Science & Tech

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U of O’s Academic Writing Help Center reminds students not to develop a reliance on essay assistant programs

Do you struggle with essay formatting? You’re not alone. A newly created Canadian-owned app Essayist is an app that helps students overcome various writing hurdles when it comes to essays.

This essay writing assistant software has three main functions. It constructs bibliographies, automatically formats essays, and manages in-text citations on behalf of the user. These functions give students more time to write and conduct research for their essays. 

Based out of Vancouver, co-founders Erin Guest and Till Konitzer, developed this app because they believe that, “essay writing is about properly using citations and doing good research.” 

Essay writing “should not be about stressing over which words you should italicize and underline,” said Konitzer.  “We want to help students find time to focus on what’s actually important about their essay — the content.”

Guest and Konitzer developed the app to “make academic writing easier” for all students — high school, college, or university.

Guest says the app “relieves the stress that a student might feel” through the writing process. Konitzer adds, “we created the app that would’ve helped us when we were undergraduate students.”

The current version of Essayist generates two citation styles: American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA).

The app is available for download on tablets and smartphones and, eventually, the developers want to include Chicago citation style and make the software accessible on computers.

What is essay writing like for University of Ottawa students? 

Liam Cutler, a fifth-year political science and history student at U of O, said that for each essay he “uses at least 10 academic sources.” He also reads through “at least 20 to 25 sources before [he] develops a thesis.” 

“I enjoy essay writing, but it is a difficult process,” said Cutler. 

The U of O recognizes that essay writing is difficult and while they don’t have an app, they have their own way to help students with essay writing. 

A large portion of freshmen enrol in a ‘Workshop in Essay Writing’ course, which according to the professor’s handbook, helps students learn to structure academic papers, conduct research and most importantly, learn to avoid academic fraud. 

In addition to this class, students also have access to the Academic Writing Help Centre (AWHC) which provides one-on-one essay writing assistance. 

Bruno Cyr, an academic success coordinator at U of O, supervises a team of writing advisors who work for the AWHC. He also helped launch the Academic GPS “where all the writing services can be accessed. And this is where students can access a 7-day a week live chat.”

According to Cyr, writing-assistant programs like Essayist are useful “if it helps a student stay organized.” 

However, he emphasized that “students should always rely on their own knowledge when writing essays. Because these sorts of programs do make mistakes.” He said, the assistance that these apps provide “work best when the user has knowledge about writing.” 

Stephanie Duer and Charlotte Sampson are both tutors at the Arts Writing Centre and like Cyr, they believe that students should acquire their own essay writing skills while in university rather than fully depending on assistance software. 

“Working with documents in an academic or professional setting requires a high level of […] accuracy,” said Duer. So, “[writing assistance] apps circumvent the learning process involved in honing those skills.” 

“Whatever app or tool students want to use to help with their formatting, they should always do the final revision themselves,” added Sampson. “Leaving it up to an app can give students a false sense of security in the accuracy of the final draft.” 

“Nothing can replace the attentive eye of a diligent human editor.”

Correction:  (Jan. 25, 3:00 p.m.): A previous version of this article said Stephanie Duer and Charlotte Sampson work at the AWHC. It has been updated to instead say the Arts Writing Centre.