Best free online group project tools

Group projects can be a pain. It’s hard to get two, three, four, or more people in the same place, at the same time, and keep everyone on task. Luckily, there are some excellent online tools you can use to collaborate with other students on group projects. These are some of our favorites:

Asana: https://asana.com/

Asana is the best free project management software out there. With Asana you can create your team (that is, add your group project members), create tasks, set deadlines, assign tasks to specific users, share progress updates, talk about the project with team members, share documents, and more. For all the tasks assigned to you or that you follow, you’ll get regular email reminders about the due date, helping keep you on task. Plus, when you complete tasks, cute little animations pop up on your screen (sometimes they’re unicorns)!

Google Drive: https://www.google.com/drive/

If you have a Google account (and like, everyone does), you have access to Google Drive, a cloud-based online platform for creating documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, and more. You can create a project in Google Drive, share it with multiple people, provide them with editing permissions, and all work on the project at the same time, from different locations, and all your changes will be made in real time. Within a document, you can also leave comments, @ mention other editors, and open a chat with the other group members. It’s almost better than working in the same room!

Microsoft OneDrive: https://my.wku.edu/

With your student email account, you have access to useful Microsoft apps, including OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. Like Google Docs, with these apps you can compose and save documents online, accessible from anywhere you can use your email account. You can also collaborate with other students in real time, making this super useful for group project work (plus, you don’t have to know everyone’s personal email address). As another advantage over Google apps (sorry not sorry), the formatting options are better and slightly more intuitive.

Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/

Dropbox is what it sounds like: a virtual box into which you can drop things, specifically files. Dropbox is very secure and has tons of controls on how you can share the files, who can access them, and file viewing/editing/accessing permissions users have. If you have a file-heavy project and need to make sure everyone has access to all the important materials, creating a Dropbox for your project and sharing it with your group members is a good way to do that.

Want to take advantage of another free resource? Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

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Best Free Online Writing Tools for Student Writers

It’s not stereotyping to say that college students love free things—it’s just a fact. Whether it’s free t-shirts from student organizations, free pizza from events on campus, or free pens from tablers in DSU, we’re taking advantage of all the freebies we can get. Why not do the same with your writing? There are tons of free writing resources available to you online; here are a few of our favorites:

Grammarly: https://www.grammarly.com/

If you’ve ever thought you needed spellcheck for email, you’re in luck. If you’re doing any writing online or in MS Word, Grammarly is for you. It’s a spellchecker that is more intuitive than Google’s or Microsoft’s, and it can be added as an extension to your web browser. If you create an account, Grammarly will track your common errors and provide you a weekly report to help you improve your writing.

Google Docs: https://www.google.com/docs/about/

If you have a Gmail account, you have access to Google Docs, an online word processing program. In addition to having similar functionality to MS Word and Apple’s Pages, it stores all documents online in your Google Drive, connected to your Gmail account. Additionally, it saves while you’re working (never accidentally lose your whole paper again!); you can have multiple editors on a document, all working in real time (great for group projects); and you can access your paper from any computer with internet.

Microsoft OneDrive: https://my.wku.edu/

With your student email account, you have access to useful Microsoft apps, including OneDrive and Word Online. Like Google Docs, with OneDrive and Word Online, you can compose and save documents online, accessible from anywhere you can use your email account. You can also collaborate with other students in real time.

Purdue OWL: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

We love the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab), and you will too. It has resources on every style of academic paper, including MLA, APA, and Chicago, plus resources for ESL (English as a Second Language), writing in general, and resources for tutors and teachers. Any citation or formatting questions you may have, Purdue OWL has the answers.

WKU’s Writing Center “Resources for Writers” Pagehttp://www.wku.edu/writingcenter/resources_writers.php

We’ve got some great resources, besides the ones mentioned here, specifically for academic writing linked on the Writing Center website. We’ll also be adding some video and pdf tutorials and reference sheets in the upcoming weeks—stay tuned!

WKU’s Writing Center blog: https://wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com/

We’re shameless self-promoters, but it’s because we’re doing a ton of great stuff right now. We’ve got content on all sorts of writing situations, and new content is posted every Tuesday and Friday!

Want to take advantage of another free writing resource? Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 123 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 123 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

Where to write at WKU

By Abby Ponder

We all know that starting a paper is often the most difficult part of writing the paper. In fact, we’ve covered it in great detail on this very blog. At the end of the day, though, we all have our own spaces and places to tell our stories; however, if you’re wanting to stay on campus for your writing days, we’ve got a couple suggestions for you.

Your Dorm (or home)

It seems pretty self-explanatory, but some people write their best work from the comfort of their own room.

There are obvious pros to writing in this location: (1) you’re comfortable, (2) you don’t have to deal with people distracting you from writing, and (3) you’re familiar with the space and everything in it. Let’s be honest, it’s also really convenient–especially when you’ve procrastinated until the night before the paper’s due. Not that you’d ever do such a thing, though, right?

But, at the same time, these pros can sometimes be cons. Being comfortable might mean you’re more easily distracted or tempted to take a nap. Plus, if your roommate or friends from down the hall are hanging out, you’re more liable to be distracted by them than hearing a stranger order a cup of coffee or rant about the latest Scandal episode. Who knows, in your own room you might even watch that Scandal episode yourself.

Really, whether or not your dorm (or home) works well for your writing depends on your personality and your ability to concentrate. Test it out and use your best judgment.

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Helm/Cravens Library 

This seems like the most obvious place, of course. It’s quiet. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be quiet. (Cough.) There are seemingly endless floors–nine, nine floors–and endless rows of books and shelves. Some of the shelves even move! The cubbies of desks sprinkled throughout the perimeter of each floor are also especially appealing if you like to be alone with your thoughts. Or you can use the computer lab on the fourth floor in Cravens. There are usually plenty of computers available, and it’s one of the best places to go if you need to concentrate and thrive off people’s judgment to keep you off Facebook.

Plus, if you’re working on your paper between 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., then stop by and see us at our Cravens’ location. We’ll be hanging out at the reference desk.

Ultimately, the library is a wonderful place to write. Generally it’s even my first choice! Unless, of course, it’s final weeks. And then you might have to fight for that spot, buddy.

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Starbucks/Einstein’s/Java City

Nothing breeds productive thoughts like the smell of brewing caffeine in the air. For some people (myself wholeheartedly included), a coffee shop is the undisputed best place to write. There’s enough hustle and bustle to stifle the silence, but you can also do your own thing with a nice cup of joe by your side. It’s a great environment! Plus, you can also feel really mature as you sip that latte and type away.

Just keep in mind that if you’re camping out in your fave coffee shop for a few hours at a time, you should actually buy something while you’re there. (This is also especially true for coffee shops off campus.)

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The Colonnade (or anywhere outside, really) 

Now that we’re nearing spring and the weather is warming up, writing a paper outside is an ideal idea-churning location. What better place is there to feel an idea sprout from your pen and see words blossom on your screen? Whether you’ve got a hammock, a blanket, or a spot on the Colonnade steps, you’re guaranteed to be writing in comfort and style.

Fair warning, though, that comfort and style might be a little too distracting.

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Mass Media and Technology Hall 

If you enjoy writing on desktop computers, then MMTH is the place for you.

It’s also the place for you if you need people’s judgment to keep you on task but find the quiet of the library stifling.

Conversely, if noise bothers you, then you might want to reconsider. Either way, though, it’s an excellent place to print that paper off before class. And if you’re not already using WebPrint from your laptop, now is the perfect time to start…

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So, where are your favorite places to write? Share in the comments below! And good luck as you move forward with those papers, my friends. Don’t forget that the WKU Writing Center is here to help you with the paper writing process. Give us a call at (270) 745-5719 to set up an appointment today.

 

Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

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When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

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Lines of red and green

By Abby Ponder

Have you ever left an appointment at the Writing Center feeling a little blue? You came in mostly confident in your paper–there might’ve been a few mistakes, sure, but you just know it’s solid–and then watched as lines began to fill the margins while your eyes widened in surprise.

It’s not always a great feeling, especially that first time you see it.

Even if you talk it over with your tutor as you go, discuss why those colorful and intricate markings now dot your paper, you might still be feeling a little upset. I thought it was good–that I was good. What happened? 

Well, I have news for you: you’re not alone.

My editing process, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post here, involves a lot of printing and, well, editing. I’ll often print out a copy of my paper, take a pen to it, make the corrections, and then repeat the process a time or two again. Hey, never let it be said that I am nothing if not persistent. (And, let’s be honest, a bit of an extreme perfectionist.)

Now, I’m not saying that you need to rush home and start editing your papers five or six times with a bright red pen. That’s actually not it at all! What works well for some people might not work as well for others. For instance, I know some people who simply read the document to themselves backwards, looking for typos or misplaced words as they go. Others turn on track changes in Microsoft Word and start flying through the paper.

There is no single right way to edit, just as there is also no wrong way.

The good news is that in the Writing Center, we do our best to avoid that ominous red pen. I mean, there’s a reason that all the “scary teachers” on television or in movies use it. Red packs a powerful punch and one glance at it can sometimes send the message of, “Well, darn, that doesn’t look good!” Markings on paper with red ink have developed into something with a negative connotation but, if we’re being honest, I actually prefer the red pen when I’m editing my own papers. Nothing snaps you into gear quite like the bright and shiny red ink that’s telling you, “Hey, kid, I need to be changed–don’t you dare ignore me!”

Like I said, though, what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. Red pens might not be for you yet, but green pens, on the other hand, are a nice place to start. After all, green is a comforting color–a cool color, in fact.

However, the ultimate thing to keep in mind is that marks on a paper are not a bad thing. They also do not lower your meaning as a writer or as a person. On the contrary, they signify that, sure, something might need improved, but you’re on the right track–you’re almost there. They’re a sign of progress and of growth, and there is something inherently valuable in that.

The markings also aren’t something that you should ever take personally. As evidenced by the picture below, I go to town with my own papers. Sometimes there is more red ink than black ink and white space and, again, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a way of thinking out loud in a quiet room and is something you should never be ashamed of.

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So, put that pen to paper and write. Or turn on track changes. Or read backwards. Or, better yet, come see us in the Writing Center.

I can’t promise anything, but I like to think that you’ll be glad you did.

Let’s talk about grammar (or not)

By Abby Ponder

It’s a gloomy Wednesday, you’re drenched from hiking up the hill in the pouring rain, and you can feel your stress levels beginning to rise with each step you take. You have a test tomorrow, a paper due the day after that, and you don’t know when you’re going to have time for a lunch break–next Tuesday, maybe? You’re on your way into the writing center, paper clutched tightly in hand, and you just want this day to be over with.

You round the corner and walk into the room, located on the main floor of Cherry Hall, for the first time in your academic career. Perhaps you are a freshman still finding your way in this great big world of academia or perhaps you are a graduating senior who doesn’t really want to be here in the first place. (You won’t tell your tutors that, though, will you?) You cross over the threshold, taking in the round tables with multiple students filling them. You don’t think you can even differentiate who is helping whom. They’re all student, each and every one of them–like you.

“Can I help you?”

You turn your head and smile at the person sitting behind the reception desk. You think you might recognize her from one of your classes.

“Yes, I was wondering if I could meet with someone about my paper? I’ve heard this is where you go,” you say.

The girl smiles at you.

“You’ve got it,” she says. “The sign-in sheet is right behind you. Someone will be with you in a moment, if you want to have a seat.”

You nod, reaching for the pen and paper. You fill out the necessities–name, student identification number, time of day, and course title–and then take a seat on the couch beneath the white board. As you wait, you spend your time checking your phone and trying not to guess at which student you’ll be sharing your work with.

Writing is an extremely personal thing for you. You both love and loathe the process, and you can’t help but feel your cheeks flush and your heart beat erratically any time someone dares to look too closely at the words you’ve carefully placed on paper. Sometimes you’re extremely grateful that you don’t have to be present as your professors read your assignments–the red pen is bad enough. Sometimes there’s a little and sometimes there’s a lot, but either way it breaks your heart.

Sometimes, more often than not, you think, you can’t even bring yourself to read the tightly scrawled notes.

“Are you ready to get started?” you hear. Your head snaps up, eyes falling on the speaker.

You nod at this person who must be your tutor and follow her to one of the round tables in the corner of the room. You can’t help but note that you have a rather nice view out the window from where you’re now seated. The cherry blossoms are dancing in the wind, the skies beginning to cloud with another April shower. It’s almost calming in a way–the calm before the storm. You wish you hadn’t forgotten your umbrella, though.

“So, what can I help you with?” the tutor asks.

“Grammar,” you say immediately. Grammar has always been your weakness, the biggest drain on your confidence. If you could only make it go away, eschew all the rules, then you would be more than happy to. Unfortunately, your professors, it seems, disagree with that philosophy.

The girl sitting beside you nods, picking up a purple pen and uncapping it.

“Mhm,” she says. “What is your assignment about? What class is it for?”

You launch into your explanation of the assignment: what it is, whom it’s for, and all the problems you’ve been having with it. You don’t like your thesis at all, and you’re not feeling confident about the third paragraph, but you really like the way you bring out this one point in paragraph five.

You tell her all of this, watching a smile spread across her face.

“Okay,” she says. “Let’s start with that thesis statement then.”

The next half an hour passes by rather quickly. Together you read through your paper, catching errors and inaccuracies on occasion, but also finding strong textual analysis and well-written content. It’s not a perfect draft, but it doesn’t have to be: it is a first draft, after all.

When the minute hand eventually signals the conclusion of the session, you’re feeling good about your paper. There were some hiccups along the way–that’s life–but you leave feeling more confident about your paper than you did before you walked through the door a half hour ago.

Two weeks later finds you in the writing center again. This time, you work with a different tutor–one who is just as nice and helpful as your tutor before. For this paper, you don’t even have a draft written yet, just an idea that’s beginning to blossom in your head. You tell your tutor as much, and he nods encouragingly.

“We can work with that,” he says with a laugh.

Together your chart the trajectory of your paper, filling in a blank outline with your words and ideas. It’s more than just going through the motions, you think: it’s progress.

When you leave this appointment, you have another scheduled a few days down the line.

“Come back whenever you’re ready,” your tutor tells you. “We’re happy to look at another draft with you.”

And you do.

The Writing Center at WKU offers support for all students who are enrolled at the university. We offer services in two respective locations, Cherry Hall 123 and the Commons at Cravens Library, as well as online appointments for students attending WKU’s regional campuses or exclusively taking online courses.

Contrary to some misconceptions, the Writing Center isn’t simply an editing service. Instead, we work with students to help them improve their overall writing abilities, not just a singular paper. We’re there for you at any stage in the writing process, whether you’re brainstorming or looking at a final draft.

This post was originally published on June 9, 2015.

Communicating in group projects

by Abby Ponder

There are two words on a syllabus that have the potential to strike fear into the hearts of students everywhere: “group project.”

People are wary of group projects for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding time in an overwhelmingly busy schedule that accommodates several people; sometimes it’s a matter of having communication difficulties with your fellow group members; and sometimes it’s simply that you’re a strong, independent student who doesn’t need a group support system.

Whatever your reason, sometimes group projects can be stressful experiences–even with wonderful group members.

However, they’re an important aspect of both college life and life in the real world. People have to collaborate on projects all the time to turn out a successful product. Learning those skills can only help you in the long run.

Still, though, sometimes even when you know something is good for you, it might not be something you’re looking forward to. So, how do you make the best of your situation?

First and foremost, communication is essential. Depending on the scale of your project, there are various ways to communicate effectively with your group members. Technology of the 21st Century really is your best friend in this instance. Some viable options (and their pros and cons) include:

  1. Email: This is the standard form of communication amongst students, but is it the most effective? It depends. Emails allow you to be very verbose in your content and share files. If you have a lot to say in one burst of content, emails will definitely work in your favor. However, if your group is on the larger side, emails can sometimes make it difficult to  communicate with everyone. If one person forgets to click “reply all” or to “CC” everyone, then a communication gap can appear and information has the potential to be lost in translation.
  2. Group Texts: When you’re trying to decide when and where to meet, group texts can be a swell way to handle the communication side of things. They’re also nice for sharing quick bits of information or asking questions on a smaller scale: “When is the paper due? Are we meeting at six?” When it gets more complex than that, though? Maybe not. Another thing to keep in mind regarding group texts is that some people may have phones that are incompatible with the rest of the group. Make sure to clarify such things before establishing it as your go-to method.
  3. Facebook Groups: This is my personal favorite way to communicate because it combines all the aforementioned methods into one. You can post files, share status updates, and keep everything organized in one place.
  4. Google Drive: Want to work together but can’t meet in the same place? Google Drive is the tool for you! You can write and edit one collective document at the same time and save it automatically. This can be super helpful in the collaborative process, but do keep in mind that meeting up at least once is a very good idea in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The most important thing during a group project is to collaborate. If you work together and communicate, your chances for success will be much greater.
If there are several individuals working together, it might also be a good idea to assign specific roles to members–an editor, a designer, an organizer, etc. Make sure everyone is involved throughout the entire process.
So, what are your strategies for communicating in group projects? Let us know!
Stay tuned for next week’s post about the actual writing process for group projects.
This post was originally published on March 30, 2015.