Writing can be a challenge- overcoming writer’s block, finding themes, checking grammar, style, conducting research. To make the difficulty a bit more manageable we have compiled useful tools. We look at a few for taking notes, word processing, and editing.
This list is specifically about giving you options beyond Microsoft Word.
Capturing ideas, to be developed later. Note taking has improved in recent years thanks to technology improvements and breakthroughs in understanding how our brains organize information. These tools are designed to help you capture ideas to be developed at a later time.
Simple Note: Free
If all you want to do is jot down notes now and then, then Simple Note is a great app for you. Light, clean, and free are the words developers use to describe this app, and that is certainly apt.
Syncs and available across all devices.
roll back to previous notes
Limited function (great for basics struggles with complex projects)
Grab it here: https://simplenote.com/
Google Keep: Free
If you want to include photos, drawings, voice recordings, and full integration with Google apps, then Google keep is a fantastic option. Also holding the very competitive price point of “free,” this is my go-to note taking app.
Sync across devices
Integrated with Google Drive
Text formatting, surprisingly you cannot use bold or italics within the app, if you need to do formatting logic holds that you can use Google docs.
Grab it here: https://keep.google.com
One Note: Free
One note is feature rich. Not just for taking notes, but a suite designed to help you get your ideas and thoughts organized. Featuring levels of categorization and multiple hierarchies that allow you to tag sort and categorize ideas in profoundly interconnected ways. One note is a solid app that also free to use.
One note is a choice for anyone who wants comprehensive features and more production power from their note capture app of choice.
Integration with MS Office tools
Direct posting from One Note to WordPress.
Suffers from MS Office bloat and clunkiness
Where to grab it: https://www.onenote.com/
Evernote: Free/ Subscription
A note about Evernote.
Once a widely beloved app, one of the early startups valued at over a billion dollars has fallen out of grace. Buggy releases, rolling out many different failed app additions and limiting access to free users are reasons we recommend looking elsewhere for your note taking needs.
While Evernote is functional, it only allows free users to sync across 2 devices. For some people, this may be enough, but if you have, more than two devices, this becomes a bit of a problem.
They allow you to solve the problem by upgrading to paid accounts costing $34.99/year or $69.99/year depending on the feature set you need.
The price point is something that we have a problem justifying. Especially considering the price point of competition. Additional complaints about Evernote include it being slow to sync, suffering from feature bloat, and some bugginess.
None of these are characteristics that are desirable in an app that you want to use to capture ideas or fitting smoothly into an existing workflow. We suspect part of the reason this is the case is that Evernote has to justify it’s 1 billion dollar valuation, and it struggles to do so without adding additional features. Those features which may be nice to have, detract from the core function of note taking. However, if those extra features appeal to you and fit your workflow, then it may be well worth grabbing Evernote.
Grab it here: https://evernote.com/
General Word Processing tools:
Chances are you are familiar with the most common tools. Microsoft Word has been around for a long time, and it is a workhorse word processing application and for many, it ends there. However, it is worth exploring a few other options as Word is not free, and it has limitations. These tools are alternatives to word, and they are either free or contain specialized features that help improve your workflow.
Google Docs: Free
Googles take on a word processor lives in the cloud, allows for collaboration on documents. Integrates with other Google tools is available across devices and is completely free. While this processor does not have the same number of features as MS Word, it’s simplicity can be a blessing, because
Easy to use
Very simple to learn.
Highly compatible: Many import/export options, can handle a broad range of document file types.
Version control: You can go back to previous iterations of your file.
Online only, while you can setup access to google docs to work offline it is cloud-based tool first.
The benefit of this is the instant saving of whatever you do and excellent version control, and this con means that if you get caught without web access, unexpectedly you will have a hurdle in accessing your docs.
This limitation has not been a problem for us, as the world is more connected than ever but it is something to consider.
Libre Office/Open Office: Free
If you want a traditional word processor, that is open source which translates to 100% Free, Libre Office is our recommendation. It has more flexibility in handling file types than Office, with the same power that you have come to expect from word processing software. Open office has been grouped with it because these projects are quite similar when comparing, look feel and feature set. We lean towards Libre office because it is updated more frequently, but either of these tools will serve basic word processing needs. While they are similar to word, they are different enough that there is a slight learning curve, and once again. Collaboration is not the focus of these tools.
Import/Export files in many different formats
Familiar layout easy to jump right into
Open Source (Free)
Different enough that there will be a bit of a learning curve
Grab Libre Office here: https://www.libreoffice.org/download
Grab Open office here: https://www.openoffice.org/download/index.html
Scrivener (Recommended): $40-$45
Sometimes a basic word processing tool is not enough. When you are finishing long-form writing, a research paper, a script.In these cases, your notes will not fit in a single document and are better suited to taking notes and capturing studies in a format that allows for you to move around concepts and develop ideas without moving between multiple documents.
This tool is well reviewed, and beloved by many writers because of the way it handles projects. There is a bit of learning curve to tap into all of the features. However, the workflow that you can achieve with this tool makes that a challenge worth tackling.
It does come with a one-time price tag attached $40 for windows version $45 for Mac they have a multi-OS bundle available for $69 if you work on both systems.
Specialized tool for writers
Increased productivity for complex projects
Great for sorting and managing concepts and ideas.
Highly recommended by writers.
Scrivener is focused on solo productivity, so collaborative is not one of its strengths. This design limitation means it does not sync across multiple computers automatically, in that sense it is like a traditional word processor. There are ways to work around this (dropbox, google drive) however it is important to understand the design and function of the programs you intend to use.
Grab it here: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/
These tools are to help catch mistakes and improve areas of your writing, they are designed to be used in conjunction with the standard editorial and proof reading process, but can replace them as well if need be. These are tools that every writer should become familiar with, because they can be accessed for free.
This app focuses on stylistic simplicity. Highlighting complex sentences, then enabling you to simplify them.
This tool being a web app is easy to use, cut paste, and edit.
Great feature set
Highlights passive voice
Offers word substitution suggestions
Easy to use
Free to use
It focuses on simplicity in writing sometimes it is not useful for projects.
Grab it here: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
Grammarly: Free/Upgrade (Highly Recommended.)
Grammarly is a robust proofreading tool which aims to help ensure you are utilizing proper grammar. Like Hemmingway, it offers recommendations to improve your writing.
There is a free version, which will guide you through grammar rules, and is quite useful. The paid app unlocks more power and performs additional grammar checks. Grammarly is available as a plugin for your browser, an application on your computer, and a plugin for microsoft office.
Robust grammar rules
Finds grammar mistakes and typos
Provides suggestions improve your writing
Repetitive phrasing check
Easy to use
Free to try
Browser plugin can be slow
Grab it here: https://app.grammarly.com/
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