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Research Project Management: 25 Free Tools

Research Project Management:

25 Free Tools

Ruth Belling, PhD

Copyright 2016 Ruth Belling

Shakespir Edition

The right of Ruth Belling to be identified as the author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

Belling, Ruth (2016) Research Project Management: 25 Free Tools (Evaluation Works’ Research Guides Book 1). Shakespir Edition. ISBN 978-0-9567638-2-2

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage others to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

More titles by Ruth Belling:

How to Manage a Research Project: Achieve Your Goals on Time and Within Budget (Evaluation Works’ Research Guides Book 2).


This book is intended for informational purposes only.

This book includes information, products, software and services provided by third parties. These Third Party Materials consist of products or opinions expressed by their owners. While all attempts have been made to verify the information included in this publication, neither the author nor the publisher assumes any responsibility or liability for any errors, omissions or interpretations of the material contained herein.

By reading this guide you agree that neither the author nor the publisher is responsible or liable for any actions or decisions you may take.

Links to Third Party resources are not affiliate links. The author receives no compensation from any purchases made using the Third Party links contained in this book.

Table of Contents

Using this guide

1. Planning tools

1.1 Mind maps

1.2 Flowcharts/Network diagrams

1.3 Gantt charts

1.4 Timelines

2. Goal-setting

3. Time management

3.1 Time tracking and estimation

3.2 Scheduling

4. Document sharing and storage

5. Organizational aids

6. Communication and collaboration

7. Writing aids

7.1 Spelling and grammar

7.2 Readability

8. Reference managers

9. Project management systems

About the author

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Using this guide

Managing research does not have to be complicated, but it can be time-consuming and who wouldn’t want to be more effective, productive or better organized?

Research project management encompasses a wide range of skills and activities, including planning and organization, time management, effective writing, document management, collaboration, communication and more.

This guide lists 25 tools and resources to assist researchers, evaluators, doctoral students and supervisors, research managers and administrators, with a range of research project management activities and skills. What’s more, you can get them at no cost — great for those of us on a tight budget.

Criteria for inclusion in this list:

1. A version of the tool, software or service was available at zero cost when this list was compiled (i.e., NOT a free trial for a limited time, after which you would be expected to upgrade to a paid-for product).

2. The tool, software or service was relevant to one or more aspects of managing a research project.

Tools specifically for research data collection and analysis are not included, since these are usually project or research method specific rather than tools that could be applied to any project, regardless of its design or methodology.

Resources are listed according to their main purpose or function.

Some the author has used personally, others have been suggested by researcher and evaluator colleagues.

Some are web-based tools. Others may require the installation of software on your computer. Please note all responsibility in doing so (and in using any of the resources listed in this book) is entirely yours.

Links provided are to each resource’s official website.

Several resources listed offer more than one level of service or functionality beyond the free, basic or ‘Lite’ versions. All information in this guide relates to the free/basic/Lite versions only. Free versions may have limits, such as the number of projects or charts you can create, the number of people you can share documents with, or the amount of storage space included. Therefore, you should check carefully to see if a free/basic version is sufficient and/or appropriate for your needs. For example, the size of your research team or desire for data privacy may be crucial factors in your decision-making.

That said I hope you find this list useful.

Here it is!

Planning tools

A number of resources are available to help plan and design research projects.

In this section you will find tools to create:

• Mind maps

• Flowcharts/network diagrams

• Gantt charts

• Timelines.

Mind maps

A mind map is a diagram used to organize and connect information and ideas in a visual way. Also known as a concept map or spider diagram, it usually contains a single idea or concept at the centre, with branches drawn off it showing related information and ideas, as in the example below.

There are many benefits to the ‘old school’ pencil and paper/whiteboard approach, notably the ease with which you can erase and re-draw connections, add images, create maps individually or within a group and really let your mind loose on a topic without constraints (which is why mind maps are so powerful for working through complex information, such as literature reviews, research hypotheses and findings).

The downsides include illegible handwriting, cramming too much information into areas making them unreadable, forgetting what your own or other people’s short-hand stands for and limits to sharing the resulting map with others.

The tools listed below go a long way to reducing those downsides. In the author’s experience, a combination of ‘old school’ and ‘new’ works well in most situations.

1. Coggle


Coggle is a web-based, collaborative, mind-mapping tool. Being web-based, the resulting diagram can be accessed and shared easily with others, who can make changes without needing to download any software. Drag and drop images to the diagram as well as typing in text. The ‘free forever’ version allows unlimited public diagrams. (For private diagrams, you will need a paid version.)

The interface is very intuitive to use. The resulting diagrams are visually very appealing since each branch is displayed in a different colour and the text is clear.

2. XMind


Freeware. Share across local networks with colleagues via a drag-and-drop process. Shared files are automatically updated if you make any changes to the original. You can also share files over the web. Free version synchronises with Evernote and plugins for Microsoft® Word.

Particularly useful is the drill down feature that allows you to focus in on any specific branch of the main map. When you select drill down, that branch becomes the central branch so you can concentrate purely on that aspect, with no other distractions. It comes with a range of templates.

Flowcharts/Network diagrams

Unlike mind maps, where ideas are drawn as clusters, flowcharts generally show processes that have a start and end.

3. Creately


Web-based. Free for individual use. Public sign up. Limited to one project and five diagrams. Diagrams are sharable with up to three collaborators with real-time collaboration. Choose from a variety of templates and modify them to create your own. Not limited to network diagrams. Creately also includes Gantt chart templates, timelines and mind maps. Has a drag-and-drop interface that is very intuitive to use. Positioning items is easy and the ‘Smart technology’ means boxes and arrows line up nicely, avoiding one of the main sources of frustration when making layout changes. Produces results that are very visually appealing.

4. Gliffy


Web-based. Free for personal use. Limited to five diagrams and 2MB storage space. Diagrams are sharable, but public. Again, if you wish to keep your diagrams private, you will need one of the paid-for versions. The interface uses drag-and-drop and is quite straightforward to use. Like Creately, you can create a range of diagrams, including mind maps.

Gantt charts

A Gantt chart is a form of horizontal bar chart. Since the horizontal axis displays the start and end dates of a project’s tasks and activities, it can provide a visual and enormously valuable project overview. However, a potential shortcoming with Gantt charts used for project management purposes is that they do not necessarily show task dependencies. The ability to show these (and make adjustments that will automatically change and display amended start and end dates) is a desirable feature, but one that can make any software involved more complicated and expensive to use.

The items included below were suggested by colleagues.

5. GanttPRO


Web-based. The Lite version is free for a single user. You are allowed three active projects. Comes with basic Gantt chart features. Projects can be viewed by others but not modified. It includes participant assignment and flexible work plans, together with a range of file export options (XLSX, PDF, PNG, iCal).

6. GanttProject


Software to download. GanttProject is described as a multi-platform project and time management application that is relatively simple to use.

You can use the program to lay out tasks in the calendar pane, prioritize tasks, mark costs, and more. Text notes can be attached to tasks. Colour coding is also possible, allowing the user to differentiate items visually.

GanttProject lets you use dependency constraints, so you can specify that a task can only start after a previous task has been completed. The software also lets you create baselines that you can use to compare a project’s current state against previous plans. Further functionality includes the ability to calculate task costs automatically and some flexibility in specifying work periods.


A clear project timeline that includes key milestones and significant dates is another valuable item to have in your research project management toolkit.

7. Microsoft® Office (Timeline add-in)


Strictly speaking, this add-in is only available if you already have access to Microsoft Office (PowerPoint), but I have come across many people who use the software without realising the timeline add-in exists. The add-in includes several free templates/layouts (others you need to purchase) and will walk you step-by-step through the input of the information needed to generate your timeline.


8. Lifetick


Web-based service. Set, track and achieve your goals. Free for individual use. Create up to four goals. Based on SMART goal-setting techniques, encouraging you to set achievable deadlines and check your progress towards them.

: Time tracking and estimation

Estimating how long something will take is an important planning skill, particularly when it comes to budgeting and resource management. Human beings are astonishingly good at underestimating how long things will take and that can be disastrous if you are on a tight schedule. One solution is to give something a trial run and time how long it actually takes. (Nothing wrong with looking at a watch for this, of course, but here’s some options that might be more appealing.)

For greater productivity, there are a range of free tools to help you find out how and where you spend your time, block distractions and maximize time when you have the most energy.

9. Toggl


A computerized approach to the stopwatch technique. Simply click to start the timer and find out how long something takes. Teams up to five. Unlimited ‘projects’.

10. Rescue Time


Runs in the background on your computer. Discover how and where you spend your time – including websites and email. Block websites that create distractions for set amounts of time.

11. Tomighty


Tomighty is a desktop timer specifically designed for the Pomodoro Technique®. Works for Mac and Windows. The Pomodoro Technique® is a very simple and effective time management technique that helps you keep focused on tasks that require long periods of concentration. It is based on the body’s natural rhythms. Take advantage of the 90 minute periods when your energy is greatest (and rest during the 20 minute energy lows). Read more about it at the official website.


12. Google calendar


Set up automatic meeting and event reminders.

Document sharing and storage

13. Dropbox


Cloud storage. Dropbox Basic is designed for individual users. An alternative, easy to use, backup system. Access documents from anywhere. Simple file sharing. Your first 2GB of space is free.

14. Google Drive


Cloud storage. Access documents from anywhere. Invite others to view files. More storage space offered for free than Dropbox, i.e. 15GB, but this is an overall storage limit, so bear this in mind if you also use Gmail and/or Google Photos.

Organizational aids

15. Evernote


Evernote Basic provides a way to organize your work. Write and collect ideas in notes, group notes in notebooks, and find everything later. Create lists, take notes, track tasks, and save things you find online. The basic plan is free for individual users and enables you to synchronize your notes automatically between your phone and computer.

16. Trello


Web-based. Trello bills itself as ‘the visual learner’s answer to to-do lists’. Essentially it turns your computer screen into a board, on which you can add ‘sticky’ notes and arrange them into lists. The ability to move notes between lists (such as things to do, current tasks and finished tasks) means you can see a project’s progress at a glance.

The free version is sharable and you can add due dates, add people to tasks and include attachments up to 10 MB. Integrates with Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox. However, if you want to add team members, you will need to upgrade to a paid-for version.

For the ability to assign tasks, change to a calendar view, or automate reminders, you might want to explore more traditional project management software such as Basecamp or Asana, both of which you’ll find further down this list.

Communication and collaboration

We all know how difficult it can be to get a bunch of people together in the same room at the same time, even when they work in the same building. So, here are some alternatives.

17. Slack


Slack is a free to use messaging application with the ability to hold group video and audio calls. The free version allows an unlimited number of people to be part of the group, so team size should not be a problem, but if you want to include guests, you’ll need to upgrade. The free version also allows search and browsing of the 10k most recent messages, 5GB total storage and integrates with 10 services, including Dropbox and Google Docs.

18. Google Plus Hangouts


Hangouts have been around for a while now and in recent years have started to gain traction within the research community. Essentially, Hangouts use a web-based video-recording tool free to anyone with a Gmail account. To host a Hangout you will need a YouTube and Google Plus account and to install a plug-in to your computer.

Up to 10 people can present on the video. You can choose whether to make the video publicly available to unlimited viewers, or privately to a limited group of people who have accepted your invitation to watch your Hangout.

Writing aids

Reports, theses and dissertations, presentations, academic papers – writing is a major aspect of scholarly life and when it comes to research project management, clarity and professionalism are essential. So, what tools are out there for those of us who might want to polish up our writing?

Spelling and grammar

19. Grammarly


Grammarly is a web-based tool that picks up some of the more common spelling and grammar errors that word processing software tends to miss. The free version claims to spot no less than 100 such errors, notably correctly spelled words used in the wrong context. Since it is linked to your web browser, you can also check emails and social media posts before you send them. Grammarly is a useful learning tool, since it also offers an explanation for grammatical mistakes.


20. ProWritingAid


Web-based. Helps improve readability and remove errors, particularly with similar and often confusing words and phrases (such as lets and let’s). Copy and paste the text you want checked, to a maximum of 3000 words. Strengthen your writing by finding out where you have used passive verbs, clichés and adverbs. The free version does not support interactive editing.

Reference managers

Unlike many project types, research involves the management of substantial amounts of literature. Whether you need to conduct a literature review, keep up-to-date with research in your particular field, or create accurate and consistently formatted reference lists for your own publications, a good reference management system is vital.

21. Mendeley


Free reference manager. Download software to your computer. Mendeley enables you to create a fully searchable personal library. Create notes, cite as you write, and read and annotate your pdfs on any device. Create bibliographies directly in your documents. You can share articles, notes and references with colleagues.

22. CiteUlike


Free service for managing scholarly references. Share online. Add to your personal library as you search the web. Suggests possible journals in which to publish based on the references you choose. Export to BibTeX or Endnote to create and format bibliographies.

23. BibSonomy


Social bookmarking and sharing system, popular among the scientific community. BibSonomy enables you to manage your publications and bookmarks, to collaborate with colleagues and to find new material for your research. Variety of export formats, including BibTeX, Endnote and Word.

Project management systems

24. Basecamp


Web-based. A Basecamp is a shared space and a collection of tools that every group needs to do any kind of work together. Within each Basecamp there are six main tools: chat space, message board, to-do section, schedule, automatic check-ins with your team, and file storage. There appear to be no restrictions on the number of users. It is free for the first project (or Basecamp).

25. Asana


Web-based. Free for teams of up to 15 people. Unlimited tasks and projects, but publicly visible. If you want this set up for private teams and projects, you will need to upgrade to a premium version. Asana is a task-focused project management system, so tasks are created and then assigned to specific team members. The communication system means that they can respond directly regarding those assigned tasks and activity on those tasks is tracked. It also has a calendar view, automated reminders, project updates and alerts.


I hope you found this list of free tools useful.

Thanks for reading.

Here’s to your research success!


Get started on the right track with our FREE online training (£35/US$52 value) – just click on the link below to start achieving your research goals on time and within budget:


About the author

Dr Ruth Belling is an independent researcher, evaluator, educator and writer with over 20 years’ experience. A former Reader in evaluation at the Faculty of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University, she gained her PhD at Cranfield University’s world-renowned School of Management. She has particular interests in evaluation research, researcher development, management development, and health and social care.

Visit her website: http://www.evaluationworks.co.uk

Visit her Shakespir author page: https://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/evaluationworks

More books by Ruth Belling

How to Manage a Research Project: Achieve Your Goals on Time and Within Budget (Evaluation Works’ Research Guides Book 2)

Learning to manage any research project is a vital skill, but one that most of us have to figure out alone. Well, now you don’t have to. Find out what works (and what to avoid) in this new book.

Return to Table of Contents

Research Project Management: 25 Free Tools

Do you need to manage a research project? This guide lists 25 online tools and resources, available at zero cost, to help researchers, evaluators, doctoral students and supervisors, research managers and administrators, with a range of activities and skills involved in managing research successfully. Includes tools and resources for: • Project planning • Goal-setting • Time management • Document sharing and storage • Organizational aids • Communication and collaboration • Writing aids • Reference managers • Project management systems

  • ISBN: 9780956763822
  • Author: Ruth Belling
  • Published: 2016-03-10 21:40:17
  • Words: 3279
Research Project Management: 25 Free Tools Research Project Management: 25 Free Tools