As a researcher, you will likely use a range of tools and software programs to complete your research. You may need to investigate appropriate software to support your research, evaluate or even create software from scratch.

Find and use open research software introduces you to the idea of open research software (ORS) to support your research tasks and workflows.


1. About open software

Research software

Research software includes tools used to conduct research and analysis, and software generated by researchers during the research process. Research software can be defined as: 

"software that includes source code files, algorithms, scripts, computational workflows and executables that were created during the research process or for a research process." Defining Research Software: a controversial discussion 

Research software includes the following: 

  • An integral software product from a project 
  • Custom algorithms or software central to the paper  
  • Source code of the software described in a manuscript 
    • Code that integrates with and builds on existing software 
    • Scripts that automate the execution of a series of tasks in a given run-time environment 
  • Executables, models, workflows or containers 
  • Software services. 

Open-source and proprietary software

Software can be open source or proprietary. Open-source software allows you to:

  • Use the software, usually at no cost 
  • Study the code 
  • Modify the software 
  • Redistribute modified versions of the software.

It’s important to understand some of these key differences when considering open software for your research.

ElementOpen-source softwareProprietary software
Access source codeAccessibleNo access
CostLower cost, sometimes freeMore costly purchase price or subscription
Customise the codeCustomise the code in line with the software licenseRequest changes from the developer
Ease of useMay not be easy to use.Can be more user-friendly and stable
SupportMay not be well supported, or stable. No guarantee of continued maintanence.Ongoing defined support and maintenance.

Benefits of open software

You can use ORS at any stage of your research. Some benefits of using existing ORS include: 

Improves efficiency and reproducibility via: 

  • Publication of transparent data analysis processes that underpin the results 
  • Wide and easy availability of the tools to re-run the analysis 
  • Algorithmic transparency: the code can be analysed/evaluated by users 
  • Building on existing tools (by extending or re-purposing them) 
  • Access support from the software community (in reporting issues, writing documentation, contributing to bug fixes, reviewing or enhancing code) 
  • Cost effective and accessible.