From research papers and projects, to discussion boards and email messages, writing skills are essential for college students. It’s not likely you’ll complete an entire academic program, or even a single course, without using written communication in some way.
Writing skills come with practice and feedback, and there are a lot of resources available to help you improve your work and supplement the experience you get in your classes.
This post is the fourth in a series featuring helpful apps for online students (see the previous entries on note-taking, study skills, and productivity). My goal with each of these articles is to narrow down the increasing number of mobile apps available to support your success as an online student. For this post, I looked for a few affordable options that specifically focus on writing. The following guidelines framed my search:
- Free vs. Paid: Low- or no-cost options exist, so that you can get started quickly without a big financial commitment.
- Cross-platform: Each app listed is available for use on multiple devices and operating systems (i.e., Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, Web, Windows).
- Recommendations: These apps all have good ratings or reviews from other users.
7 Writing Apps
The level and type of writing expected in college courses often require students to learn new methods, skills, and habits. Academic writing is a form of communication that strives for clarity, careful analysis, and organization. You also need to understand writing mechanics, such as grammar, sentence structure, and transitions.
Where, how, and when do you work best? Creating a helpful work/study environment is an important part of the writing process, whether that means working in complete silence or with background noise, writing in the morning or in the middle of the night, writing alone or collaboratively with classmates.
There are applications available to help you not only create a comfortable writing environment, but also identify areas for skill development. Think about how you might access these tools on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone to:
- Organize your reading and reference materials, so that you can track your sources and cite them as appropriate.
- Develop better writing habits through an awareness of the mistakes you make most often, and the practice needed to become a better writer.
- Review and revise your work with tools that check for spelling and grammar errors, and provide feedback for additional improvement before you submit for a grade.
If you are looking for tools to help you with academic writing and written communication skills, the following apps provide a variety of functions and features to assist your efforts:
- Adobe Reader: Are you downloading PDF documents from the Web or your school’s online library databases? Use Adobe Reader to not only view these documents on your mobile device, but also add notes and highlight sections for later review. The forms and signature features are also handy for other uses. [Android, iOS, Web]
- Dragon: This collection of voice recognition apps allows you to speak your notes and ideas, even compose out loud. This technology creates text from your dictation, which you can then copy and paste into a document for editing. Other functions provide voice-to-text convenience for email, social media updates, and Internet Search. The Android tools include personalized keyboard features. [Android, Blackberry, iOS]
- EasyBib: Academic writing requires citing your sources. EasyBib helps you both manage all of the resources you are citing, and create the correct citation format using MLA, APA, Chicago, and six other specialized style guides. A built in scanning feature creates a citation entry from the ISBN bar code found on a book jacket or cover. Export your citation list via email and add it to your paper’s bibliography or reference section. [Android, iOS, Web]
- Google Drive: This collection of Google tools may not be new to you, but they’re worth mentioning here. If you are involved in collaborative writing projects with colleagues and classmates, Google Drive’s documents, slides, sheets, forms, etc. provide an easy way to track versions of your work and allow multiple people to edit simultaneously. You can also export final versions in several formats (e.g, .docx, .pdf, .html) to submit in your courses. [Android, iOS, Mac, Web, Windows]
- Hemingway: This tool proofreads your work as you type. Paste your draft into “write” mode, then switch to “edit” mode to reveal readability (grade level) and word count. You’ll also see a color-coded analysis of your writing that identifies “hard to read” sentences, suggests removal of adverbs, and highlights the use of passive voice. This app is designed for use on your desktop or laptop computer. [Mac, Web, Windows]
- OmmWriter: If you find yourself easily distracted while writing, OmmWriter creates a minimalist screen environment to help you focus. Features are limited, but you can choose from multiple backgrounds and audio tracks to “set the mood” and get to work. Export your writing as a text file and complete final edits and formatting in another word processing program. This app requires a download, but doesn’t have a set fee. A free version is available and donations are encouraged. [Mac, iOS, Windows]
- Practice English Grammar: Designed for language learners, this app offers a wide range of activities for students at all skill levels. Track your progress as you gain practice with common grammar skills (e.g., adverbs, passive/active voice, verb tenses) through questions, flashcards, and games. Free and paid versions are available. [Android, iOS]
Selecting a Writing App
The apps I’ve featured above are just a few of the many options you’ll find. Selecting one (or two) that work best for you should include careful consideration of the following:
- Synching: If you alternate between smartphone and laptop use during the day, being able to track your progress across all of your devices can save a lot of time and frustration. Look for apps that “synch” your work, so you can view the latest versions of your drafts no matter when and where you log in.
- Simplicity: The primary goal of adding an app to your routine is to improve your writing skills and workflow, not to create additional work or frustration. Look for apps that have intuitive navigation and easy to understand screens and menus.
- Support: Does the app you’ve chosen provide the features you need for your classes? Check to see how your work is saved and stored, and for export options that are compatible with the file types and formats required for your assignments. You may be surprised to find that your school’s library or writing center incorporate writing apps with existing tools, such as article databases and tutorials. Ask about apps already identified to help you with your research and writing.
Make a list of must-have features that would help you in your courses, with the understanding that your priorities may be different than your classmates’ priorities. Download and test several apps to see which ones have the most appealing look and feel, and meet your writing needs. The goal is to find something that is both useful and easy to use, so that it becomes part of your regular work and study routine.
Have you tried any of these writing apps? Let us know what has been the most helpful to you in your classes.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog