Tools for Academic Writing - Comparison

April 26, 2017

Many tools exist for academic writing including the notorious W.O.R.D.; but many more are out there. Let’s have a look at those tools, and discuss what’s important (what we expect the tool to deliver, eg., beautiful typesetting).

• MS Word: A “classical” choice, relied upon by myriads of white collar workers… I myself have used it extensively for academic writing; the main advantage being its simplicity, that is, well, everybody knows it, and knows more or less how to handle it. It’s widespread use is of course an advantage.

• TeX: The purist’s choice. The learning curve can be steep, but its beauty and elegance of typesetting if unreached.

• Overleaf, Authorea: Web-based apps that make it easy to enjoy modern functionality by making the entry hurdle as low as possible. These riches do not come for free; commercial organizations would like to see some return of investment.

• Full: With the “full” approach I refer to a blended version of several tools, mainly:
• R
• RStudio
• RMarkdown (ie., knitr + markdown + pandoc)
• Git + Github
• stylesheets such as papaja (APA6 stylesheet)
• Markdown: Markdown is a simple variant of markup languages such as HTLM or LaTeX. Its marked feature is its simplicity. In fact, it can be learned in 5 minutes (whereas TeX may need 5-50 years, some say…).

• Google Docs: Easy, no (direct) costs, comfortable, but some features are lacking - There’s no easy for citations. In addition, some say intellectual rights are transferred to Google by using G Docs (I have no clue whether that’s true).

Tool comparison table

libs <- c("readr", "tidyverse", "pander", "emo", "htmlTable")

tools <- read_csv("academic_writing_tools_competition.csv")

htmlTable(df)

Criterion Word Tex Overleaf_Authorea Full Markdown G_Docs
1 Beautiful typesetting 1 3 3 3 3 1
2 Different output formats 2 3 3 3 3 2
3 Citations 2 3 3 3 3 1
4 Integrate R 1 1 1 3 1 1
5 Version control 2 1 3 3 1 2
6 Reproducibility of writing 1 3 2 3 1 1
7 Collaboration 1 1 3 2 1 3
8 Simplicity 3 1 2 1 2 3
9 Style sheets (eg., APA) 1 2 3 2 1 1
10 Stability 1 3 2 3 3 2
11 Open code 1 3 2 3 3 1
12 Option for private writing 3 3 1 3 3 3

Criterion weight

Let’s assume we have some weights that we assign to the critera:

Criterion Weight
1 Beautiful typesetting 1
2 Different output formats 2
3 Citations 3
4 Integrate R 2
5 Version control 2
6 Reproducibility of writing 2
7 Collaboration 3
8 Simplicity 2
9 Style sheets (eg., APA) 2
10 Stability 3
11 Open code 2
12 Option for private writing 2

Scores by tool

So we are able to devise a score or a ranking.

tool_name score
1 Full 69
2 Overleaf_Authorea 61
3 Tex 58
4 Markdown 54
5 G_Docs 47
6 Word 41
score %>% ggplot + aes(x = reorder(tool_name, score), y = score) +
geom_point() + coord_flip() + xlab("tool")


And the winner is…

The full approach. The full approach gets most points (disclaimer: well, I designed this competition, and I like this approach 😄.

Getting started

There are numerous tutorial on “the full approach” out there, .eg.