects and organizes these annotations, and facilitates sharing them with other researchers.
  5. Researchr uses visualizations to show the connections between papers and their authors, helping the researcher find new relevant papers.
  6. Researchr uses visualizations to show connections between highlights, notes and emails enabling the researcher to dig deeper to explore new ideas.
  7. Researchr makes recommendations for articles based on the scholar's past history and the connections that have been made by other researchers within the learning community.
  8. Researchr uses a seamless and integrated approach, combining notes, ideas, and references, making it a powerful authoring and citation management tool.


To demonstrate our design solution more concretely, constructed a screencast to show a part of our ideal solution. We created a screencast using ScreenFlow, and interleaved this with some video footage. The screencast was created using four different applications: Papers, DevonThink Pro, Tinderbox and Skim, all of which embody some of the features that we would like our ideal system to have. Through editing and sleight of hand, we made the four programs seem like one integrated program, and simulated functionality that does not exist.

The video can be seen here.

Screencast summary

  1. Student downloads academic articles to read for a graduate course, KMDI2003

Implementation issues

Currently, there is no way to match an electronic file with an online repository of citation metadata. For this to change, publishers would have to alter existing practices.

Ongoing research questions

  • What are the essential features of a tool that will further the advancement of knowledge within a community of learners?
  • How can a learning community adapt to emerging knowledge and ideas as they unfold?
  • How can one tool can address all the needs of a researcher?

This is a list of the software we explored before moving forward with our design idea.

Research desktop

Relevant literature

Andrews, S., & Barga, R. (2007). The British Library Research Information Centre (RIC), 1-8.

Cary MacMahon. Using and Sharing Online Resources in History, Classics and Archaeology. Retrieved March 29, 2011, from

Greenhow, C., & Robelia, B. (2009). Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research ? What Path Should We Take "Now." Educational Researcher, 38 (4), 246-259.

Howison, J., & Goodrum, A. (2004). Why can't I manage academic papers like MP3s? The evolution and intent of Metadata standards, UMUC Colleges, 1-17.

  • A lively discussion of the challenges inherent in managing the metadata of electronic academic publications, contrasted with music files.

Hull D, Pettifer SR, Kell DB. (2008). Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web. PLoS Comput Biol, 4(10): e1000204. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000204

Mark Bernstein. (2006). The Tinderbox Way. Eastgate Systems Inc.

Quesada, Jose. (2007). On metadata, indexing, and mucking around with PDFs. Retrieved March 29, 2011, from Academic Productivity Web site:

Rowlands, I. (2010). Social Media and Research Workflow, Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, 1-30.

Suthers, D. (2008). Empirical Studies of the Value of Conceptually Explicit Notations in Collaborative Learning, 1-23.

We took several screenshots of solutions that we found to be elegant and inspiring.
This screenshot is from Microsoft's Research desktop. We liked how it used visualizations to show connections between researchers and their papers.

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