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Academic writing: a practical guide


Tools for writing

Useful software and apps for academic writing.

Creating documents

If you're going to write, you'll need a document to do it in!

At York we support Microsoft Word and Google Docs as text-processing applications. Both have lots of features to help you set up and format your documents effectively. This will help your documents look good, and can also help to save you time.

Find loads of tips and tricks in our dedicated guide:

Tools for finding sources

There are lots of tools you can use to find sources for your assignments.

Finding what you need with YorSearch [SlideShare]

Taking note of note-taking applications

Taking notes isn't just about what notes you's also about where you take them.

There's no best place to take and store your notes. What is important is that you find an approach that works for you, ensuring that you can find your notes again when you need them and can access them however you want to. You might find one particular application is good for you, or you might use a combination of apps for different purposes, or use a notebook and an app, or even just use a notebook. We'll look at the features of some note-taking apps available at the University of York, but you may find other ones that suit you better.

Google Keep

Keep is Google's note-taking application. You can log into Keep in a web browser at or use the Keep apps for iOS and Android to use it on your phone or tablet.

Key features of Google Keep:

  • Write notes in a sticky note format, with the ability to add a title, or add checkboxes to notes to turn into a to-do list.
  • Handwrite and draw notes either in a web browser or on mobile apps, with some handwriting recognition features.
  • Change the colour of notes and add labels for organisation.
  • Use the mobile apps to record voice notes that have some transcription features.
  • Turn a note into a Google Doc for futher formatting by clicking a Copy to Google Docs button.
  • Share notes with others by adding Collaborators.
Google Keep allows you to add sticky notes which can have checkboxes, images, and audio files, and can be tagged up.

Google Keep is good for short notes or for making handwritten or spoken notes, particularly on the go. You might use it together with Google Docs, by making brief notes in Google Keep and then copying them to Google Docs to write up more fully or add other content.

Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is part of Microsoft Office and is a tool that allows you to create notebooks of notes, adding pages and formatting and using various Microsoft Office functionality. It has mobile apps for iOS and Android as well as a desktop app and a web version, but your access may depend on what kind of Microsoft Office access you have. To use OneNote if you have Microsoft Office downloaded via the University of York's Office 365, you will need to sign up for a free personal OneDrive account to use it, as OneNote now only works if you can save the files to OneDrive.

Here are some of the features of OneNote:

  • Create named notebooks with pages inside, making it easy to organise by topic, module, class, or piece of work.
  • Use the Draw tab on compatible devices to handwrite notes with different colour pens and highlighters.
  • Format notes using Office tools for lists, fonts, etc.
  • Insert a range of content including tables, images, audio, and equations.

In the resources for our Taking note of note taking applications session, we showcase some online note taking applications, looking at how you can annotate PDFs and other online documents to be efficient with you note taking.

Accessible reading

There are simple things you can do to help make reading easier, including:

  • using simple reader apps to remove distractions, adjust text and read aloud.
  • adjusting your screen's colour & brightness.
  • listening to a text.
  • organising your reading and references.

Find out more:

Accessibility tools for reading

Accessibility tools can help everyone in some way. The University provides some tools you can use for free to make things easier, particularly for digital reading and writing.

Whether you want to listen to journal articles, change font size and background colours, or see things more comfortably on a mobile or tablet, you'll find a range of tools here that can help you.

Converting files to different formats

You can use different file formats that are more accessible for you or to help you study effectively in different situations. For example, you could convert a PDF into an audio file so you can listen to it if your eyes are tired or you're walking, or you could convert it to an e-reader file that's easier to read on a tablet or to read online.

Organise your sources: reference management software

Keeping track of your sources can be difficult, especially if you're working on a big piece of work that relies on a lot of references. 

Reference management software is really useful to organise your sources: you can group and tag sources, keep notes, and store PDFs online for easy access. You can even automatically cite your references as you write up your work. 

Find out more:

Organisational tools

Need some help getting organised? We showcase a selection of digital tools and apps that can help you keep on top of your to-do list, manage your time, and stayed focused.