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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Grammar blogs you should be following

If you write anything (even if you think you don’t write, you do) or say anything, no matter the medium or situation, expressing your point and clearly communicating with your audience is important. Good grammar is an essential tool in doing so; grammar provides the rules that make what we say and write make sense. If you want to be a better reader, writer, speaker, listener, and communicator, here are the grammar blogs you should be following:

Grammar Girlhttp://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

Grammar Girl is famous for her Quick and Dirty Tips ™ that define exactly what you need to know about a given grammatical situation. Not sure whether to say “bad” or “badly”? Need to know how to use a semicolon? Grammar Girl can tell you. In addition to the tips, Grammar Girl also has a fun and informative podcast.

Grammarist: http://grammarist.com/

Quick, easily consumable articles on grammar, usage, words and phrases, spelling, and style. It also has English and ESL resources and games. The games may be for kids; however, the games may also be kind of fun. We cannot confirm this (wink, wink).

Grammarly: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/category/writing/grammar/

In addition to their writing products, which include the free Grammarly spellcheck browser extension we’ve mentioned in a previous post, Grammarly has an informative blog on grammar and writing situations (because they’re super good at content marketing). Past topics include how to tell the difference between adjectives and adverbs, how to use good grammar in online dating, and fun quizzes like “Are You a Grammar Troll?” (Turns out, I’m a pedantic grammar troll…)

Merriam-Webster’s Twitterhttps://twitter.com/MerriamWebster?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

This isn’t actually a blog, but Merriam-Webster shares a lot of great and timely articles on grammar and word use on their Twitter account. Also, m-w hilariously trolls the frequent misuse and abuse of words by our country’s most visible politicians.

The WKU Writing Center blog: wkuwritingcenter.wordpress.com

We post things about grammar, and we’re big proponents of self-promotion.

If you have questions about grammar and would like to learn how to identify the patterns of grammatical error in your writing, the Writing Center can help! 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).

CMS vs. MLA vs. APA

Citation styles can be confusing; they have so many seemingly arbitrary rules, and there are so many different methods and styles for papers. How do you know which style to use? How are the styles different? Here we break down the three major citation styles used at WKU, and in academic writing in general.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Disciplines used in (generally): History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Art History, International Studies, etc. Also used in publishing, though many publishers will have a house style that is adapted from the CMS.

Citation system

  1. Notes and Bibliography (NB)–uses footnotes or endnotes for in-text citations and includes a bibliography. Footnote or endnotes have a particular format which includes bibliographic information as well as the page numbers of the referenced material.
  2. Author and Date (AD)–uses the author and date in in-text parenthetical citations and includes a bibliography.

Resources: 

Modern Language Association (MLA)

Disciplines used in (generally): English, Literature, Linguistics, Communications, and the arts and humanities

Citation system: Author and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and Works Cited page.

Resources:

American Psychological Association (APA)

Disciplines used in (generally): Psychology, Sociology, Education, Social Work, Nursing, and social sciences. Occasionally used in the sciences.

Citation system: Author, date, and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and References page.

Resources:

We also have general citation-related online resources! Click here for a useful citation style chart from the Purdue OWL comparing these three major styles. Click here for a WKU Writing Center tutorial video on creating citations in each of these styles. The video also includes explanation on some of the differences between the citations in MLA, CMS, and APA.

If you find yourself still confused by your discipline’s citation style, or could use more clarification on the differences between Chicago, MLA, and APA styles, stop by the writing center! Our tutors have experience with working in these styles, and we have resource books and reference sheets on all of these styles. Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in theWe’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 127 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

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).

Getting started at the end

By Abby Ponder

 

We’re nearing the end of the semester–or, more accurately, we’re barreling towards it at full speed–and it’s at this time of year that the panic sets in. You have a planner in front of you and a to-do list off to the side, but rather than making you feel organized and coherent, it’s just sending those stress levels skyrocketing because there’s so much to do.

That’s fair.

It’s even worse as a senior.

I am currently preparing to say my farewells to WKU as graduation looms a few mere yards away. Suddenly, I’m looking at an avalanche of things to do to help prepare for the transition from college student to adult in the real world.

It’s a lot–sometimes overwhelming. And, as a result, it might seem easy to let your papers slide and “come back to them later.”

Sure, it’s easy to do that.

But don’t.

This is your time to shine, my friends: to write that stellar final paper and look at how far you’ve come since that early lit review your freshman year. You know the one I’m talking about–the one with more comma splices and missing apostrophes than you care to admit. Furthermore, don’t you want to end your college experience with a paper you’re proud of, your last hoorah?

And you might be thinking that, sure, that all sounds well and good, but it’s so much easier said than done. And, honestly, I’d agree with you. Sometimes its hard to find that motivation when the senioritis kicks in.

my emotions

My advice? Look at the bigger picture. Look at that finish line.

The WKU Writing Center Blog has several pieces of advice that will help you on that journey towards knocking your final papers out of the park, too:

Above all else, though, have confidence in yourself and your writing.

And for all you folks who are graduating, congratulations! Best of luck as you move forward.

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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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Fun and helpful links: Finals week

By Abby Ponder

It’s both terrifying and exciting, but the semester is slowly but surely beginning to come to a close.

We’re almost there…

…but so are those paper deadlines.

Stay calm, though. We’ll get through this.

We’ve compiled a handy dandy list of links to help get you through this trying time. (Really, though, we have faith in you.)

  1. You need to outline your paper and don’t know where to start? Here’s an earlier post that covers just that!
  2. You’ve got the topic, the outline is finished, but you can’t seem to get in the writing zone. So, time to find a new writing place!
  3. But if you’re still struggling with procrastination, we’ve got just the post for you.
  4. Research is a critical component in an academic paper, so make sure to utilize the WKU Libraries.
  5. You’ve finally written that paper and now you need to edit it, so check out our post that offers some suggestions on that very topic.
  6. You need to cite your paper? The Purdue Owl is a fantastic resource for checking on the various citation styles, specifically MLA, APA, andChicago.
  7. You’ve turned the paper in and are dealing with professor or peer feedback. Now what?
And don’t forget, the WKU Writing Center is here with you every step of the way. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at (270) 745-5719 or shoot us an email at writingcenter@wku.edu. You can also stop by and see us in our Cherry Hall location (Cherry 123) from 9-4 or at the reference desk in the Commons from 4-9.

So, remember:

Photo credit to this tumblr account that also highlights some additional stress release tips for finals week.
Happy Writing!