Easy ways to get started

Posted on 10 Feb 2015 20:43 by Mickey von Dassow

Are you excited by science? Do you think IGoR has an interesting approach?1 Do you think it would be worthwhile to help jump start a community of professional, amateur, and novice researchers who advance knowledge and promote public understanding of science together? Maybe you even think it would be fun to participate in such an open, global, scientific community. But what can you do? What if you only have a few seconds? What if you don't know how to edit wikis? What if you don't know much about the subject?

There are lots of ways to participate in, and help build, this new scientific community. Many require just a few seconds. For example, you can rate or comment on Projects, Articles and Sparks, just as you might on your Facebook friends' pictures of their lunch. Wouldn't you rather spend those few seconds starting something new and valuable?

Here are a few easy, quick things that anyone can do to help build this community:

  1. Encourage people with ratings: See a Project, Article, or Spark you like? Rate it up. There's real power in giving people that small boost.
  2. Encourage people with comments: An up-rating feels goods, but a word of encouragement from a real person is even more powerful. And, comments show that there is a budding community for people to talk with, so they help the community grow.
  3. Ask questions in the comments: You can help just by asking questions. For example, maybe you see a project/article that someone has posted and you don't understand something. Your question might help them (or someone else) improve the page, or think about the subject in a different way.
  4. Edit for clarity and style: Maybe you don't have new content to add, but you might be able to improve a page just by improving the way it is written. Anyone can fix a typo or grammar mistake without knowing the science or programming.

If you know a bit more about the science, you could do these easy things:

  1. Post suggestions in the comments: Maybe you know something about the field, and have a suggestion, or can provide some background information. You can write it in a comment, without editing the page.
  2. Improve the research plan or interpretation: Is there a way to transform a vague idea into a specific question, or testable hypothesis? Is there a technique, or experimental design, that might be helpful? Is there something the other page contributors should take into account but haven't? You can suggest these either as comments or directly in the page2.
  3. Add background information: Do you know of previous studies that might inform the project? You can add these with citations in comments or directly in the page (e.g. in an introduction section if there is one).
  4. Create a new Project or Article: Do you have an idea that would be fun — for you, or other people, or both — to work on as a Project page? Or do you know about a resource or technique that people might find helpful as an Article page? I like to play with the wiki language, but one can start Project and Article pages just by typing in text (e.g. this one and this one on scallops).

Ultimately, you can start adding your own results or analyses to existing Project pages. These could be anything from an anecdotal observation to a carefully crafted experiment, and anything in between. These might also include theoretical models, or analyses of existing data sets. One example: maybe you have an idea for a method to do an experiment, but don't have it worked out. You can share your idea, along with some examples of how far you have gotten. One example is here: I had an idea for visualizing surface roughness, but don't know how to quantify it; maybe someone else would.

What do you have to learn to edit/create wiki pages? Virtually nothing. You can add new content just by adding text and uploading files, without knowing the wiki language (or HTML) at all. As you get more comfortable, you can learn Wikidot's easy language3 to format everything the way you want it, so it is clear and attractive. Just as with Wikipedia4, the wiki language gives you the flexibility to make pages (Projects or Articles) in lots of different ways, with multiple captioned images and videos, positioned just how you want, and/or with tables, footnotes, bibliographies, etc, without having to delve into the complexities of HTML. But, just because you can use the wiki language to create complex pages, doesn't mean you have to.

Much of the information in this post (and more) can be found in IGoR's FAQs.

In my next post I'll talk a bit about IGoR's approach to collaboration and authorship, along with a new tool to make IGoR more effective at building collaborations among career researchers and amateur scientists or non-scientists.

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