Early Career Researcher Toolbox: Free Tools for Science Writing

By Beth Kenkel

You've done the research, analyzed your data, and made your tables and figures. Now it's time to write. Sometimes, it's hard to get those words out and onto the screen and transform your work into a paper or a grant. Here’s a list of tools and resources that might help make writing a little easier.

Writing schedule tools

How to write a lot: A practical guide by Paula J. Silvia 

This book has tips for how to write a lot as an academic. If you can’t borrow this book from your library or don’t have time to read the book, this list summarizes the key points of the book. The best tip in the book is to have a regular writing schedule, even if you only write for a short amount of time each week, and there’s advice on how to actually establish that schedule. There’s also tips for setting writing goals, tracking progress, and starting a writing group.

Loop Habit Tracker app for Android 

This app lets you track habits, like writing. It’s basically the equivalent of crossing off days on the calendar after completing your writing goal, which can serve as positive reinforcement for a habit. The best part of this app is it turns your writing habit into beautiful graphs! I like to look at these graphs when I need that extra push to stick with my writing routine. The graph of which days of the week you most often completed your habit is useful for figuring out when to schedule times to write. 

Pomodoro technique timer 

One time management technique that you can use as part of your writing schedule is the Pomodoro technique, which is when you spend 25 minutes focusing on a task, like writing, and then take a 5-minute break. Each 30-minute interval is called a “Pomodoro.” After four Pomodoros, you can take a longer 15-30 minute break. The method is named for the tomato or “Pomodoro” kitchen timer that the technique’s developer used as a university student.


Pomodoro tomato timer for tracking writing time
The Pomodoro timer is literally a tomato! Image from Gerlos.


Tools for checking grammar and jargon

Hemingway Editor 

This is a free web-based tool for detecting the readability of your writing. It makes suggestions on how to make your writing less complex. While I don’t think you should accept all of the suggestions Hemmngway makes (it wasn’t designed for technical writing), it’s great at flagging passive voice, overuse of adverbs, and paragraphs with many hard-to-read sentences. 


Grammarly is a lot like spell check, but since it’s an internet browser plug-in, it checks your online writing too (email, Google Docs, social media, etc.). The free version of Grammarly also offers basic writing suggestions, like alternative word suggestions.


The De-jargonizer can identify jargon in your writing. While it’s not possible to completely avoid jargon, this tool can help you avoid overusing technical terms when writing for a general audience. The tool highlights jargon terms or words rarely used in general writing in red, words with a medium frequency of use in orange, and common words with high frequency of use in black. This paper talks more about the development of the De-jargonizer.  

Academic Phrasebank 

The Academic Phrasebank is a resource for phrases commonly used in research papers or dissertations. Phrases are categorized either based on the section of a manuscript they might be found, i.e. introduction, methods, results; or phrases are categorized by the goal of the phrase, such as being cautious, being critical, or defining terms. The phrases in Phrasebank are generic, so they need to be edited to suit your particular field of research.

science writer typing on a keyboard


Citations tools

DOI Citation Formatter

Just enter the DOI of a paper and select your desired formatting style. This tool is great for generating citations for a few papers at a time.


Mendeley works much like other popular citation managers, but Mendeley is free to use. You can take notes and highlight the papers saved to your Mendeley library. The library is stored in the cloud, so you can access it from anywhere, and it can be shared with others. The Web Importer plug-in lets you directly import papers from web pages and academic databases.  Downloading Mendeley Cite lets you cite papers from your Mendeley library in Microsoft Word.

Mendeley has a web and desktop version that works with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. 


Zotero is also another free citation manager that lets you organize and cite papers. With the Zotero Connector, papers can be saved from Firefox or Chrome browsers with just one click. Papers can be cited in Word, LibreOffice, or Google Docs. Files can be synced across devices, and you can share your library with others which makes it easier to work with collaborators. Zotero is a desktop based program that’s compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. 

Mendeley and Zotero have a lot of the same features, but this chart highlights the differences between these two citation managers.

If you want more tips on finding and organizing papers, check out this related blog post: Early Career Researcher Toolbox: Finding Relevant Papers.

These are only a few of the many writing tools available. If you have a favorite writing tool, let us know below!

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References and Resources

Additional resources on the Addgene blog:

Topics: Science Careers, Early Career Researcher

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