Last month, Erin introduced the concept of “the magic pencil,” that hard-to-find perfect tool–different for each person–that significantly improves the experience of grading and commenting on student essays.
If we expand the concept, it’s not too hard to imagine other “magic” versions of essential academic tools: the perfect briefcase or bookbag, just the right mug for coffee or tea, the ideal pen for signing correspondence, the favorite brand of chalk or erasable marker, the familiar and reliable planner. . .
There are many such tools and–as Erin pointed out–what’s “magic” for one person is not “magic” for someone else. So why do so many people still use Microsoft Word for their writing tasks? Don”t get me wrong: it’s a powerful word processor with many desirable features, but it’s far from perfect. And it seems unlikely that we”d all decide, independently, that it’s the magic software for each and every one of us.
So what else is out there? Let’s take a look. [Correction: See below. Two of the applications were incorrectly categorized as running on either a Mac or a PC when they, in fact, only run on the PC.]
Things ProfHacker has covered already
- Amy wrote about using the (perhaps unusual) combination of WordPress and DevonThink.
- Julie encouraged us to consider OpenOffice, a suite of office programs that includes the word processor Writer.
- Ryan shared a pretty enthusiastic review of Scrivener, a Mac-only program.
In the cloud
In addition to software that runs on your desktop, you have some options that exist online only.
- We’ve written several posts about GoogleDocs.
- If you like GoogleDocs, you might want to try out Zoho Write.
- If you”re looking for real-time collaborative authorship, where each contributor can see what the other authors are contributing, then you should check out Etherpad, an application I”ve used a bit and liked. However, since I last used it, Etherpad has been acquired by Google and the underlying code has been released as open source. Can you still create documents on the original Etherpad site? I think so, but you can also host an installation of the app yourself, if you have access to a server and the patience to figure out how.
Desktop applications for the Mac
- iWork ($80) is Apple”s answer to the Microsoft Office suite of applications, and the word processing app is Pages.
- Mariner Write ($50) touts itself as the streamlined alternative to what many consider to be Microsoft Word”s feature bloat.
- Mellel ($35, academic price) is, according to its creators, “designed especially for scholars, creative and technical writers.”
- Writeroom ($25) is a “full screen writing environment” that promises to be “distraction free.”
- Ommwriter (free!) offers a minimalist, zen-like writing environment.
- Bean (free!) provides a simple and no-nonsense interface.
Desktop applications for the PC
- Many academic writers whose opinions I trust have sworn by Nota Bene ($349 / $249 for students) over the years, but it seems awfully expensive to me.
- WordPerfect ($99) used to be my word processor of choice, but that was many years ago.
Desktop applications for both the Mac and the PC
- AbiWord (free!) is quite useful in a pinch, but it’s a bit clunky, if you ask me.
What about you?
What’s your writing software of choice? And why?Return to Top