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.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Academic referencing, Improve your writing

One Response to The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing

  1. da Tyga

    You might want to consider LyX it might be weak on collaboration, but reasonably strong in the other areas mentioned. It is also a good stepping stone towards LaTeX which is what many academics use to write papers and books.

    On current notebooks LaTeX runs fast enough to be useful for writing even thesis length material. When writing papers, most journals provide .CLS files that will reformat existing material to their publication standards. This is an excellent time saver when re-submitting a paper to a different journal with a different layout.

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