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word, academia and just writing

a crucial stumbling block in reconfiguring the economics of scholarly communications for the digital age is Microsoft Word. Specifically, the fact that users are wedded to this format presents typesetting and conversion costs that are completely out of proportion to the needs of the system.

The fact that users continue to write using a complex format that is well beyond their needs means that we have to pay for the labour of converting Word documents to an interchangeable XML format … Automatic conversion is difficult, so we head to the brute-force solution of using tools that help, underwritten by sheer labour power.

– Martin Paul Eve, martineve.com/2015/04/15/in-the-beginning-was-the-word/

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last few years trying to avoid Microsoft Word for any writing1. It’s a bloated application when all I really need (and this includes writing book chapters and journal articles) is a text editor.

For the International Journal of Screendance, co-editor – Harmony Bench — and I use the Open Journal System. In this system we are forced to use Microsoft Word because it is what everyone uses in academia. Contributors submit in Word, reviewers review in Word, we edit in Word, contributors revise and resubmit in Word, etc.

But, then, at the next to last step, I convert these word documents into a form of plain text called Markdown. This conversion is done automatically using Pandoc but requires that I then manually check the Markdown to ensure there is no strange code/markup (themselves remnants from MS Word.

From Markdown we are able to automatically produce HTML and (correctly formatted) Word documents that are then converted into PDFs.

It’s labour-intensive and unnecessarily complex all because of MS Word.

Try a text-editor (some examples are Byword, OmmWriter or nvALT), then learn Markdown (it will take just a few minutes) and MS Word-less writing will be a pleasure.


  1. This is a rather detailed outline of my writing and research workflow: skellis.net/blog/writing-workflow↩︎

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