Five Free Online Tools for Writers

As an English major and college writing tutor, more often than almost anything else I heard were the complaints about writing, and musings over how hard it must have been for me to have to write so much for my classes. I love to write but I understand why many people don’t. It’s not as easy as it might sound, and there are so many rules to keep straight. Spelling rules, grammar rules, mechanics rules, rules about when to use a “formal voice” and when to use a “conversational tone.”

There are several resources available online for any one who is struggling with the various aspects of writing, or who can’t decide if using a semi-colon is appropriate. Most of these resources are generally suitable for anyone over the age of 13. They are easy to understand, employing the idea that the majority of people using the information will be at a beginning or intermediate level of understanding of the material.

Bedford Handbook

Diana Hacker’s Bedford Handbook is often considered by writing instructors at all levels as the quintessential writing manual. The Bedford website offers several types of assistance to the struggling writer. It has an option to register and create a free account. If you are using the site as a part of a structured writing course, your instructor may post quizzes and exercises on the site and you will need an account for those activities but for the most part, unless you wish to save your scores on the exercises, an account is not required. Simply click on the diamond corresponding with the exercise or resource you wish to use and when it asks you to log in, click “Cancel.”

Contained with the Bedford Handbook online are Writing Exercises, Grammar Exercises, and Research Exercises which help hone your skills in each area (the “Writing Exercise” section focuses on such things as point of view, showing versus telling, imagery, metaphor, etc). Also, you will find advice on common language questions (e.g. when to use bad versus badly), how to select, validate, and document online resources for research papers, and samples of how to write a paper in the various disciplines (MLA, Modern Language Association, style for English and humanities, APA, American Psychological Association, style for psychology and social sciences, Chicago style for history and some humanities, and CSE, Council of Scientific Editors, style for biology and other physical sciences).

Rules for Writers

Rules for Writers is also administered by the Bedford-St. Martin company. Even though it is owned and operated by the same company, this site is slightly different. It still offers interactive exercise, a list of links to other online resources such as popular search engines, free dictionaries, thesaurus, and encyclopedia, government sites and many others. It also offers writing assignments which instructors can print off to give to their students or which anyone can print off to use on their own.

Punctuation Made Simple

The name says it all. This site is devoted to explaining, in detail, the ins and outs of the primary, and most commonly misused or over-used, forms of punctuation; semi-colon, colon, comma, dash, and apostrophe. The site is owned and maintained by Illinois State University and has been successfully assisting students from all around the world since May of 2001. Unfortunately, this site doesn’t offer any exercises in using the punctuation but the explanations for how to use them are very extensive and can be consulted any time a question comes up.

Paradigm Online Writing Assistant

Paradigm is a guide to understanding what is wanted when your teacher or professor asks you for an “Informative Essay, not an Argumentative Essay.” It helps to separate each of these and breaks them down into parts to make understanding what qualifies for each essay classification a little easier.

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

This is quite possibly the most extensive, easiest to use online dictionary and thesaurus. There is a thesaurus that offers not only synonyms for words but definitions of those synonyms. You can enter words into the dictionary to get the definition or, if you are unsure of the exactly spelling, browse the dictionary by letter.

These five sites, plus the many hidden within the depths of the two Bedford-St. Martin sites, are incredible tools, used by professional tutors and instructors, both online and in face to face situations, around the country and they will help you with just about any writing problem you may encounterâÂ?¦except with what to write about, you’re on your own there.

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