Thursday, April 5, 2012

OWL-ternative Online Sources: The Smackdown

In the spirit of March Madness, we here at EIU Writes will be examining the other online writing labs that we've discovered so far and pit them against one another until only one brave gladiator remains.  Sure, there are a bunch of alternatives ... so what?  How do they stack against one another?  Do any of them give the Purdue OWL a serious run for its money?  Well, brave home viewers, lets put on our game pants and find out.  (We're also apparently at a loss of synonyms for "smackdown" ... or we really like that one.)

So, without further ado, let's take a look at our contestants (spectators, fighters, racers ... take your pick) for the evening.  I'm joined tonight by Fake Doug, since the real Doug can't be here to help me spectate.  Too bad for him.  Anyway, let's hear it for our OWL-ternatives:

HyperGrammar: Hailing from the University of Ottawa, HyperGrammar boasts the British spelling of Centre, a virtual classroom, and a plethora of links embedded within the texts, explanations, and examples.  It's sleek user interface and professional appearance certainly give it a level of aesthetic appeal.

Steve: Do you think our Canadian underdog stands a chance tonight, Fake Doug?
Fake Doug: H.G. is certainly a strong contender, even if it has nothing to do with anyone named "Adrian."  Parts of it are still under construction, but enough of it is finished to make the overall site rather smashing.
Steve: The real Doug would never say "smashing."
Fake Doug: He would to spite you for saying that.
Steve: Fair enough.  Anyway, on to the next combatant ...

Guide to Grammar and Writing: Also known as the "The Super Duper Zany Grammar Funhouse of Doom" (at least in my book), this lab is based out of the Capital Community College Foundation of Hartford, Connecticut.  Though its visual appeal is childish and clumsy, its vast index of grammatical terms and explanations make it a useful tool for any writer, budding or veteran.

Fake Doug: You should stick with its original name.  Yours is terrible.
Steve: But what's not terrible is G.G.W.'s index.  If anything gives it weight in this competition, that's going to be it.
Fake Doug: S.D.Z.G.F.D -- that's what your acronym would be.  Terrible.
Steve: Shush, you.  Next!

The Writer's Handbook: From the University of Wisconsin at Madison, The Writer's Handbook isn't quite as beefy as the Purdue OWL, but it does have a clear breakdown of several topics that many writers can find immediately relevant.  It gives specific tips on research paper, dissertations, proposals, and other forms of academic writing that often throw students for a loop.  The interface is simple, straightforward, and pretty easy to use.

Steve: The tiny text on the right-hand bar can give you a headache if your vision sucks like mine.
Fake Doug: To be fair, Purdue's OWL isn't retina-friendly, either.  The big cheese's influence is pretty apparent in the layout.  Not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Steve: Retina-friendly?  Really?
Fake Doug: Don't get snarky with me.  I'm not the one writing those lines.  Just introduce the last one, will ya?

Writing@CSU: Last, but certainly not least, Colorado State University's website packs some serious punch with resources ranging from small articles, to textbooks, to online word processors to help organize ideas.  It has resources for teachers and students alike, and the layout isn't painful to look at.

Fake Doug: If this website were a person, I'd marry her.
Steve: It is definitely aesthetically pleasing, but it's not just a pretty face, you know?  Lots of good stuff here.  You seem pretty into this competitor, Fake Doug.  Any reason why?
Fake Doug: Partially because you're exaggerating my enthusiasm.
Steve: That's a shame.
Fake Doug: Even so, it's still an awesome site.  It probably has the most variety out of all the OWL's we've looked at so far.  Even -- dare I say it -- Purdue's.  The resources are good, and the different kinds of resources are staggering.
Steve: Definitely.  We'll see if that gives it the edge it needs.

And with each of our competitors out and ready to roll, it's time to rumble!  Let's see how these OWLs compare.

Round 1:
HyperGrammar ~vs~ The Writer's Handbook

Even though HyperGrammar still has parts undergoing construction, it manages to beat out The Writer's Handbook according to us here on EIU Writes.  HyperGrammar isn't trying to be the OWL, and that gives it a lot of clout.  Sure, there are many OWL-esque features that it shares with The Writers Handbook and Purdue, but it's easier to navigate than its opponent (especially considering those nifty embedded hyperlinks) and plenty informative.  Though both are solid sources, we give the victory to HyperGrammar!

Round 2:
Guide to Grammar and Writing ~vs~ Writing@CSU

Guide to Grammar and Writing, while informative, gets the snot kicked out of it by Colorado State's spiffy interface.  Though one could argue GGW's buckets of raw information outweigh the information found on WCSU, the manner in which the information is presented does matter.  WCSU makes it absolutely clear where you need to go to find specific, relevant information rather than giving you a whole bunch of drop-down menus to choose from.  GGW definitely has a lot of heart, but WCSU certainly isn't lacking for substance either.  Colorado State takes the victory in this one.

HyperGrammar ~vs~ Writing@CSU

A close match, for sure.  Once again, WCSU's sleek, objective-driven interface gives it the edge it needs to pull away from its Canadian opponent.  Though we still recommend HyperGrammer for those looking for specific rules and definitions, WCSU weighs in as a better overall resource for writing.  The Semi-Finals go to Writing@CSU.  Insert obnoxious applause and cheering here.

Writing@CSU ~vs~Purdue OWL

After a near-eternity of blood, sweat, and tears, both of our brave competitors come out scratched and bruised -- but not beaten.  Crazy though it may seem, this final match-up ends ... in a draw.  I know, I know!  Yes, ties are lame!  But honestly, both of these writing labs offer equally good resources depending on what you're looking for.  The victory is purely contextual.  If you're looking for information on a given citation style, Purdue is the big dog.  It blows WCSU out of the water.  It has examples galore -- we all know that.  However, WCSU's variety of peripheral writing tools, such as the built-in bibliography tracker, outlining tool, and in-site word processor (just to name a few) make it a completely unique OWL experience. 

So, for those looking for a more specific verdict:  The Purdue OWL is better for the sake of pure information.  The examples and clarity are second-to-none.  However, if you're looking for a more interactive, hands-on OWL experience that integrates information with various tools and external resources, then WCSU might actually be the better choice.

The moral of the story is you can bring a horse to water, but you can't judge it by its cover.

No, wait, that's not right.  Ah well ... I'm sure it will come to me eventually.  In the meantime, keep on writing, and don't be afraid to expand your horizons!  There are plenty of good resources out there, just waiting to be stumbled into.


  1. "The moral of the story is you can bring a horse to water, but you can't judge it by its cover." That gets a retweet.