Write Wisely: Use Your “OWL” Online Writing Lab

Before enrolling in an online program check to see if it has an “OWL,” online writing lab, and-if so-what sorts of information and services the lab offers. OWLs may provide information on proper grammar and punctuation, tips on writing, guidance on identifying scholarly research, information on use and documentation of sources, as well as offering critique services. Typically, except for critique services, OWLS-as well as College Writing Centers and Libraries-make their information readily accessible, for example:

Grammar and Punctuation

The “Grammar and Punctuation” section of UW-Madison’s Writer’s Handbook includes information on using: dashes; comas; semicolons, coordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs and subject-verb agreement, how to proofread, and twelve common errors: an editing checklist.


Writing Process and Structure

The UW-Colleges’ online writing lab, “Tips for Essay Writing,” includes material on: conclusions, developing your essay, getting started, integrating sources, introductions, plagiarism, thesis statements, transitions and writing across the disciplines.


The “Writing and Process” section of UW-Madison’s Writer’s Handbook consists of four main sections: creating and argument, working with sources, drafting and revising your paper, and finishing your paper.


Identification of Scholarly Research

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign answers the question “How can I tell if a source is scholarly?” by directing us to five categories: the authors, publishers, audience, content, and currency/timeliness and providing us with questions to consider in each category.

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab divides its information on the evaluation of sources into four main sections: overview, evaluation of bibliographic citations, evaluation during reading, and evaluation of print versus internet sources. The section on reading and evaluation gives us more than a dozen questions to ask when assessing the quality of a source. The section on print versus internet sources points us to 6 topics relevant for determining whether or not an article is scholarly: publication process, authorship and affiliations, sources and quotations, bias and special interests, author qualifications, and publication information.


Use and Documentation of Sources

The UW-Colleges’ Online Writing Lab explains plagiarism and gives four tips to avoid it.


The UW-Madison’s Writer’s Handbook includes a variety of different formats for documenting our sources, including the MLA (Modern Language Association) approach used for research in English literature and foreign languages.

For additional information on other documentation styles, please see


One way to zero in on scholarly resources is to use the search engine, Google Scholar:


Some questions to consider:

Does the online program I am considering have an “OWL”?  If so, what services does it provide? In particular does the OWL allow students to submit work and receive feedback?

How can I avoid plagiarism?

What documentation style does my instructor require?

Last revised on November 8, 2018.