Digital Tools for Research and Writing

Writing is a challenge.  This comes as no surprise to anyone trying to write any sort of lengthy piece of work.  Keeping track of the different sections, research and flow of a document in any kind of academic writing can be especially daunting.

There are many tools for writing beyond the basic word processing program that you may find useful in your research and writing process. Some of these are available for free and others may have a fee attached. We have collected a number of different tools here that may be of use in different stages of the writing process.

Managing your research process

During the research process you will likely amass a large number of documents from lecture notes, books, articles and other documents. Depending on your type of project you may be able to keep these materials organized in your own way, but there are digital tools that can help you. Some citation manager, such as Zotero, offer a certain amount of storage and organization for these types of files, but a number of other options are out there that offer different capabilities.


Tropy is a free image management program created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It is specifically aimed at researchers offering a great deal of flexibility in keeping track of archival materials. If you are someone who amasses archival material, Tropy is an amazing tool.

Tropy works by creating an easily searchable database of your images. You are able to add metadata of your choice to your images. A number of templates exist or you can use your own. You can group images, annotate images and attach notes, such as transcriptions, to a particular image. The Tropy image viewer allows you to zoom in making it a useful tool for working with the material. There are different export objects as well.


One of Trello’s added benefits is the ability to work as a team.  Team members can share a board with individual users assigned to particular task cards. 

Trello is a platform that syncs across devices.  It allows you to create boards featuring multiple customizable lists.  It can be used as a simple to do list, but it can also be useful in organizing materials. The interface is very straightforward. Under each list you create what is essentially an index card for a task or item. You can tag that card with various information including additional task breakdowns and comments.

One of Trello’s added benefits is the ability to work as a team.  Team members can share a board with individual users assigned to particular task cards.

Trello comes in both a free and subscription version. With the subscription version you get further flexibility with templates

Trello offers a number of resources for thinking about using the platform for academics and researchers.

Writing Softwares


Scrivener is one of the best known alternatives to traditional word processing software. It is inexpensive writing software that can help your writing process become more efficient. Produced by Literature and Latte, the program allows you to write in sections that can be rearranged in easier ways then endless scrolling and cut and paste. Other super useful functions include multiple split-screen views whether of different parts of your own paper or your research documents.  Scrivener is like having a digital binder; you can also keep track of your research documents and notes (including photos and audio) and access them within your writing program. Scrivener also syncs across multiple devices. 

There are useful functions including the ability to set a word count goal for individual sections, an option to look at all particular parts of speech, the ability to write in a mode without any desktop notifications or toolbar distractions, and a navigation pane on the side. Everyone’s writing process is different – for some people an outline comes first and for others it grows naturally.  Scrivener is specifically designed to allow you to see the structure of your paper as you write which is invaluable to academic writing.

By far one of the most useful options is the corkboard view.  This view shows each section or subsection of your paper as the equivalent of a digital index card.  You can add a brief description of the content in that section which helps to visualize the overall paper.   You can then rearrange the sections as you need to without any of the copying and pasting and hoping that you got the right section and didn’t accidentally lose a piece that can happen in Microsoft Word.  For me, this especially helpful as someone who doesn’t write in a linear fashion. If you have an idea but aren’t sure yet where it fits, you create a section and can worry about putting it in the right place later. 

Literature and Lattes overview of Scrivener:

Additional Resources:

Brainstorming Tools This website is as simple as it sounds. It challenges you to write at least 750 words a day, offering you digital badges for continued accomplishment of a goal. It’s a great opportunity to simply write out initial ideas or thoughts on readings while building a regular writing habit. You can easily search past entries and export entries.

While it is an online platform, your particular entries are private. It does offer some extra useful features. The site tracks your writing patterns including the time it takes you and frequently used words as well as some other stats of varying usefulness. If you are someone who needs some accountability both the sites reward system and ability to participate in challenges and follow other individuals can be very helpful.


Scapple comes from the same makers as Scrivener. It is a kind of mind mapping tool and works as a digital blank page allowing you to sketch out ideas and make connections between them using arrows and lines. There are multiple ways for grouping ideas and the program allows you to color code, combine thoughts and connect them in different ways and drag things around the screen as needed. You are also able to export your notes directly into Scrivener or in other formats.