One of the advantages of having online access is that it makes schoolwork easier since researching is at the tip of your fingertips, unlike the good ol’ days, say 20 years ago, when we had to look up things in the card catalog in the library. In fact, the internet makes writing easier in all kinds of ways, especially if you know where to look. A number of different sites can help you with generating ideas, revising, and editing.
Spell check programs are invaluable, but their dictionaries are not often particularly extensive, and there is only so much they can do. Dictionary.com gives very complete definitions along with good information about parts of speech, related words, use in idioms, and history. These details can help you decide if the word is really appropriate or find one that is a better choice. Reading the history or idiom use can help you come up with ideas for essays, as well. It’s also nice to hear the pronunciation. Even though it won’t help you with your writing, it does help with your vocabulary.
Good writing uses a variety of words and phrases to get the point across, and a good thesaurus, particularly when used in conjunction with a dictionary, can help you achieve that mix. Although most online dictionaries including dictionary.com give synonyms, their list is not as extensive as this one at thesaurus.com.
Online Writing Labs, or OWLS, have been around for a long time, and they are still great places to go to get more information about any writing project. The Purdue OWL is one of the best. They have explanations of different kinds of writing assignments and general ideas to get you started if you’re stuck for a topic. They have tools to help with mechanics and often have a section just for ESL issues. Although all sites seem to have information about research and proper documentation, OWLs tend to have more thorough information. The Purdue OWL even has worksheets and handouts for teacher/tutor use, and helpful job search information for graduates.
One of the big pluses for these sites is that they are typically connected to an educational institution, which gives them more credibility. They are also usually free, at least for student files.
Writing assistant services
Some sites even let you submit your finished draft for commentary from a professional teacher/tutor. Sites like Smarthinking.com will give suggestions regarding content and mechanics for your paper. If you have a quick question or a short paragraph, Smarthinking allows you to post this on a board for a quicker response. They even have boards with live tutors. You can discuss mechanics, phrasing, thesis statements, do brainstorming-anything you need that will help with your writing.
Most of these services do require payment, but they are generally pretty low. Some courses come with the service built-in these days.
Using sources wisely
Of course, the ease of the internet does lead some people to purchase papers or copy and paste from a website into their own papers without giving proper credit. What these people tend to forget is that it is just as easy for instructors or bosses to find that they have plagiarized. With the vast resources that are now available through your keyboard, there is much less reason to stoop to copying others’ work. Using sites like these can make writing for any purpose much easier and more rewarding.