By Claire Aitchison

Over the next weeks, Doctoral Writing SIG will be posting blogs about a variety of digital tools that readers have found useful for supporting doctoral candidature. These contributions have come from doctoral students, supervisors, academic developers, language advisors and researchers who describe their favourite online technologies. The stories are personal and bespoke – some are more technically detailed than others, but all are describing one person’s experience of a product and its application in support of doctoral study and doctoral writing. It’s important to mention that we aren’t endorsing any of the items described -and a reminder that what works brilliantly for one person in one situation, may not be so suitable in another…

The literature tells us that users are more likely to take up digital technologies that are recommended by a friend or person in a similar situation – and when they have ready and trusted access to guidance and technical help (Dowling & Wilson 2015; Sumner 2012). Keeping that in mind, we wanted to create a space where people could share their own experiences of using digital technologies in the hope of expanding our collective knowledge of what’s available.

Digital technologies can change the way research is conducted, measured, reported and disseminated (Sumner 2012). Many such technologies are already being used across all the domains of doctoral education: in the everyday practices of researching, writing, communicating and training. Digital technologies are integral to researchers’ relationships and networks – between the student and supervisor and beyond – and integral to the building of the researcher’s public identity and profile (Dowling & Wilson 2015).

And yet, the literature repeatedly tells us that two strangely contradictory things are happening regarding the uptake of technologies and doctoral study. Firstly, the claims for the affordances of the ever-increasing plethora of tools and technologies are effusive. It seems no one doubts the benefits to be had from adopting such technologies. However – so far at least – the literature also says that the uptake amongst doctoral students is surprisingly low (Sumner, 2012). And although there appears to be scant evidence on the digital practices of supervisors, it would seem they are even more reluctant users of these technologies.

In some ways it is not surprising that doctoral students and their supervisors hesitate to take up new technologies – it can be risky to experiment with these tools when the stakes are so high. We’ve all heard heart-breaking stories of corrupted files and bibliographic software that isn’t compatible, data that goes missing, and programs that become expensive, outdated or simply disappear. Plus we know that many of us have to sort out these problems alone – even where our institutions offer IT support, these professionals may not be familiar with some of the newer technologies or their application in the doctoral space. So, I guess it’s a matter of proceed with a little bit of caution and quite a bit guts – and do so early in candidature.

We have had a great time curating these contributions and we’ve learned a great deal along the way. We hope you may find that at least one of these stories over the following weeks will challenge you to be adventurous and try something new. Whether you are a new researcher or seasoned supervisor, perhaps there’ll be something here that will peek your interest and encourage you to incorporate digital technologies into your doctoral experience.

If you wish to make a contribution, do send us your proposal in an email at doctoralwriting@gmail.com.

Best regards,


Carpenter J., Wetheridge L., & Tanner S. (2012). Researchers of tomorrow: The research behaviours of generation Y doctoral students. Joint information systems committee. Information Services & Use, 32, 3–17.

Dowling R. & Wilson M. (2015). Digital doctorates? An exploratory study of PhD candidates’ use of online tools. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 1-11. doi: 10.1080/14703297.2015.1058720

Sumner N. (2012). July. Developing the digital researcher. Proceedings from International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education, Rhodes, Greece. Retrieved on 24 August 2015 from http://www.icicte.org/Proceedings2012/Papers/05-1-Sumner.pdf