Writing tools (part 1)

Microsoft Word all the way, right?

LJ Sinclair published on
3 min, 480 words

Categories: writing

I don't use Microsoft Word unless I absolutely have to

That's my straight-up confession. I've used MS Word since its heyday back in the 1990s and as far as I'm concerned, it's a poor tool for writing.

I'll qualify this by saying my workflow includes writing documents shared between people, building websites, single-source help systems and related items. If you're just typing words on a page, MS Word is perfectly good (albeit a bit over-engineered)

And I'm not alone:

In summary, MS word (and word processors in general) puts the cart before the horse; design before words.

Mess up the design in any way, or intend to use it elsewhere (like a website, cms, or other medium) and things get messy very fast. And don't get me started on sharing documents for review purposes, version control, and other concerns which only get people's attention when they lose all their work because the document has become corrupted.

I use a plain-text editor

Plain text editing, specifically using the Markdown language (kind of not a language, think of it as more a set of formatting rules) makes everything simple.

# This is heading 1
## This is heading 2
### This is heading 3
#### This is heading 4

* This is a bullet
* This is another bullet

1. First in numbered list
2. Second in numbered list

*italic text*

**Bold text**

Ordinary body text.

Learn about Markdown

Why is this better?

I get to write. It's as simple as that.

Text files don't get corrupted. I can share them and changes are recorded automatically by the version control system (where conversations can be had about the document WITHOUT them ending up IN the document). I always have a reliable backup and can always (internet connection permitting) get a copy of the files on whatever computer I'm using.

But what about MS Word then?

MS Word (or PDF) can be used as the end product if you desire. That is, once you've nailed down the words, made changes and are happy with the content.

That is to say, if you want MS word for your final document, you can get that too.

I do this with two pieces of software and one "package" (aka add-on to make software do something new)

I'll explain how to do this in a future post