Text editor with citation power: Author

What do you expect from a text editor? Either you want it to encourage a focus on the process of writing with this particular app or you want it to lead your focus to the subject you’re writing about. If you went for the first option, then the design, look and feel, and feature set of the app will determine your choice of app. If you favoured the second answer, an app like iA Writer or the Author app will have more appeal.

I reviewed iA Writer a long time ago and fell in love with the app because of its balanced feature set and its support for the second type of focus.

Author (https://www.augmentedtext.info/author) promises the same type of balance and support and is free with a paid export part (either a subscription or a lifetime licence fee of $44.99). Author users get a clean interface (even cleaner than iA Writer), an integrated map view, section folding, glossary generation, and more. Its greatest appeal and power lies in its export to PDF and RTF with Visual-Meta, and JATS (Journal Article Tag Suite, see here: https://www.xml.com/articles/2018/10/12/introduction-jats/).

The interface

Author starts up 100% empty, the digital equivalent of the daunting blank sheet. It has options for setting a heading and body text font, a “Theme” — a neutral grey or warm background — a WordPress account, and your user data. What you can do with Author is write text, add citations, create glossaries as you go, and quickly organise thoughts in a map view. At the output side, Author has a unique export capability that is called Visual-Meta. This is document metadata that can be read by applications that understand it — currently Augmented Text’s Reader only as far as I know — by a scanner and you and me, as it is added as tiny text at the end of an exported document in plain text.

Author is part of an ecosystem of apps that are aimed at creating and consuming text in ways that make understanding the topic easier and deeper. In Author, a scenario could be that you start a project by going to the map view, jotting down a few concepts, actors, resources, and defining them in the context of the text you’re creating. The map view is integrated with the write view, so you can go back and forth as you wish.

The interaction with Author’s interface is the fastest with most shortcuts working as toggle switches. For instance, if you want to invoke the map view, you press Command-M. To return to the write view, you press that shortcut again. Going into full screen mode, you press Escape. To get out of it, Escape again.

In full-screen mode you can jot down words and short paragraphs in the margins to quickly capture your thoughts without adding them to the end-result. It’s a great idea but its execution is less great. For instance, if you type a sentence, part of the note will bleed into your text as there’s no way to include a new line or a carriage return, and double-clicking the note pops up an Insert-in-Text panel but doesn’t make the note editable again.

If you cut text in Author, it will disappear from screen and go in the Cuttings panel that you recall with Ctrl-V, where it lives together with all other cuttings you haven’t deleted or restored yet.

If you search for a word or phrase, the Find feature will show you the paragraphs containing the text in a special view in the same window. Getting out of that view and back into the full text takes a tap of the Escape key. It’s a clever and efficient way to find text, but the Find functionality does lack Find/Replace capabilities which is unacceptable for most writers.

Focus mode is a single-option affair. It makes paragraphs grey that aren’t under your cursor and when you go to the next paragraph with the arrow keys, focus follows… until it falls off your screen. It’s as if it’s meant to be used only while you’re typing your first draft. What it should do is automatically scroll as it does in iA Writer.

Map view

You can use the Map view as a whiteboard with no connection to anything else or as a way to create a glossary. If a word or phrase is in the Write view’s text and you double-click on it, you’ll be taken to a window with every sentence listed containing the word.

You can define words — using a popup form — both in Write and Map mode. If you use a word in your definition that’s in the map, a line will appear when you select the defined term. If the word is only in your text in Write mode, it will appear in the map on its own. In other words, on the map it will look like you haven’t defined it unless you call up the definition popup. That confused me.

Export

The greatest appeal of Author is when you’re an academic writer. Its citation feature is unparalleled. If you want to cite a book, you press command-T and fill in the title or author, or ISBN, of a book. The app looks it up in the Google Books database and fills in the blanks. If you have a DOI (Digital Object Identifier, a ‘code’ that is used in scientific PDF publishing), the same happens. At exporting time, all your citations will be neatly placed where they belong.

The second greatest appeal of the app is that it integrates with Augmented Text’s own Reader, a PDF reader that allows you to enjoy basic interaction (without Flash). At the time of writing, and as far as I know, Reader is the only app that allows you to highlight text, annotate, copy/paste as a full citation, and — if the document was created as an Augmented Journal — copy/paste into Author will automatically attribute the author of the contributing section, not only the editor. Reader will also pop open reference information when you click on a citation, another unique feature.

Final thoughts

Author’s main appeal is to academic writers and students who export to PDF. For anyone else, it is not polished enough.

For example, after setting up the WordPress.com account for exporting to Visuals Producer and trying to export this piece, Author threw an exception “Blog is nil” with no further explanation. The plus icon that suggests you can add another blog — there’s no visible way to remove the first one to start over again — didn’t work.

Author lacks import capabilities besides MS Word, ignoring the fact that many of us start writing in a note taking app. If the lack of a Find/Replace feature isn’t a dealbreaker, the lack of support for embedding a spreadsheet or creating a table might be — the latter is inexplicable for a text editor that mainly targets academic writers. Markdown is not supported at all, although its support guarantees cross-compatibility with many other apps, an idea which many authors like.

As Author is free, though, I would encourage you to try it out. Its unique features might be exactly what you’re looking for in a text editor.

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