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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unfilosofo
6 years ago

I love Mellel, and use it with Bookends. Lots of great things about both, and Mellel is especially good with big projects (like books).Report

RJ
RJ
Reply to  unfilosofo
6 years ago

Seconding Mellel, which I also use together with Bookends (for citation management). The two are integrated nicely. Setting up and using the styles on Mellel is pretty necessary and requires a little investment, but it ends up being worth it.Report

Helen De Cruz
Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

Just for germinal projects, I like Evernote and its ability of stacking short notes in notebooks. For instance, a grant applications would consist of notes “rationale”, “review of literature” etc. Once I have the basic outlines in my notes, I paste them either in LaTeX or Google docs (the latter is also great for co-authoring, which I do frequently). I would love to work with something like Scrivener as I’ve heard so much positive about it.Report

Rebecca Copenhaver
Rebecca Copenhaver
6 years ago

I use Scrivener for taking notes on primary and secondary literature. It comes close to doing what 3×5 cards do. It’s very helpful for organizing quotations, main themes, citations, and just keeping track of what I have read. There is almost no learning curve. I don’t use it for writing, though. For that, I’ve switched to LaTeX. The learning curve can be a bit tough – having a buddy on hand who already knows it is a big help.

I suspect that Scrivener would be really useful for storing lecture notes as well.Report

Chris Meyns
6 years ago

Scrivener is great for brainstorm writing, and extremely flexible in organizing and reorganizing your material. TextMate has been my favorite for writing in LaTeX or Markdown. John MacFarlane has a powerful tool called ‘Pandoc’ for converting documents of the latter sort into all kinds of desirable output formats (http://johnmacfarlane.net/pandoc).Report

Manolo Martínez
Manolo Martínez
6 years ago

I write in Markdown, using a text editor such as vim, then convert the source to html, LaTeX or straight to pdf (depending on what it’s intended for) using John MacFarlane’s pandoc.Report

underfed vulture (@dunndunndunn)
Reply to  Manolo Martínez
6 years ago

Same. Kieran Healy’s got a nice write-up of his markdown-LaTeX-pdf workflow and some other tools he uses: http://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2014/01/23/plain-text/Report

michaelpwolf
6 years ago

FYI, both your links (to lyx.org and scrivener) are broken. I think they’re routed to subdirectories on your site that don’t exist, rather than their intended addresses.Report

justinrweinberg
justinrweinberg
Reply to  michaelpwolf
6 years ago

Thanks, Michael! Fixed now.Report

Bradley
Bradley
6 years ago

I like LaTeX because it allows me to have the finished product right next to the rough draft, easily make notes to myself that don’t show up in the compiled version, and it handles the bibliography for me. Also, it looks pretty.Report

John Schwenkler
6 years ago

Thanks all for the discussion. Here are those links:

http://www.lyx.org
http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

And fyi, picking up LyX is way easier than most LaTeX editors, which I had been scared off of using due to the learning curve that Becko C. mentions. Acquiring basic proficiency with LyX takes only a couple of hours, max.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
6 years ago

I use Markdown for notes and scratch work, LaTeX for proper writing. Like others, I use pandoc to get from one to the other.

For presentations I’ve also been mucking around with Markdown+pandoc=>reveal.js, which is super cool. Here’s a sample of what reveal.js gets you from some simple Markdown.

Slides: http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/~weisber3/Leeds2014/
Markdown source: http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/~weisber3/Leeds2014/slides.mdReport

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Jonathan Weisberg
6 years ago

Thanks for the tip on reveal.js! — I am allergic to slides, but may give this a try.

One thing that is good about LyX, and other LaTeX editors presumably, is that you can create presentations (which can double as handouts) from within your standard file using Beamer (http://wiki.lyx.org/Examples/Beamer) or another such class — I don’t think they’re as visually nifty as what Jonathan has here, though …Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Reply to  John Schwenkler
6 years ago

Yea I’m usually a strictly handout kinda guy myself, but diagrams or data can make slides necessary. Beamer is great for slides with lots of math (though Reveal.js does LaTeX math too, thanks to the magic of MathJax: http://www.mathjax.org).

Forgot to mention: another plug for TextMate (though I still use TeXShop for LaTeX).Report

TeX-y Grad
TeX-y Grad
6 years ago

The LaTeX inclined amongst us might want to check out Sublime Text – it is by far the best TeX editor I’ve used (though a tad expensive at 70 USD for a license).

http://www.sublimetext.com/Report

Torin
6 years ago

I generally use TeXWorks ( http://www.tug.org/texworks/ — but it’s also included in MiKTeX ( http://miktex.org/ ) for Windows LaTeX users), but have messed around with LyX and found it fine. Sublime Text is also very good, though I tend to use that more for web-based projects.Report

Billy Junker
Billy Junker
6 years ago

I love the alphasmart 3000. Runs on three triple a batteries, has 700 hrs of life, and can be taken anywhere. Shareware exists for copying files directly into any text program. And it costs between ten and thirty bucks. Only problem is that people talk to you when they see it. Here’s a link :http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/271557331027?lpid=82Report

Jeff
Jeff
6 years ago

I, like a few others who have already posted, write in Markdown and use Pandoc. I had written directly to LaTeX for years, but switched to Markdown/Pandoc to ease the transition to Word documents for journal submissions. Writing in Markdown makes it very easy to move my work into either LaTeX or Word, as needed, and use my BibTeX files for easy citation.

I use Sublime Text. It runs on both my Windows machine at the office, and my home Linux box and has plugins for Pandoc syntax highlighting.Report

Cari
Cari
6 years ago

I discovered Scrivener a few months back, and I love it for long work. I love having all of my secondary source PDFs and notes in one place, using the split screen, and lots of other small details. The ability to reorganize painlessly is fantastic. I didn’t fall in love with it the first time I used it, but it grew on me, and my writing process is so much better now.Report

Randall
6 years ago

I really enjoy DBook for collaborative and structured writing. It’s made for writing more then +10 pages and make my work much easiert: http://www.dbook.org

PS: They have a short introduction vid here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snwGQMSOlmgReport