The American journalist Gene Fowler once remarked,
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Make no mistake, though – Fowler was totally lying, and writing is really hard. So let’s enlist the help of our robot overlords in order to make it a little easier.
Today I’ll share 15 apps and websites that might help you become a better writer. Some are huge, multi-faceted programs, while others are more single-purpose and can help with organizing research, planning, gaining motivation, or editing.
If you’d like even more resources to help with other aspects of your education, you’ll find even more websites, apps, and tools over at the Resources page.
If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.
- Coggle – a free mind-mapping tool that can help you organize ideas.
- Storyline Creator – a mapping tool that’s built around individual characters and the flow of events in a story.
- Evernote – my second brain. Pretty much everything I write starts out as a note here. Here’s another article I wrote with additional Evernote tips.
- Scrivener – a full-fledged application for writing a novel. This is what I finished writing 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Gradeswith.
- Novlr – a new alternative to Scrivener. It seems like it has a nicer design, but fewer features. I found some recommendations for it on the NaNoWriMo forums.
- Byword – a minimalist Markdown editor for OS X. You don’t need to know Markdown to use it… but Markdown is really easy to learn.
- Twinword Writer – a tool with a built-in thesaurus that suggests alternative words when you pause in your writing.
- Write or Die – an app that will punish you if you don’t keep writing. Punishments can range from annoying noises to “Kamikaze Mode”, which starts erasing your writing!
- Written? Kitten! – a more positive take on the Write or Die concept; instead of punishing you, it rewards you with pictures of kittens every 100 words.
- 750words – the name describes it pretty well; this is a site that can help you build a daily writing habit. It’s got pretty cool stat-tracking as well.
- DailyPage – a site that gives you a different writing prompt (e.g. Write about your favorite leader) every day.
- Mendeley – I’m not a grad student, but I’d use this if I was. It’s a free tool that can help you manage research documents and PDFs.
- editMinion – a tool that can analyze your writing and pick out weak and over-used words. It can also tell you if your sentences are too short or long.
- Coffitivity – plays coffee shop noises to give you a nice working atmosphere – a good alternative to white noise generators.
- Brain.fm – a web app that uses AI to generate music that’s supposed to help you increase your focus and attention. The site even has research to back up their claims. I’ve tested it a few times, and while I’m not sure if the music is truly working or just providing a placebo effect yet, I will way that it’s pretty darn good music for working.
By the way, if Brain.fm’s style of music isn’t for you, then you might enjoy my Ultimate Study Music Playlist on YouTube. I add new songs to it often.
Lastly, if you haven’t heard it, you might enjoy the CIG podcast episode where I break down how I wrote my 27,000 word book.
Got other recommendations that I didn’t include here? Share them in the comments!
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Les Perelman, a now retired former director of writing for MIT, has long been against the idea of using machines to grade essays. "I'm a skeptic," he told the New York Times in 2012 — and now he's built his own machine to prove his skepticism right.
Called the Babel Generator — short for Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator — the software is able to produce complete essays in less than a second, and all you have to do is feed it up to three keywords. The essays are grammatically correct but nonsensical. The goal isn't to produce great writing, though, it's to fool other machines: Babel was designed specifically to prove that essay-grading software doesn't effectively analyze things like meaning and isn't able to check facts. Perelman's gibberish essays have managed to get high scores on automated tests like MY Access!, with grades like 5.4 out of 6.
Various studies have shown that automated software often scores papers roughly the same as its human counterparts, and the software is gaining popularity at schools simply because it can grade papers so much faster than teachers. Previously, Perelman had managed to fool these algorithms with essays that employed a few simple tricks, using lengthy words and sentences, as well as connective words like "however." Some developers — including a team at MIT, building software called EASE (Enhanced AI Scoring Engine) — are even trying to create automated systems that are more human by mimicking how actual professors grade.
For Perelman, he believes that these kinds of systems can work in tandem with real human professors — but they aren't a substitute. "I am not an absolutist," he told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "I want to be clear about that."