Tag Archives: MS word

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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ComWriter functionality leaves old ‘word processors’ behind

ComWriter is the only writing platform to provide the breadth of functionality actually needed to write to academic standards (see diagram).

ComWriter functionality outstrips the competitors

ComWriter functionality outstrips the competitors

While Microsoft suggests they support the education market, all they do is provide discounted licenses to an old product. Even their new cloud-based subscriptions (MS365) are a cutdown (and clumsy) version of their tired product. Microsoft’s real target is large corporates.

Likewise Google also suggests it supports the education market. But, realistically Google Docs is not different to MS Word, except that it is a stripped down version that is cloud-based and free. Google’s primary target is small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and individuals they can advertise to.

Neither of these suppliers/products actually delivers the functionality required by students and academics to meet academic standards. All the word processors that we have investigated, all seem to work much the same as MS Word. So there has been no real innovation in writing products since the inception of referencing software about 10 years ago!

We think it’s time to change that scenario. And, our mapping of ComWriter’s functionality against these two giant word processors, suggest we have hit the mark.

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