MonsterWriter for Academic Work
MonsterWriter is an Electron-based writing program geared towards academic writing. You can use it for other kinds of writing, but it is focused on the academic segment with its feature set.
Interestingly, MonsterWriter is also trying to be a publishing platform. It lets you export your writing to Ghost.
You Have No Preferences
The first thing that struck me about MonsterWriter is the complete absence of any ability to customize the program. You can’t change the font. I will make it easier. You cannot change anything. No preferences at all.
This is a dual-edged sword. There is nothing to choose, Thus there are no distractions. The only thing you can do in MonsterWriter is write and then export to whatever format you want (HTML, Markdown, PDF, and LaTeX). I understand the advantage of this method, but I like monospace fonts, and love being able to choose the font I write in. I am going to stare at the screen the whole day. Having to stare at a font that is not my preferred one bugs me.
The program ships with two modes: A light mode and a dark mode. They are not bad. But I like solarized light and dark better.
The light mode:
The dark mode:
A writing program occupies my screen the whole day. Having to stare at something I am not particularly fond of, does not help.
Stuff MonsterWriter Does Do
- It is a minimal writing experience. You don’t have any choices to make. You only have to write.
- Handles bold, italic and underline. Has the ability to format code differently from text. Has a nice way of defining the markup of the section you are working on through a dropdown menu on the right of the paragraph.
- Exports to PDF, LaTeX, HTML, or Markdown.
- Geared towards academic writing, MonsterWriter handles equations, footnotes, bibliography, table of contents, captions, and more.
- You can use it to publish to Ghost.
- Automates some of the formatting of the document. Start a paragraph with ‘#table’ to start a table and so on. It is convenient and easy to get used to.
- It auto-completes lists, both unordered and ordered. That is a useful feature for me.
- Handles mermaid diagrams.
- Auto-saves and user selectable backups.
- Handles large files smoothly.
- Auto-numbering of sections. Fixes the sequence when you move things around or insert new sections into the document.
- MonsterWriter provides context sensitive help.
- Has a full screen mode but no keyboard command to reach it. You have to click on the green icon on the window to invoke full-screen mode.
- The latest version has built-in integration with Zotero Online. Zotero Desktop is coming soon, according to the developer.
Stuff MonsterWriter Doesn’t Do
- Typewriter scrolling.
- Preferences of any kind
- No ability to change the font.
- No theming, except a light and a dark mode.
- Retain window setup. Using MonsterWriter, you set up the size of the window for the document you are working on. After some writing, you quit the program. On relaunch, you have to set up the size again. Irritating.
- MonsterWriter has no ability to import documents from other programs. You cannot bring in existing Markdown files or simple text files into the program. If you copy the text from another program, and then paste into a MonsterWriter document, the program stalls on large size copy and paste operations. You can do this for small documents but the program chokes on large documents.
- MonsterWriter stores its files in the user’s Application Support folder. I would prefer the ability to store the folder in Dropbox or iCloud. That would allow me to work on the same files, using MonsterWriter, through multiple computers.
Who Is the Audience for MonsterWriter?
The technically proficient academic writer is prone to using tools like Pandoc to convert text files into a whole host of desired formats. They are also using text editors like Emacs (org-mode), VSCode, BBEdit, or Sublime Text. They might be using dedicated writing programs like Scrivener, and, heaven help us, some of them might be using Microsoft Word.
Technical proficiency would mean that the user is comfortable in defining their writing environment for themselves. That would mean themes and fonts being user-selectable. The absence of that ability would drive some of them batty.
My hypothesis is that the target audience for MonsterWriter is the non-technical academic writer. That is the writer who is looking for a solution which is self-contained and easy. They are looking for a program which lets them think about their writing and not on how to make the writing program work for them. MonsterWriter is the perfect program for that audience.
For academics, this is a good solution for your writing. For general writing and blogging, I prefer a Markdown focused solution. However, if you use this for your academic writing, you can extend the use to writing in Markdown and other kinds of writing. It is fairly versatile and a capable solution for all of your writing needs.
MonsterWriter is recommended.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie.
Note: The developer offered me a review license if I wanted to write about the application. I gratefully accepted.