Common Writing and Research Tools for Academic Writers
Freelance academic writers are lucky in that our “overhead” is very low. We don’t need fancy work clothes; we don’t need transportation to get us to our jobs; we don’t need to purchase extra paper and crayons, like teachers do, nor do we need to have our own set of tools, like contractors do. However, there are still a few things we need.
First and foremost, we need a good, reliable computer. We don’t need fancy graphics packages or sophisticated software of other kinds, but we do need computers that have sufficient memory and speed to hold whatever we’re working on without slowing down. These days, it’s very easy to find a computer that will work for not much money at all – but what should you choose? Laptop or desktop?
To me, the answer is a no-brainer: get a laptop. With a laptop, you can work from remote locations, and you don’t have big clunky boxes taking up space in your home office. They also tend to be cheaper. One disadvantage to laptops is they tend to have a slightly shorter life expectancy, especially because when things like keyboards die, it’s cheaper to replace the whole machine than it is to replace the keyboard. But that’s a minor flaw compared to the advantages.
In addition to your laptop, you will want an external keyboard and mouse. If you are working regularly, that means you will be typing many, many hours a day, and the keyboard and mouse on the laptop won’t be ergonomically suited to that kind of use. You’ll also find your speed improving with the external devices, because they really are more equipped to accommodate actual typing.
You should also ensure your work space is as ergonomic as possible, which means a few things. First, your chair should be a real office chair, with arms upon which you rest your own arms whenever you are using the mouse. Your feet should be able to touch the ground, and you should have adequate back support. Second, the computer should be raised up such that when you are sitting up straight, the monitor is right in front of you. This will prevent your having to look up or down to see the screen, which, over time, is bad for your back.
Do you need a printer? A fax machine? Some writers do indeed print out the occasional set of instructions, or article, but there is no real need for a printer in terms of this particular profession. If you start printing out everything you need to read, you’ll eat up all your income in paper and ink. Same with a fax machine: there is just no need for one.
In terms of less tangible items, reliable, high-speed internet and electricity are a must. If you plan to locate and download scores of articles a day, you don’t want to do it on dial-up. Call around to see what the best options are for you based upon where you live, and don’t skimp on the quality just to save a couple bucks a month. You’ll be wanting to throw your computer out the window in no time if you have a slow connection; you’ll also lose money by being slower because your research time will be considerably longer (therefore you won’t be able to take on as many projects).
Electricity is something we have less control over, but if you plan to make this your living, and if you live in a remote location where the power goes out frequently, you might want to consider purchasing a generator. For a couple of hundred bucks, you can buy one with sufficient juice to power your computer if the electricity goes out, and that can be a real life-saver when a deadline is looming just around the corner.