"Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly." - Roger Ebert
While the above quote should serve as a reminder to use discretion when turning to online sources for information, the fact remains that the Internet is now the most widely used source for information. And despite the "bad apples," there is still a multitude of reliable, practical online resources available for essay writers and students.
There are so many sites out there that it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. Below are some helpful online essay
writing resources for finding a topic, doing research, and citing your sources.
Essay Topic Ideas
"I don't know what to write about," could be one of the oftenest repeated statements within the walls of English and composition classrooms. It would seem that writing about a topic of your own choosing should be easier than writing about one that is assigned to you. However, students often panic when faced with that kind of freedom. The simplest remedy is this: Write what you know. If you know about and are interested in a particular topic, you're going to have an easier time brainstorming for ideas about it.
In the days before the Internet, coming up with a topic was often a matter of picking your teacher's brain for one. Nowadays, you may in fact find yourself overwhelmed with ideas, thanks to the Web (a Google search for "essay topic ideas" will come up with nearly 23 million hits). Here are some sites that offer lots of topic ideas for free:
- www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/howdoi/topic.html#ideas - strategies for choosing a topic, as well as a long list of topic ideas
- www.hpregional.org/departments/english/mhassenplug/100%20topics.html - 100 topic ideas geared for college-level essays
- www.essaytopicideas.com - categorized by type (e.g., argumentative, comparative, narrative)
- grammar.about.com/od/topicsuggestions/a/causeff07topics.htm - 400 writing topics categorized by essay type
- www.ereadingworksheets.com/writing/persuasive-essay-topics - 101 ideas for persuasive-type essay topics
Online Libraries and Databases
Often, these databases will act as search engines, retrieving documents or redirecting you to other sites. Some online libraries offer access to their collection of copyrighted academic books and articles, and you'll probably find it necessary - and worthwhile - to subscribe (for a fee) to such a service. You can then access their collection and use their other services, such as tools for citing their resources.
Many brick-and-mortar city public libraries offer online access to digital collections or archives for free or a small fee. Larger educational institutions also offer similar online resources for their students, and it is to your benefit to learn how to take advantage of online essay help
and these services.
- www.books.google.com - page images of two million fully readable public domain books, plus many more copyrighted books available via excerpts and snippets
- www.onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu - provides access to books that are freely readable over the Internet.
- www.highwire.stanford.edu/lists/freeart.dtl - Stanford University's HighWire Press, the largest archive of free full-text science on Earth
- www.questia.com - not a free site (though they offer a free trial) but worth the investment; a one-stop shop for conducting high-quality academic research via millions of copyrighted books and other kinds of materials
- www.wikipedia.com - while a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit is vulnerable to mistakes, it is the single-largest encyclopedia ever assembled and offers information on topics not covered by other resources - often a good starting point to gathering ideas on your topic
Web-based Citation Generators
For a research-type essay, chances are you'll need to list your resources in a "works cited" format. An Internet search for "works cited generator" will yield plenty of Websites (many of which are free to use) that will create individual citations automatically. Enter the ISBN, book or article title, Website address, etc., or you may enter the information about your source manually, and a citation will be generated in various styles, including MLA, APA, Chicago
, etc. For a fee, many of these generators will even create an entire works cited page for you.
Of course, as any English professor will insist, the convenience of automatic generators should not be an excuse for not knowing how to properly create a works cited list on your own. Here are some free-to-use (at least for basic citation generating) online sites:
- www.apa-mla-format.com/citation-generator - allows you to type in title or ISBN number, or manually enter information, to automatically generate citations
- www.citationmachine.net - easy-to-use site for MLA, AP, Turabian, and Chicago style citations
- www.citefast.com - formats bibliographies title pages in APA 6th edition, MLA 7th edition, and Chicago 16th edition (and saves them, too)
- www.easybib.com - citations for books, periodicals, data bases and much more in MLA style (other citation styles are available for a charge)
While these aforementioned Websites are (for the most part) free to use, keep in mind that pay sites often have more services to offer and/or higher quality information (especially when it comes to online essay help: libraries and databases).