Here’s how papers for scientific journals are written in most lab groups. Someone, most likely the person who generated most of the results, writes a draft. They then email the draft to the other authors. Changes are suggested and made. The paper bounces between email inboxes until everyone is satisfied and is then submitted.
This is a terrible way to do it for all sorts of reasons. I’ll highlight one major problem – nobody except the person working on the most current revision is able to keep track of progress. Very often an author is busy with other tasks, days or weeks go by, when asked they’ll say “yeah, I’m working on it”. What you really want is for all the authors to have access to the most current version and for them to know when it was last updated.
Now in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be bouncing multiple versions of a Word document between inboxes. We’d be writing in plain text, marking up using LaTeX and storing documents in a versioning system such as CVS, with online access. Most researchers in biological sciences don’t inhabit that world (though many in physical sciences do – go figure). However, they can handle the idea of using a web server to upload, download and view documents.
So – the point of this post is that I’m investigating document management software. It doesn’t have to be complex or feature-rich; it doesn’t even have to include versioning. It should just be a web-based application where authors can login, upload/download/view documents (mostly Word and perhaps PDF), see when a document was last modified and maybe leave a comment (“get on with it!”). I’ll be combing Google and the open-source repositories for possibilities. In the meantime, if anyone has experience or favourites that they’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.