Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing

There are more than 130 million students and faculty in Higher Education worldwide. Every one of these individuals needs to write academic papers and articles. However, the tools we have for academic writing are extremely limited (see Table 1):

  • Microsoft Word is, primarily, desktop with a wide range of features making it difficult to learn and demands too much time to manage the formatting, and also causes version control issues
  • Google docs is a cloud-based product with excellent collaboration features, but is limited for most academic work
  • Scrivener is a Mac product that has some nice note features, but has a very confusing user interface
  • Authorea is a relatively new cloud-based word processor, but it is a latex product that requires knowledge of this technical language

The top 5 limitations are:

1. Reference data must be interfaced with a third-party tool (e.g., Mendeley, Endnote, Zotero)

Integrating third party tools to manage reference data often causes issues, and the limitations of these tools is also problematic. Google docs enables footnote citing with Google Scholar and web searches, but its inability to produce in-text citations renders it useless for most undergraduate writing.

2. Formatting often takes up more time than writing (i.e., it is difficult to get consistency)

What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors are great for visualizing the end product and generally offer a wide range of tools to achieve most things. The disadvantage, however, is that it becomes difficult to get consistency, and more time is often spent on formatting  rather than on content development. Frustration with formatting is generally the end result.

3. Functionality is missing (e.g., a list of images, image captions, equation editing)

When writing academic reports there is the need for a list of figures and tables. Google docs is inadequate in this regard, and MS Word requires that you update image numbers before the list is generated, making it a tedious time-waster if you have a lot of images.

4. Notes and comment need to be deleted before printing

In line comments and notes are very useful for keeping track of what is required to be done or for recording feedback. However, all these tools require inline comments to be deleted before output can be created, thereby losing valuable information.

5. Collaboration requires control over different versions

While Google docs has excellent collaboration features, it becomes ineffective due to its other limitations for academic writing. MS Word has no history functionality, so the only way to manage collaboration is to share files with your collaborations. Sharing files has been made easier with products like DropBox, but this generally causes the need to maintain different versions of the same document, which can be a nightmare.

Compare Writing Products

Table 1: Comparison of Word Processing tools

 

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing tool dedicated to the needs of students and faculty. Here are five reasons to make the switch:

1. Formatting (headings, text, captions) is contained in pre-defined styles ensuring everything is formatted consistently and quickly based on academic standards (or customize your own style)

2. Numbering is done as you export allowing you to make as many changes as you like without the need to re-format (image numbers, page numbers, heading numbers)

3. Cut-and-paste is replaced with drop-n-drag making it easier to restructure writing

4. History is saved allowing you to go back in time to see changes

5. Templates are structural rather than design-based providing a head start on writing that next paper

Future functions include notes & comments that do not need to be deleted, collaboration, automated glossary, history slider, and more.

 

About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.

 

 

 

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Filed under Academic referencing, Improve your writing

The Limitations of Mendeley for Academic Writing

Mendeley is a reference manager and academic social network. While this platform has been extremely successful for research collaboration, it is woefully inadequate as a referencing tool. One of the first activities undertaken in the peer review process is to check article submissions for accurate referencing. If references are not cited correctly, the article is rejected without any content being examined. Thus, accurate referencing is a pre-cursor to having publications accepted.

Here are the top five reasons why it is time to find a new reference manager:

1. Reference types do not relate to today’s resources

Mendeley has 16 reference types (see image below) which are inadequate for accurate referencing. For example, many authors cite articles forthcoming, but there is no template provided.

2. CSL Style library is inadequate

Mendeley uses the CSL style library to format. There are around 7,000 CSL styles for various journal titles. While this sounds impressive, most styles have only 4-5 templates available, therefore, the 16 reference types, in reality, turn into 4-5! Also, these templates treat reference data as the same for every kind of resource and often led to inaccuracies. For example, a journal article is assumed to have a volume and issue number. There are many instances when issue numbers are not used, and volume numbers get replaced with a season (e.g., Spring). The format for these different kinds of journal numbering causes errors.

3. First, Consecutive and Subsequent not catered for

All CSL styles have the first template and a ‘Short’ template. This shortened template is used for both consecutive and subsequent formatting. This creates errors for many styles where consecutive citations differ to subsequent citations.

4. Multi-volume titles and abbreviations are missing

A range of styles require the need to include multi-volume titles and abbreviations. There is no field to capture this data, rendering such references inaccurate.

5.  All independent reference managers must interface with MS Word

Interfacing any two solutions is always problematic. Recent posts on Mendeley’s facebook page suggest that their support for integration is lacking. Researchers waste extensive amounts of time formatting, reformatting and correcting reference data. Technology advances have been fantastic over the past 10 years, yet the solutions fail to deliver modern tools to researchers.

Compare reference types

 

ComWriter has pledged ‘to eliminate referencing hurdles‘. Here are five resons to make the switch:

1. A broad range of reference types including articles forthcoming and books with mult-volume titles (see image)

2. Reference data is examined and alternate outputs provided; especially for journal articles

3. Footnote references provided for first, consecutive and subsequent

4. Write-and-cite in the one platform

5. The entire article (text & citations) is formatted automatically (using a pre-defined style guide), leaving authors more time to concentrate on content and argument

 

About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.

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Filed under Academic referencing