Writing Tools

No, this is not a post about jerks who write. Rather, it is spurred by an inquiry from John Schwenkler (Florida State) about which programs philosophers use for writing. I am not very knowledgeable about the alternatives here, but Professor Schwenkler shares his recommendations:

· Lyx, which is a TeX/LaTeX editor that is easy to learn and install, and takes care of all the basic coding for you. Unlike most LaTeX editors it has a graphical interface that displays most of the formatting (e.g. italics, headings, etc.) in your document instead of the associated code, but unlike Word it doesn’t distract you with fonts, unnecessary formatting options, and the like. The final output is gorgeous, though. As the developers put it at the link above: “LyX is for people who want their writing to look great, right out of the box. No more endless tinkering with formatting details, ‘finger painting’ font attributes or futzing around with page boundaries. You just write. On screen, LyX looks like any word processor; its printed output — or richly cross-referenced PDF, just as readily produced — looks like nothing else.” Cost: Free.

· While I love using LyX for writing papers and handouts, for longer work (e.g. book manuscripts) a great choice is Scrivener, which is a whole “writing studio” with lots of tools that were originally designed with fiction writers in mind. Some of these include: creating a single text from several shorter documents (which in turn may have documents as proper parts); displaying a writer’s “storyboard” with an index card for each part of your text, so you can easily rearrange them; and a really powerful outlining function that you can use either to plan out your text or to organize what you already have. Again, from the developers’ description: “Scrivener puts everything you need for structuring, writing and editing long documents at your fingertips. On the left of the window, the ‘binder’ allows you to navigate between the different parts of your manuscript, your notes, and research materials, with ease. Break your text into pieces as small or large as you want—so you can forget wrestling with one long document. Restructuring your draft is as simple as drag and drop. Select a single document to edit a section of your manuscript in isolation, or use ‘Scrivenings’ mode to work on multiple sections as though they were one: Scrivener makes it easy to switch between focussing on the details and stepping back to get a wider view of your composition.” Cost: $40 for a license after a 30-day free trial.

He adds, “There must be other good options out there, and based on the number of papers I see that have been written in Word (please, please tell me you are not one of these people) [Justin: er, no comment], it certainly seems like more philosophers need to know about them.”

So, what do you use, is it any good, and is it good enough to be worth switching to? Also, if there are other writing tools you use besides word processing software, let us know about it.


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