This bank of resources has been developed to support students with the production and presentation of written assignments. It includes resources to support with note taking and planning based on the acknowledgment that there are skills and techniques that need to be developed throughout the learning journey in order to produce a professional final document.

The tools have been divided into categories based on their primary purpose but it should be noted that some tools fit into multiple categories. It should also be noted that these are just some examples of tools that have been tested and found to be effective but that there are lots of other similar pieces of software available. If these don’t quite work for you, there’s likely to be something else out there that does!

Note Taking

Part of the Microsoft Office package, OneNote creates digital notebooks that can be divided into sections and pages allowing you to easily organise them. Notes can be tagged for easier searching and the web clipper enables online content to be saved in your notebook quickly.

How to access OneNote

You can download OneNote, along with the other Microsoft 365 programs, from portal.office.com using your Aston email address.


Otter allows you to record (or import) the audio of your classes or meetings and convert it to text, providing a useful transcript that you can use live or edit later. The free version is limited to 600 minutes per month but you can upgrade to a Pro for around £4 a month (with student discount) if you find that’s not enough.

How to access Otter

Go to otter.ai. There’s also iOS and Android apps available, just search for ‘Otter Voice Meeting Notes’ in your app store.

BlackBoard Ally

A built-in feature of Blackboard which allows you to download documents in alternative formats. A variety of formats are available such as ePubs (for reading as an e-book) and audio files.

How to access alternative formats in BlackBoard

If you click on the ‘A’ symbol next to your documents you can see the range of alternative formats available. If you have any issues with BlackBoard please contact the Technology-Enhanced Learning Team on telsupport@aston.ac.uk.

Mercury Reader

This is a Chrome browser extension that removes ads and distractions leaving only text and images to make reading from websites or reading articles online easier.

How to access Mercury Reader

You can access Mercury Reader from the Chrome web store.

Natural Reader

This converts your text into speech and it can be used in your browser to convert websites, or you can download the desktop version for other documents. You can alter the speed, volume and voice of the speaker and you can choose whether you want it to highlight the words so you can follow what is being read.

How to access it:

The online version, desktop version and chrome extension can all be found on NaturalReaders.com, along with more information.

Read Aloud (In Microsoft 365)

This is a feature of some Microsoft 365 programs such as Word which converts the text to speech so you can hear your work (or other documents) read back to you. This can help you to identify mistakes you might not notice when reading it.

How to access Read Aloud

Currently available in the 365 versions of Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote, available at portal.office.com with your Aston log-in details. More information about this feature and how to use it is available on the Microsoft Speak webpage.


This enables you to convert documents into a wide range of alternative formats. While Blackboard Ally is available for documents uploaded to Blackboard, SensusAccess is available for anything else, for example journal articles.

How to access Sensus Access

Go to SensusAccess.com, selecting ‘Convert a file’ and using your Aston email address. More information is available from the library’s website or you can access it directly

TextHelp Read & Write

A specialist toolbar which allows web pages and documents to be read aloud, includes spelling and grammar checking and text and picture dictionaries along with many other features.

How to access Read & Write

Through AstonApps at apps.aston.ac.uk or on campus computers. More information about AstonApps is available on Solve.


This is a piece of mindmapping software which can help you organise your thoughts and ideas if you’re trying to plan an assignment.

How to access Freeplane

Through AstonApps at apps.aston.ac.uk or on campus computers. More information about AstonApps is available on Solve.

Google Keep notes

This is a way of capturing notes, lists, photos and audio to keep you organised. You can set location-based reminders on the app so that you can receive a reminder exactly when you need it!

How to access Google Keep

More information about how to use it including what platforms it’s available on can be found on the Google Keep website.

Microsoft To Do

As the name suggests Microsoft’s ‘To Do’ program allows you to create lists and reminders, set deadlines and manage projects to help you stay on top of your workload.

How to access To Do

You can access the Windows, iOS and Android versions of To Do from the Microsoft To Do website.


Forest allows you to set timers during which you can’t access certain potential distractors such as specific websites or your phone. During the timer you grow virtual trees (which will be killed if you give up before the timer) which can eventually be exchanged for the planting of actual trees.

How to access Forest

You can access the iOS and Android apps by searching for ‘Forest’ in your app store and you can find the Google Chrome extension on the Chrome web store. Please note that there’s a one-off charge of £1.99 for the iOS app but the other versions are free.

Marinara timer

In order to boost productivity, research suggests taking regular short breaks to allow you to remain focused. The Marinara timer allows you to set a timer which sets aside dedicated time to work and then lets you know when to take a break. 

How to access Marinara timer

Go to MarinaraTimer.com to try it out but there are various other similar programs and websites available online if this one doesn’t suit you.

Dictate (Within Microsoft 365)

Dictate is a tool within some Microsoft 365 programs which allows you to dictate your work instead of typing which can make it easier for you to get your thoughts down on the page. Currently, it’s available in Word, Outlook, OneNote and PowerPoint.

How to access Dictate

More information including links to specific articles about how it works in each Program is available on the Microsoft Dictate webpage.


While there are often built-in dictionary tools within things like Microsoft Word, Dictionary.com is a comprehensive tool which includes pronunciations and can be used to check the word you’re using has the meaning you intended.

How to access Dictionary.com

As you might have guessed, it can be found at Dictionary.com

Manchester Academic Phrasebank

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank is a vast collections of suggested phrases for academic writing and can be helpful for sentence starter ideas or alternative phrasing when writing academic assignments.

How to access Manchester Academic Phrasebank

Available at Phrasebank.Manchester.ac.uk/ including links to PDF and Kindle versions.


While the free version contains limited features, they are still worthwhile and available on an ongoing basis. It contains a comprehensive grammar, spelling and punctuation checker and can be added to your Browser and to Word so it can check your work as you type.

How to access Grammarly

All versions can be found at Grammarly.com.

Immersive Reader (Within Microsoft 365)

A feature of various Microsoft 365 programs, Immersive Reader improves the readability of documents by allowing you to adjust various aspects of formatting such as line spacing, font size, background colour and font.

How to access Immersive Reader

More information and the list of programs you can find it in can be found on Microsoft’s Learning Tools website.

Microsoft Editor (Within Microsoft 365)

Editor is a feature of Microsoft 365 which can help you check things like spelling, grammar, clarity, readability, formality and inclusivity. It’s a new feature so if you can’t find it within the version of Word or Outlook you have downloaded, try accessing it online through office.com.

How to access Microsoft Editor

Currently available in the 365 versions of Word and Outlook via portal.office.com (using your Aston email address) and browser extensions for Edge and Chrome. More information about Editor can be found on Microsoft’s Editor webpage.

PowerPoint Presenter Coach (Within Microsoft 365)

As you rehearse, the Presenter Coach will give you feedback about howyou’re presenting. At the end you’ll get a report including recommendations for how to improve things like pace, pitch, originality and inclusivity!

How to access Presenter Coach

Through PowerPoint online available at portal.office.com using your Aston log-in details. Please note it can only currently be found in the online version of PowerPoint as it requires access to the internet.


Endnote can be used to manage bibliographies and references when writing essays and other documents. The University’s licence allows staff and students to download Endnote

How to access EndNote

You can find an article about how to request a copy of Endnote on Solve.

Cite Them Right

An interactive eBook that provides referencing support and guidance for Aston students, Cite Them Right can be used to help you reference just about any source (with options for Harvard, APA and IEEE styles).

How to access Cite Them Right

Go to CiteThemRightOnline.com and log in with your Aston log-in details.

Other resources

Links to other sources of support for the production and presentation of written assignments, and learning technology.