6 Useful Tools and Resources for Writing Academic Essays

With essay deadlines looming on the horizon, master essay writer Jeen shares her tips for staying on top.

Academic essays can be daunting to write especially if you come from a background where they were not part of your undergraduate training, and the struggle is even worse if English is not your mother tongue! It is a learning process where you get better with experience and time. But don’t lose hope! There are also some useful resources on the internet to help you get started, and well-complements the University of Glasgow’s fantastic academic writing workshops (please, please attend them because you’re bound to learn something new for sure). Here are my own tried-and-tested favourites which have been, and still are, a tremendous help for my assignments:


Onenote allows you to import, highlight and annotate PDFs

Most of you are probably already aware of this note-taking program that comes in a bundle with your Microsoft Office subscription (which comes with your University of Glasgow student email account! yay!), but for the uninformed, Onenote is the best student program out there (voted by: me) for organizing your notes and readings. The first stage of essay writing is usually a close reading of papers related to your topic, and Onenote is a wonderful tool which allows you to directly import the PDF files of papers into the program and highlight & add annotations. It’s a great way to support the paperless movement and, it’s also much easier to search for information when some quote or ideas cross your mind but you just can’t put your finger on the source.


Sample mind map made with X-mind ZEN

The time allocation for writing an academic essay is probably 90% planning and 10% of actual writing, which really shows how much effort one should invest at the planning stage. Mind mapping is a useful tool for outlining your essay structure at this stage and to guide your writing process. While there are many mindmapping tools out there, X-mind is one of my favorite because of its clean and straight-to-the-point interface. It’s useful for planning your essay as academic essays tend to follow the set introduction-body-conclusion structure, and a mind map allows you to stay focused on the big picture. In X-Mind, you can choose to label the mind-map one-by-one, or type it out in bullet points in outline mode, and the program automatically converts it into mind-map format at the click of a button.  


#Bullet points and indentations for life

Workflowy’s super-minimalist user interface may seem underwhelming at first glance, but it works great with X-mind as a to-do list if you are someone who needs to tick off checkboxes to stay motivated with work. Super useful to keep track of your progress and helps you stick to your schedule.

Alternative: Mubu

Pro-Tip: keep your friends close and your sources closer

If you understand Chinese I strongly recommend using Mubu instead because it combines the best of X-Mind and Workflowy i.e. it allows you to write an outline, convert the bullet points instantly into a mind map at the click of a button, strike-out completed tasks plus zoom into subtopics.


Organization is the key to happiness of a graduate student

Zotero comes to the rescue of millions of students from all over the world who gave up on trying to memorize the correct way of citing sources in various formats. Not only does it save you the time from the mundane task of manually adding citations, it also allows you to organize all the readings you’ve downloaded and can never seem to find from the millions of files you have cluttered in your computer. Don’t forget to install the browser plug-in that allows you to add sources directly from your browser (the program is rather accurate at auto-filling information from most journal databases like Springer, ScienceDirect, Elsevier etc.)

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Purdue Online Writing Lab is a great resource for those who would like tips on writing academic essays, and also their annotated sample paper with the most popular citation formats have been very useful in helping me navigate the differing citation preferences of professors.

Harvard College Writing Center

A Classic.

This concise guide which breaks down step-by-step the process of writing an academic essay. I found the ‘how to read an assignment’ section to be extremely helpful as someone who was unfamiliar with academic essay requirements.  

Of course, it goes without saying that all the fancy tools in the world are not going to help if you wait until the last minute to start on your paper. Repeat after me:


(Jeen, 2019)

It would be really challenging, if nigh on impossible to finish your paper in one sitting, so the wisest thing to do would be to plan out your desired progress over the days you have left until the deadline, and divide your workload accordingly.

Happy Writing!