Does Anyone Use Any Writing Program Besides Microsoft Word?

Posted by Cory Schires, community karma 1465

I really don't like using Microsoft Word to write things. I love OpenOffice and not solely because it's open source. I just find it easier to use. I tend to write a lot using a plain text editor because I can just get my thoughts out really quickly without having to look at lots of toolbars or use my mouse to click different things.

I'm open to finding something new that isn't Textmate. Does anyone have any suggestions? Adding the benefits of the tool would be great too.

over 12 years ago


Ben Lewis, community karma 63

Lately, I've been using a (free) note-taking application, Evernote. Evernote is cool for a number of reasons. Firstly, it syncs online automatically, so at home (or on my smartphone, or laptop) I can pick right up where I left off. It's got a very functional system of "notebooks" so I can quickly cut/paste info from anywhere (other docs/pdfs/webpages) into it's notebook. For instance, if I'm writing a paper, that's one notebook, but there are sub-notebooks for each section (Intro, meths, etc), which contain "notes" with clustered ideas ("Microscopy protocol" might have it's own "note" under "Methods"). To answer your question, I've found that this method of taking notes and organizing thoughts is the perfect preparation for actually writing the manuscript, so I pull notes in, get them together, edit them, refine them, and eventually synthesize them into actual presentable pieces of writing. When I'm ready to pull the writing into Word, I've already finished 95% of it, so I'm mostly using Word for stylistic/formatting stuff.

over 12 years ago
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Rob Walsh, community karma 1466

I’ve  a huge fan of distraction free writing tools. I really abhor Microsoft Word as there are tons – TONS of little icons everywhere that I rarely ever use. So why are they always visible? Too distracting.

My favorite distraction free writing tool at the moment is IA Writer. It’s available in the Mac App Store as well as on the iPad.

Its interface is a plain white screen with an elegant typeface and a single font-size. You can do things like bold type, create headings, lists, etc by typing tags from the simple markup language called, Markdown. The best thing about Markdown is that you don’t have to ever grab the mouse to click on ‘bold’ or ‘italic’ and you don’t have to use a keyboard shortcut either. You. Just. Write.

One of the more clever aspects of IA Writer is its ‘Focus Mode’ where all the text on the page becomes slightly faded out while the current sentence that you’re writing is not faded out and in the foreground.

There are other little lovely aspects to it – like, at the bottom of the window it not only keeps a running word count, character count, and the approximate time it would take a reader to read the text.

over 12 years ago
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Matt Mollison, community karma 79

Another vote for plain-text distraction-free writing. I use Aquamacs (an OS X emacs application) to write my papers in LaTeX, rendering beautiful PDFs with perfectly formed bibliographies (using BibTeX). Aquamacs has a full-screen editing mode to really keep away the distractions. As an added bonus, plain-text writing makes for easy diff'ing in version control systems and in-line commenting.

Some, though definitely not all, psychology journals will accept TeX files, and for those that don't (which usually only take .doc(x) files) there's a handy latex2rtf tool out there to convert to a format that is readable by Word/LibreOffice/OpenOffice/whatever. latex2rtf doesn't necessarily get all convertions from LaTeX correct, but a quick check for errors is worth it to me to write all of my papers, be it for class or publication, in LaTeX.

over 12 years ago
Do you have examples of pretty LaTex documents that we can view somewhere?
Rob Walsh – over 12 years ago
All of my papers that weren't rendered by a journal, my posters, and my CV (all on my website, link in my profile) were compiled in LaTeX. If you want to see examples of documents that aren't mine, there are a million tutorials and examples out there. Here's a link regarding whether to use LaTeX that came up on the first page of a google search for "why use latex": <>.
Matt Mollison – over 12 years ago
Awesome dude! I know a physicist who was extolling the virtues of LaTex documents to me. I should give it a try.
Rob Walsh – over 12 years ago
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Ebonique Ellis, community karma 37

I am about to try Scrivener and Focus Writer. I will report back if I like any of them.

almost 12 years ago
I've heard really good things about Scrivner. Eager to hear what you think.
Brian Cody – almost 12 years ago
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Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

It's funny, for the longest time (like in the '90s) I was WordPerfect fan and similarly disliked MS Word for being too cumbersome, but over time (and this was probably near a decade ago at this point) not only was I increasingly forced to use Word at school and work, but Word got better. I like the idea of using something else, something freeware or open source or whatever, and I've tried other stuff, including a quite serious look at OpenOffice (which is nice, and I actually use it on my phone for pdfs and document editing, but I didn't see any particular 'advantages' beyond liking the idea of it). Mostly, out of convenience, google docs is probably my main go-to alternative, and I've written notes, short talks, and even collaborated on the first draft of a paper with a co-author using it. But formatting is tricky and seems to assume actual pages are irrelevant.

To be honest, while I'm still not a fan of the newest version (perhaps due to a lack of familiarity as much as anything), I really do like Word 2003 - that doesn't mean I love it, but really it does everything I need: I know my way around it, I can easily format, work with images, graphs and charts, edit and track changes, use special characters, spell check in French, etc. etc.... and most importantly I know that I (or anyone else) can open what I've written almost anywhere without having to reformat it, which is priceless if you're as anal about formatting as I am.

Of course, this is speaking more from the perspective of heavy academic writing - for taking notes, as I said, I use google docs, as well as a handful of "note pad" style apps on by my desktop and hand-held devices. And honestly I still do by far my best brainstorming, editing, and short-length writing with pen and paper. Now  I'll freely admit that much of my preferences have to do with simply being more accustomed to one thing than another, but from the perspective of writing "for others" on an almost daily basis, for now nothing I've tried has beat Word 2003, much as I might like to find a less "evil" alternative :)


over 12 years ago
"and most importantly I know that I (or anyone else) can open what I've written almost anywhere without having to reformat it, which is priceless if you're as anal about formatting as I am." This is my least favorite thing about MSWord - the fact that if something isn't considered 'a real document' unless it's in '.doc' or '.docx'. Other formats aren't 'lesser' document formats. I'm mostly saying this because I just hate Word so much. There's the open doc format as well, but no one gives a damn about it. :(
Rob Walsh – over 12 years ago
I've played with Google Docs and really enjoyed the ability to share and collaborate. It allows me to work on a document at home, at work, or on campus without worrying about Dropbox or a jumpdrive, and allows other people to add, subtract, and comment.
Christopher Altes – over 12 years ago
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