How to not freak out over academic writing

I’m a little late, but happy 2016 to all! This month will have marked the beginning of new courses for students all over the country.  I wanted to write this in the spirit of these new beginnings and to make like life a little easier for anybody who may be reading this as a mid-career professional who might be returning to the classroom after a long hiatus.

Getting reacquainted with academic writing after a long break from school is difficult for most, especially mid-career professionals returning to earn Masters or Doctorate degrees.  Entrenched in the pursuit of any higher education degree are academic writing guidelines.  If you are like me, you probably used the MLA (Modern Language Association) guidelines throughout high school and college.  In higher education, your writing style will depend on your field.  MLA style is typically associated with the humanities and will place more emphasis on the author and the page number in a citation.  APA style, defined by the American Psychological Association, is more widely used in the social sciences. In APA style, the authors name is equally important but a citation will emphasize the year the work was published rather than the page number. A third style, Chicago style is defined by the University of Chicago and uses footnotes instead of in-text citations.  Chicago style is known to be popular in historical research.

There used to be a time when style guidelines and formatting would only give you a headache.  The good news is – technology has come a long way in assisting us with these tasks so that we can place our focus on what matters most – our writing.

With that, I offer these tips and tricks for you to check out so that you can find what works best for you.

Look it up faster with the digital version of your writing manual.

You need the electronic version of your style manual.  Why?  Because it allows you to quickly search the book for whatever it is you need.

In the screenshot below, you’ll see that I needed to know how to place my headings and sub-headings, so I went to the search box and typed in “headings” – I then scrolled through the results until I found the exact section I needed.  It’s as simple as that.  Even better – your e-book will cost less!  It’s a win-win!

APA Manual Screen Shot

Invest in formatting software.

Formatting your work is already a tedious task and keeping up with your references is one of the most important things you want to think about.  Check out the options below for seamless integration with your word processor that takes care of everything while syncing your references in your online account.  

These programs’ wizards take care of formatting both your paper and your sources.  Each one is a little different so it’s best to watch their demos and choose the one that you connect with the most.

  • EazyPaper call themselves “your research community”.  Watch their full 10-minute demo on the home page and you’ll quickly understand why.  EazyPaper has a user friendly input method and interface and an abundance of formatting options.                        EazyPaper Investment: $47.21  for software and 1 year license.  Offers a free trial. Not available for Mac users (bummer).
  • PERRLA Software is another trusted name in the land of formatting software.  PERRLA integrates with your word processor for an integrated user experience.  Program includes  MLA or APA style formatting. All of their software syncs your references to the cloud in your MyPERRLA account.  They give you a full run down in this 3-minute video.  PERRLA Investment: $39.95 one-time purchase with 12 months of support and updates.  After 12 months, software continues to work but $19.95 gets you another 12 months of updates and support. Offers a free trial.
  • Reference Point Software seem to pride themselves on great customer service. An investment of $39.95 gets you a robust template that assists with advanced formatting and citations. Can be purchased in CD or Download.  Dedicated tutorial videos are on their website along with a section on writing tips. Watch their 3-minute demo to see if it’s the one for you. Available for Mac or PC but the free trial is for Windows versions only.

Keep up with your references.

Academic writing is an arduous process and throughout your project you will be juggling sources from beginning to end.  Let’s face it, some of these sources will not get used and others you will want to always have within reach.  No matter what, don’t delete your sources but rather keep them organized in a place where you can categorize them and have a back up of them.

When signed in to your university account, most online university libraries will give you the option to “push” your sources to a third party reference management account.   For the sake of familiarity, let’s take Northeastern as an example.  You must be signed in to your student account while performing your search.  When search results appear, you can select as many articles as you want then place them on your “e-shelf”.  From your e-shelf, you can then select them again and you are given the option to push the sources to one of the following:

Most of these types of programs offer paid subscriptions, but you should have access to one of them for free through your university.  I use Refworks with my university login and do not pay a fee.

In all, I think the final message is that you don’t have to freak out, technology is on your side and you’ll see that a little bit of help goes a long way when you’re trying to juggle writing, life, and everything in between!