Express Scribe

Just a quick blog post to say that I recently discovered an interesting piece of software that might help in the data collection process. It is called Express Scribe and I find it greatly speeds up the transcription process. Essentially it is a piece of software through which you play the audio recording that is to be transcribed. You can then turn certain keys on your keyboard into hot keys or use a foot pedal so that you don’t have to move away from the word processing programme in order to pause and rewind the recording. I’m sure the pro version has many other features but I find the free version does everything I need it to.

On a related note, I’m very pleased I had the Echo Smart Pen with me today when conducting an interview as the battery of my digital audio recorder ran out. It turns out two bars just isn’t enough to get through an interview. I will need to make sure it is fully charged in future. Fortunately I was also recording the audio on my Smart Pen and although the audio isn’t as good as the Olympus digital recorder it is still perfectly audible.

Posted under Data management tools, Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Philip Bremner on May 8, 2013


Follow the Data – end of project feedback from Ruth Farrar

The Open Exeter project began with a structured method of involvement: weekly data management audit forms and face-to-face meetings with Dr. Gareth Cole every two to three weeks. Initially, I found this approach beneficial for three main reasons. First, as I work remotely from campus, it was nice to have a regular check in with the Open Exeter team as it encouraged open lines of communication and getting to know the team better. Second, the data management audits enabled me to regularly reflect on my own data management practices which in turn helped me understand the project’s wider issues of data management. Third, I found the face-to-face meetings with Dr. Cole useful at the start of the project as it provided a friendly space to discuss data management issues, gain advice and ask any questions about the project.

Though as the months progressed, I felt I was repeating some of the same information on my audit form which in turn meant there was little new material to add in the meetings. Perhaps, the audit form phase could have stopped sooner in the process as it may have been more productive to get us to move on to another structured project. However, I understand the audit forms needed to be carried out over a significant period of time.

Throughout the project, I liked how we were invited to numerous events by the Open Exeter team as this promoted a sense of inclusion and better awareness of data issues throughout the entire university. For instance, being given a table at the Digital Scholarship  Showcase on 28th May, 2012 proved a useful platform to share my research and data management issues.

The Open Exeter project also gave me an opportunity to hone my communication, organisational and pedagogic skills. During a PhD researchers workshop on 22nd June, 2012, I helped lead a ‘Speed Data Dating’ session which was equally fun and informative.

I also practiced speaking and listening skills in meetings with fellow PhD Open Exeter researchers. I found these meet ups invaluable. The number of group meetings were also evenly spaced throughout the project. I started the Open Exeter project in the first year of my doctoral studies. I benefitted greatly from listening to data management advice from researchers in their second and third years. I understand our newly created survival guide helps fill in this need for advice. However, I still found the face-to-face meet ups the most helpful part of the Open Exeter project. I wonder if first year students would benefit from talking to fellow students from second and third year in their department about data management issues. I am sure there are many students who would volunteer for a buddy/mentoring system to add another credential to their CVs. First year PhD researchers may also take a deeper interest in important data management issues if it was communicated by another fellow student as they may be eager to learn how to avoid common data management pitfalls.

From my perspective, the meetings with Jill, Gareth, Hannah and the PhD researchers helped me consider how the way I manage data now will have an impact on my research in my final year. I absorbed so much new information I would not have previously considered let alone have known the specific questions to ask. I enjoyed learning about data management topics ranging from the Freedom of Information Act to the advantages of academic depositories like ERIC.

Helping assist at the Information Stand and workshops during Open Access Week in October, 2012, marked another highlight of my involvement with the project. When I was able to confidently explain data management issues to students who came to the stand, it made me realise how much I had learned throughout the Open Exeter Project. Attending the workshops also highlighted the impact social media networks can have on disseminating research data to the public.

The provision of an iPad on the Open Exeter project also introduced me to effective methods for disseminating data online and between apps. My iPad rapidly became an essential tool for managing data particularly when working remotely. The iPad proved invaluable as it afforded me a new-found workflow freedom to edit, store, back up my field recordings and share data with users in the UK while simultaneously carrying out research on site on a project in America.

Overall, the Open Exeter project generously provided me with practical tools, useful advice and an excellent introduction to issues surrounding open access research and data management. Jill, Gareth and Hannah were a real pleasure to work with as their friendliness, enthusiasm and sincere kindness remained consistent throughout my time on the project. Ultimately, my involvement in the project has positively shaped the ways I consider saving, storing and sharing my doctoral research data.

Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Jill Evans on January 21, 2013

Follow the Data – end of project feedback from Annie Blanchette

Collaborating on the Open Exeter project served first and foremost as a great opportunity to reflect on and develop my research data management process according to some of the best practices and solutions out there.

As a foreign student, I had never heard of the Data Protection Act until the Open Exeter project leaders invited Caroline Dominey to present the DPA and Freedom of Access policy in a workshop. This awoke me to some of these requirements and prompted me to ensure my data process was adequate. Given the sensitive nature of my data  – dealing with real life subjects that can be recognised – I met with Ms Dominey in order to review my intended process. This has been very helpful too for the approval of my ethical research protocol. I have also learned about Open Access policies, some of the benefits of sharing, as well as measures to control diffusion in order to suit the sensitive nature of my data.

Through discussions with the project leaders and other fellow students involved in Open Exeter, I have learned a lot about data management processes and tools. For instance, I have found tools for encryption and synching, storing data with a good level of security online and managing efficiently research references. I have learned about sites to build a Data Management Plan (such as DMP online). Undertaking such a process proved very helpful in my ongoing data management, and facilitated my approval by the ethical committee as it allowed me to document potential ethical issues at every step of the process and measures envisioned to minimise the latter. The creation of the survival guide for new students was also a great opportunity to reflect on and share, as well as learn about best practices from others. Learning about good practices in terms of folder structures, versioning and naming conventions was very helpful too, although I wish we had covered this before so that I could have implemented this system earlier. While my submission delay does not allow me to adjust all my files at the moment, the system seems very promising and easy to implement, so I am hopeful it will work well for my future projects. The project was also an opportunity to learn to work with the iPad as a research tool, while benefiting from other’s exploration of this tool.

What worked:

Although I am still struggling to do the actual writing up of my thesis with the iPad, it has been playing a crucial role at every step of my data collection (managing field appointments, recording interviews and field notes, conducting photo reviews with participants and accessing/sharing my data for the purpose of interpretation).

Monitoring my data management throughout the project was also a great help because it pushed me to reflect on the nature of the data, as well as proper ways of handling it. Although reporting on a weekly basis was at time difficult given the diverse nature of my data, it also helped me create a much more detailed account for my thesis, which increased its credibility.

What didn’t work as well:

I was able to put together a process of synching and encryption, however, I am still struggling a bit with overwriting issues (especially with dropbox). I believe this will get resolved once I implement an appropriate versioning system.

Other suggestions:

I think offering the opportunity to students to take part in research data management groups (with data monitoring activities, group discussions and workshops) would be potentially of great benefits to some interested postgrad researchers. Perhaps I would have liked having a little bit more group interactions because I found it was great to interact with a team of people committed to data management reflection.  This and the one to one meetings often helped me fix some issues that would have otherwise blocked me for much longer. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate!

Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Jill Evans on January 21, 2013

Follow the Data – end of project feedback from Duncan Wright

Firstly, I’d like to say that I have really enjoyed the time that I have spent working on the Open Exeter Project. It has been a pleasure working with all of the project team, staff and PhD researchers alike, and I feel that it has been a productive experience. I feel the project has been well managed throughout, with exemplary correspondence and engagement with researchers: at no point was it unclear what was required from us, and the aims and objectives of each task were consistently communicated effectively. I have particularly appreciated the time spent in workshops, and it is probably in this format which I gained the most. Conversely, I found tasks/activities online more difficult to undertake, although this is probably as much a reflection on the manner in which I operate than anything else. The times when specialists were invited into the workshops seemed to work especially well, and the level at which the information was pitched was far better than that of the PGR development workshops.

Particular aspects of the project I found especially informative for my own research, and I would have certainly have benefitted further still if I’d encountered some of the information nearer the beginning of my studies. The workshop/discussion on academic referencing software, such as Mendeley and EndNote, was really informative and should be considered for the future – I’m aware that there is an EndNote workshop, but researchers should be made aware of the wider range of resources available where possible. Creating a data management plan also provided a useful insight: I’ve actually mentioned data management in a few of the research fellowships that I’ve been applying for, and it is experience which I hope to use to my benefit from in the future. It has been good too to learn about Open Access, and its implications for research even if some of those are potentially difficult/challenging – it seems a shame that more academics in particular are not engaging with Open Access, or at least involved in discussing its implementation.

I think that the lack of interest from academics was reflected during the Open Access week though sadly. It was also disappointing that the University didn’t deem it important enough to warrant a more suitable location for the stall – this is in no way a criticism of the team, as I am aware that a better position was sought after, but it did negatively impact the visibility of the stall and what we had to offer. Open Access week was a well-publicised, efficiently organised and very informative event, and all of the sessions that I went to were interesting, pitched at a good level and useful. It was just a shame that it wasn’t enjoyed by more people!

That’s probably the sum of most of my thoughts. As I said before, my main thoughts about Open Exeter is that it has been a very positive experience, and a real pleasure to work with you all.

Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Jill Evans on January 21, 2013

Follow the Data – end of project feedback from Philip Bremner

I have found working on the JISC-funded Open Exeter project an invaluable experience. It has greatly enhanced my understanding of the need for and methods of rigorous research data management. It has encouraged me to consider issues such as: what constitutes research data? What is the value of making research data openly available? Who is responsible for research data management issues and long-term archiving? Speaking personally, participation in the project has contributed to my personal development as a researcher. In the future I will feel more confident about discussing research data management procedures in the form of a research data management plan, which is required by the research councils when applying for research funding.

In addition to this I felt that the project team valued my contribution to the project, along with that of the other PGRs. As PGRs, we participated in a number of useful workshops, reports of which can be seen on the project blog:, along with many other interesting articles about the progress of the project. Various topics were discussed at these workshops such as data protection, reference management, the creation of an institutional repository etc. We also ran an event where PGRs took the lead in facilitating discussion of research management issues more generally amongst postgraduate researchers in the University. A number of other events have been organised under the auspices of the project, such as the very successful University-wide Open Access Week, which ran as part of international Open Access Week. Within my own College, the project team participated in the PGR induction programme where we tried to raise awareness of research data management issues amongst new PhD students.

The Open Exeter project has produced a number of very useful outputs, which we PGRs have been involved with in one way or another. Principally, of course, is the creation of a robust institutional repository to make research data available on open access. We were fortunate enough to be able to test drive the repository (and thereby gain a sneak preview of it). I have to admit, it seemed able to handle all the different shapes and sizes of research data that we could think of throwing at it. Another significant output is the data management policies for researchers at the University, which we had input on. As a result of these policies, PhD students (and other researchers) will be required to submit their research data for long-term archiving in the institutional repository thereby making the data available for other researchers to use. This is in line with the requirements of many of the research councils, which now make data archiving compulsory.

Looking back at the report I wrote following the initial project workshop, I wrote: ‘research data management is not something I had given much thought to…’ I can safely say that I have now given the matter some considerable thought and feel that it is one that is relevant to most researchers in the University. I feel that the Open Exeter project has been instrumental in raising awareness of research data management issues amongst researchers at the University and the project’s Advocacy and Governance Officer deserves special thanks in that regard. What is more, the project has produced some excellent training materials, which are already being delivered as part of the researcher development programme.

Looking to the future, I feel that there is still work to be done in relation to promoting open access to research data in terms of advocacy, training and data curation. My concern is that the excellent work achieved by the project will not continue beyond the conclusion of the project if sufficient funding is not in place. In my view, it is essential to ensure that there are dedicated personnel within the University whose main concern is dealing within research data management issues. The data repository, although a fantastic achievement, cannot be considered as a static system. It requires proper curation by specially trained staff who are willing and able to deal with any concerns or queries that are raised in relation to its operation.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project and would like to thank the project team for their enthusiasm and support.

Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Jill Evans on January 21, 2013

Gadgets for Research: Tech Review

As those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts on the Echo Smart Pen will know, I have been testing out some gadgets that might assist researchers in collecting and analysing their data. Recently, I’ve been trying out Dragon Dictate 3 for the Mac, which is a voice recognition software that can be used to dictate into a range of applications including Microsoft Word. I must say I’ve been very impressed with the software. It does take a little bit of training initially in order to get it used to your voice. However once you’ve done that, it quite accurately types what you are saying. It also has the ability to learn from its mistakes which you can correct as you go along.


The software can be easily installed onto your Mac and comes bundled with a word processor similar to Notepad. This is very fortunate as, in my experience, the software has some difficulty when trying to dictate into Microsoft Word. I’ve found, in Microsoft Word, that the cursor seems to jump about the page for no particular reason. This can be very disruptive when you’re trying to dictate and can really interrupt the flow of your thinking. Luckily this does not seem to happen in the pre-bundled notepad software and therefore it is possible to dictate into there first and then copy it into Microsoft Word, although that is a bit of a hassle.


Although I’ve not tried this out myself, another interesting feature of the software is its ability to transcribe pre-recorded audio. So if you’re away from your computer or at a computer that doesn’t have the software installed, you can simply create an audio recording of what you want the computer to type up, plug that into DragonDictate and it will transcribe it for you. Initially I thought this would be very useful for transcribing my interviews. However you still need to train the software to recognise the voice on the recording. Therefore it actually wouldn’t be very useful in transcribing interviews but is mainly useful for transcribing your own pre-recorded audio. On the plus side, you get an app which can transform your mobile phone into a digital audio recorder in order to create audio files which can be transcribed later. Despite this, it would still be possible to use this software for transcribing by a method called ‘parroting’ whereby you speak into the voice recognition software whilst listening to your pre-recorded recorded interview. There is some interesting methodological literature on this.


Overall, therefore, I would definitely recommend this piece of voice recognition software, especially for people who are writing up the results from their data analysis, but also for people transcribing interviews. It does take a little while to get used to and to allow the software to get used to you and I think you have to be quite patient at the start. However after a while I feel that the savings in terms of time and effort make this an invaluable research tool. Of course the software only works when you have your computer and microphone with you and are in a relatively quiet environment. Therefore for conferences, train journeys and all those occasions when you don’t have access to a computer, you might still benefit from having something like the Eco Smart pen to hand.

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Philip Dennis Bremner on November 13, 2012

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Toodledo: an accessible research project management tool

Completing a PhD project requires not only good research, analytical and writing skills, but time management and organisational aptitudes. Sometimes the good old pen and paper list method or calendar does not suffice to stay on top. If, like me, you fear losing track or forgetting something without a good task management system, you may be interested in reading about Toodledo.


Toodledo is a task management software/application, available for desktops, mobile phones and iPads/tablets. It synchs between all these devices via the internet so that you can easily access and edit your task list at your work station or on the go.


I have been using the system for over 10 months now to help me get my academic (and other life) projects in gear to completion. I would not consider myself to be a seasoned task management app user, however, as I have only used rudimentary Outlook functions and list apps such as Wunderlist or scheduling apps such as Planner HD as a basis for comparison.


Here are few of the reasons why I have found Toodledo suitable:

– It offers a  clean, simple, ergonomic user interface, allowing you to add tasks to your list in one click and have a good idea of what needs to be done at a glance (especially with the customizable list view);

– You can then edit the details such as due dates, notes, folders, and even goals, quickly;

– Your list is easily accessible and editable on the go, via different devices;

– Once a task is completed, you can just tick the box and it will disappear instantly from your list (but kept in a history for one week with free account or more with a pro or pro plus account);

– There is a free version (free registration for desktop use, however, the iPad/iPhone app is £1.99 on iTunes).
The key to success with Toodledo, in my opinion, is to make sure to keep your list complete and up-to-date. When I started using the free app, I first sat down and quickly entered every single project, task and subtask I could think of to free my mind (and desk from paper lists). For instance my thesis project required completing tasks such as:

– Booking and preparing for supervision meetings

– Identifying, reading and annotating relevant books and papers

– Planning, writing and amending early stages of research (lit review, research questions, conceptual framework)

– Developing an ethical protocol, consent forms, data management plan and getting them approved

– Developing questionnaires, interview protocol and questions, observation grids (and in my case, setting up and moderating research blogs for participants)

– Finding necessary software and equipment (such as data analysis and reference manager software, as well as recording devices, photo or filming equipment) and getting adequate training or support when needed

– Gaining access to datasets/fields and recruiting participants

– Coordinating and conducting interviews with participants, field visits, focus groups

– Booking venues, visual aid and refreshments for focus groups

– Saving, backing up (encrypting) reviewing, transcribing, reading, organising, annotating and analysing data

– Writing-up, submitting, getting feedback, correcting, proofreading and laying-out the text of the thesis

– Completing administrative forms (for upgrade, thesis submission, viva, myPGR meeting updates)

– And frequent ad-hoc troubleshooting


Other parts of academic life can also be added to the task list:

– Participating in seminars and conferences (including preparing proposals and presentation and sorting out registration, travel and accommodations)

– Writing journal articles and acting as a reviewer for journals and conferences

– Completing administrative tasks (registration, research grant applications, funding bodies progress reports)

– Building and maintaining a professional and academic network (including profiles on and Linkedin, Exeter eProfile, organising contacts and managing emails)

– Applying for academic positions or other degrees/jobs

– Undertaking training modules, coursework or teaching duties (LTHE, ERDP training)…


And this is aside from all the personal stuff. I use Toodledo to manage several aspects of my personal life such as planning and managing bill payments, home chores, purchases, appointments, activities, travel, moves, international visas and so on…


Please note that these tasks are bundled-up in groups for the sake of brevity. I would generally note down a task in a format such as “Book October supervision meeting with Professor X”.


Once my list was made, I then edited it by making sure each task was legible and assigned to its relevant “project” folder, as well as completing fields such as start/ due dates and notes. I added stars to the elements requiring immediate attention, but there is also a priority field that can be used partially for that purpose.


I also find the process of drilling down each project or task by identifying its subtasks made it that much easier for me to get in and keep the flow of productivity (a subtask of “Read book Z” could be “Order book Z from library”) .


Toodledo is available in 3 versions, free registration (however iPad/iPhone app is £1.99), pro ($14.95/year) and pro plus ($29.95/year). I started using the pro version because of the subtask option (enabling me to itemise each task into linked subtasks). However, if it wasn’t for that, I could have made do with the free account because i don’t personally feel like i need the other functions. (I used to manage  with the free account by just listing subtasks in the note section of each relevant task).There are various features that I have not used yet such as the (free) notebook (I have been using Evernote), the (pro) collaboration tool, the (pro) scheduler feature which allows you to identify tasks to fill in time gaps, the (pro) location tool as well as a wealth of third-party apps to synch with calendars, email service providers, or other list formats, such as “Action Lists” for fans of the  “Getting Things Done” productivity method. I have briefly looked into the latter method and find it quite promising for my future projects. Perhaps it could come in handy for those in need of stringent productivity solutions.


Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students, Research

This post was written by Annie Blanchette on November 1, 2012



As part of the Open Exeter project we are evaluating the use of DMPonline to aid Exeter’s researchers complete Data Management Plans. We asked our PGR students to look at the tool and give their feedback to us. What follows is a brief summary of their findings.

Interestingly, our PGRs stated that they believed they completed the tool differently being part way through their research project than they would have done at the start of the project. A number of our students stated that it would have been helpful to have had an Exeter template providing links to specific guidance of relevance to researchers here. This is something we are interested in exploring further and have had some initial contact with the DMPonline team.

Specific feedback from our PGRs included:

  • Asking them to complete a DMP without having the project plan felt a little removed and artificial (this is of course a problem with our methodology but it does imply that future tests need to be with “live” plans and projects where at all possible).
  • One of our PGRs thought that there was too much jargon and a “beginners guide” would have been helpful.
  • One of our PGRs asked whether examples could be provided for each section to show what was required.
  • One of the students commented that unless they were sure of the site they would struggle to trust that DMPonline did actually fit the needs of their funding body.
  • One commented that they would not have known how to fill out the form without the pop ups in each section.
  • Although the links from the various sections were seen as useful, a couple of our students commented that there were too many of them and they didn’t have the time to read all the links and complete the form.

Although not specific feedback on DMPonline, a couple of our students thought that there would have been more questions on what software they were going to use. This was useful feedback for us and will aid us in helping academics complete their Data Management Plans.

This feedback has been particularly helpful for us at Exeter in developing what is required for an Exeter branded DMPonline and hopefully adds to the corpus of material that is developing around what is a very useful tool.

Posted under Data management tools, Follow the Data, PGR students

This post was written by Gareth Cole on October 10, 2012

Gadgets for Research: Tech Review

You may remember previously that I wrote a blog post about the new Livescribe Echo Smart Pen that the Open Exeter project team has temporarily lent me. If you missed my initial post, you can read it here In that post I said I was very impressed with the Smart Pen’s ability to recognise my scrappy hand writing and gave it top marks as a research gadget.

Since then I’ve had some more experience using the Smart Pen and have found it invaluable. It is an excellent backup when conducting interviews in case the audio recording equipment fails. It was also very useful when I was asked to be a scribe at a conference recently during breakout sessions. One of the most useful applications of this handy device, I’ve found, is that it is excellent for taking notes when on the move – inside, outside, on a train or even on a plane, the pen’s portability makes it much easier to use for writing in these situations than a laptop.

The pen does have some drawbacks however. The ink cartridges don’t last very long (being less than half the size of a regular biro cartridge) and they are costly to replace. Also, in order to take advantage of the hand writing recognition you have to buy an add-on piece of software but fortunately it is quite inexpensive. Perhaps one of the most significant drawbacks is the time required to proof read the recognised text. The software is great at recognising neat handwriting and even not so neat handwriting. However the faster I write the more illegible my handwriting becomes and the pen does struggle to recognise this. It also struggles with scoring out and corrections.

All-in-all, if a computer or laptop can easily be accessed then this is probably less time consuming than using the pen. However, for those situations I’ve mentioned above where a laptop wouldn’t be feasible, I feel the Smart Pen remains an invaluable research tool. That’s all for now but check back later for a post on Dragon Dictate for Mac, the voice recognition software, that I will be test driving for the Open Exeter Project!

Posted under Follow the Data

This post was written by Philip Bremner on October 8, 2012

PGR “audits”

For the first six months of the year we asked our PGR students to complete a research data management “audit” every week. This task has now ended and I am working on analysing the results so a fuller report will follow.

The audit consisted of 17 questions and asked questions such as: What file formats are the data you created this week? Please state both electronic and paper; Where was this week’s data created? i.e. Home, office, field trip etc.; and Does any of the data you created this week need to be shared? Please give details. Follow this link for a template of the questions we asked: Weekly_audit_form_template (Excel file – blog post updated 20th August 2012).

A quick analysis of the audits has thrown up a number of similarities amongst our students:

  1. They all seem to work in phases i.e. there will be a data collection phase, a writing up phase, a literature review phase etc. Although there is obviously some overlap between these phases and the length of the phase differs between all our students, the general principle does seem to hold true across all the different disciplines.
  2. All of our students create and/or analyse their data both at home and in the office on campus. A number have also been on field trips to collect data. This supports the findings of our DAF survey where research data was shown to be collected and analysed both on and off campus.
  3. Similar issues are faced by students of different disciplines. One that has shown up in the audits is the potential size of image files and the adequate filing and storage of hundreds (or even thousands) of such files so that particular images are easily found.
  4. Although our students use different file formats to each other (with the exception of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF which are common to each to a greater or lesser extent) they each use only a comparatively small number of formats/file types (the most used is eight).

The audit has proved to be a mine of useful information for the project and the regular meetings I have been holding with our students has allowed me to check details and abbreviations that I didn’t recognise. Further analysis of the results will, I am sure, provide further useful information.

Posted under Follow the Data, PGR students, Research

This post was written by Gareth Cole on August 17, 2012