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Academic Writing: 6 Foundational Writing Tools to Get Started

Academic writing is seen as an essential part of succeeding in higher education. But, academic writing can also be a challenging task. Especially when it comes to choosing the basic software to use to get your writing done.

There are lots of fancy tools out there! Trust me, I love playing with them. But, a good place to start is with the basics.

In this blog post, I want to share some of the foundational tools which I think are worth mastering before ramping up your academic writing efforts using, for example, fancy AI-writing tools.

Whether you need help with word processing software, reference management software or assistance from writing support tools – the foundational solutions below can provide valuable for getting started.

Word Processing Software for Academic Writing

Microsoft Word is one of the most popular word-processing programs available, and it has been around for decades. It offers a wide range of features that make it ideal for academic writing. Microsoft Word allows users to create documents with text, images, tables, and more. It also provides powerful formatting options such as font selection, paragraph alignment, and page layout. Additionally, Microsoft Word includes helpful tools like spell checker and grammar checker to help ensure accuracy in your work. Love it or hate it, it’s pretty much the industry standard.

The main advantage of using Microsoft Word is its familiarity; many academics have used this program for years so they are already familiar with how it works. Additionally, there are plenty of resources online that can help you learn more about the program if needed. However, some people find Microsoft Word difficult to use due to its complexity; it can be overwhelming at first glance because there are so many features available.

Using a widely-adopted writing software like Word may also make it easier for sharing drafts with your supervisor, as they are likely using it for their own work.

Google Docs is another popular choice among academics who need a word processor for their work. This cloud-based platform makes collaboration easy by allowing multiple users to edit documents simultaneously from any device with an internet connection. It’s also free! Google Docs also offers basic formatting options such as font selection and paragraph alignment but lacks some advanced features found in other programs like table creation or page layout control which may be important depending on what type of document you’re creating.

One major benefit of using Google Docs is its simplicity; even those unfamiliar with word processors will find the interface relatively intuitive and easy to navigate quickly without needing extensive training or tutorials beforehand.

Furthermore, since all files created in Google Docs are stored online they can easily be shared between colleagues or accessed from anywhere making collaboration much more efficient than traditional methods like emailing documents back and forth.

Using web-based software also has the potential advantage of being able to use plugins in your web browser (e.g. Grammarly) to help you create error-free work.

Key Takeaway: Microsoft Word and Google Docs are popular word-processing programs for academics, each with its own advantages. Microsoft Word offers powerful formatting options and helpful tools like spell checker while Google Docs is simpler to use and allows real-time collaboration.

Reference Management Software

Reference management software is an invaluable tool for academics who need to keep track of sources used in their research papers. Two of the most popular reference management programs are Zotero and Mendeley.

Zotero is a free, open-source program that allows users to easily organize, store and cite sources. It’s the one I use. It has a simple user interface that makes it easy to add references from online databases or manually enter them into the system. Zotero also provides features such as automatic formatting of citations and bibliographies in multiple styles, annotation tools for adding notes about specific sources, and integration with other writing tools like Microsoft Word. The main pros of using Zotero are its ease of use and affordability; however, some users may find it difficult to use if they’re not familiar with the program’s functions or have trouble setting up their library correctly.

An added bonus is the iPad version (which will sync with desktop and web-based versions) which I use to highlight and annotate papers.

Mendeley is another popular reference management program designed specifically for researchers. It offers many features similar to those found in Zotero. One of the advantages of using Mendeley might be that it is supported by your university and thus you can get assistance when you need it – but this isn’t always the case. However, Mendeley does come with a cost if you want more advanced features, which could be prohibitively expensive depending on your budget constraints.

Both Zotero and Mendeley offer great solutions when it comes to managing references efficiently; however, each one has its own set of advantages and disadvantages that should be considered before making any decisions about which one will best suit your needs as an academic researcher.

Key Takeaway: Zotero and Mendeley are both popular reference management programs for academics. Zotero is free, easy to use, and offers features such as automatic formatting and annotation tools. Mendeley provides additional collaboration tools, access control settings, and the ability to sync data across devices – but comes with a cost. Consider each program’s pros and cons before making a decision on which one best suits your needs.

Writing Assistance Tools – Spelling & Grammar

Writing assistance tools are invaluable for academics who want to ensure that their writing is error-free and clear.

Grammarly is one of the most popular writing assistance tools available, offering a range of features such as grammar and spelling checks, plagiarism detection, and personalised feedback on style and tone. It also offers an AI-powered assistant which can help you improve your writing over time. Pros include its comprehensive set of features, ease of use, and affordability. Cons include the fact that it may not be able to detect all errors in complex sentences or identify more subtle issues with language usage.

Hemingway Editor is another popular writing assistance tool designed to make your text easier to read by highlighting overly long or complex sentences as well as adverbs and passive voice usage. It includes basic grammar-checking capabilities but does not offer any plagiarism detection features as Grammarly does. Pros include its simple interface which makes it easy for anyone to use without prior knowledge or experience with editing software; cons include the lack of advanced grammar-checking capabilities compared to other programs such as Grammarly. Learn more about Hemingway Editor in one of my earlier blog posts.

Key Takeaway: Writing assistance tools can be invaluable for academics, providing features such as grammar and spelling checks, plagiarism detection, and personalised feedback. Grammarly and Hemingway Editor are two popular options: Grammarly offers comprehensive features but may not detect all errors; Hemingway Editor is simpler to use but lacks advanced grammar-checking capabilities.


In conclusion, foundational academic writing tools can be a great launchpad from which to accelerate the process of producing quality written work. Word processing software such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs are essential for any academic writer, while reference management software like Zotero or Mendeley can help keep track of sources. Finally, there are also many writing assistance tools available that can provide valuable feedback on grammar and style. With these powerful tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to create well-written documents much easier!

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be ready to accelerate your academic writing at scale by moving on to exploring AI-based solutions.

Getting a solid grasp of the basics is advised before you progress further.


Q: What is the best writing assistance tool for academics?

A: Grammarly and Hemingway Editor are two popular tools on the market, but it ultimately depends on your individual needs. Consider what features you need and how much you’re willing to spend before making a decision.

Q: Is reference management software free?

A: Some reference management software such as Zotero is free, while others like Mendeley come with a cost.

Q: What is AI-based writing assistance?

A: AI-based writing assistance tools use artificial intelligence to provide feedback on grammar and style. They can be used to improve writing over time, as they learn from user inputs and become more accurate in their feedback. I’ve written about using AI for academic writing in an earlier blog post.

Q: What other types of writing assistance tools are available?

A: In addition to grammar and style checkers, there are also tools designed to help you organise your research, format citations, and collaborate with colleagues. Additionally, tools such as Scrivener streamline the creative writing and editing process and allow users to customize their writing experience.

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