I have a whole folder of resources that I’ve used throughout my career as an English major (not all of which are as transferrable as the ones listed here, unless you all really want to hear about a text-searchable database of Early English Books Online and an interactive catalog of Blake’s works — this excites me, but probably not too many others). This list alone got me through many sleepless nights of churning out lengthy papers and researching topics, and covers everything from researching, free books, and easy citations.Frankly, I wish I would have known about half of these resources sooner! I can only imagine being a high school student and knowing that I could turn to the OED to help with a particular assignment, or create a stellar presentation with Prezi, but alas.
I might not have quite as many chances to use all of these resources post-university, but I still find them really helpful when poking around the Internet or writing papers on my own (which I might do for fun, sometimes. Judge away). Whether you’re in college or just like writing academic papers for pleasure (someone please tell me I’m not the only one who likes to postulate about common themes in Disney movies, or morality in Batman), I’m to help you avoid the same writing and researching pitfalls!
Tools and Resources For Writing, Researching, and Presentations
- Oxford English Dictionary – If I could marry the Oxford English Dictionary I probably would. Somehow I made it through 12 years of public schooling plus one year of college before even knowing this amazing resource existed, but once I was introduced to the OED I’ve never looked back (and have probably used it in every paper since!). At a very basic level, it’s an incredibly detailed dictionary, but it also provides etymologies of words and traces definitions over time with examples aplenty – a tool that’s been invaluable in the way I write papers. Looking at a word’s meaning in a particular context is a great launching point for literary analysis, making the OED perfect for basic research and changing your paper-writing frame of mind.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the American National Biography – We all do it. Use Wikipedia, that is, to look up basic biographical information (whatever happened to using more accepted encyclopedias to look up facts? You mean we don’t miss those gargantuan, heavy, hardcover, multi-volume beasts? No? Oh, ok). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and ANB are more credible alternatives to reading the first few lines of Wikipedia entries.
- Google Scholar (and Google Books) – Pitt had an incredible online database of and access to journal articles, most of which where available in PDF form or to read online without having to trek into the library on my day off in the snow. On the other hand, there were instances where I just couldn’t find the type of article I was looking for and was on the hunt for other resources. One answer in both of these situations? Google! I’ve found articles on Google Scholar that I hadn’t had access to elsewhere, and on occasion found a much more useful critical essay to flip through. The only flaw with this, though, is that often, whole articles or essays in books aren’t available in their entirety. Usually, the few chapters given are enough for my purposes in Google Books, and I don’t usually run into this problem with Google Scholar, but take caution regardless.
- OWL @ Purdue – For all of your MLA and APA citation needs, the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University is a simple reference that explains how to format your entire paper, organize your bibliography, and how to correctly format quotations in your paper in various styles. I still don’t remember the correct order in bibliographies (Author. Title. Date published is in there somewhere….) so OWL is a lifesaver.
- Prezi – This is a fun alternative to your typical PowerPoint presentation. More graphic and animated, your finished presentation feels a little more fun and a little less cookie cutter (plus, it’s easy to use, with professional-looking results!)
- Written Kitten – Everyone needs a little motivation every now and then. What better way to reach that 500-word count response than with the help of adorable kittens? You’d be surprised how many times I’ve milked an extra few words out rather than just hit the minimum with this gem. You’re welcome.
While some of these databases and resources require a subscription, most universities and public libraries have access to them, so check with your local librarian to find out the best way to gain access.
Other Tips and Tricks:
- EasyBib is a great way to compile your bibliography (and the basic MLA version is free!), even allowing you to look up books by ISBN number
- If you’re compiling a lengthy bibliography you might want to spring for (some are free, or again, your university might already subscribe to these tools) a bibliography composer like NoodleTools, RefWorks, Zotero which offer more options than the free EasyBib and impeccable organization
- I didn’t have log-in access to an article on JStor last term, but was able to find the article I needed in a softcover book of essays and criticism – combine that with availability on Kindle and I was able to rent a particular essay for a couple of bucks to use through the term, or as long as I needed, really, without fighting over it with the rest of my class in the library