How to Collaborate on Writing

  • DOI: 10.1002/chemv.202000037
  • Author: Vera Koester
  • Published Date: 04 May 2020
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
thumbnail image: How to Collaborate on Writing

Now that we work a lot from home, it is increasingly important to do things online that we used to do together in the office. Some of us have used online collaborative writing tools for years. For others, dealing with them is new–and there are many new offers emerging.

Different systems offer scientists different possibilities to make their publishing life easier. Online collaboration tools are ideal to show other people something while you are working on it and collect their feedback or to work in a team on a text. Tools developed specifically for scientific writing allow you to write your research paper, collaborate in a team, manage and insert data, share the data, format the document, and submit it directly to a journal.

Below we have listed some tools that allow collaborative working on a text and a rough comparison of their features.

 

product

what

multiple authors can co-edit document online in real-time

reference management

embed and execute software code; integrate data

bundle figures together with the data used to create them

directly submit article to journals and preprint servers

tracks how and when a file has been changed in real-time

main advantage/

disadvantage

costs/
owner

Authorea

 designed for researchers to write, cite, collaborate, host data and publish,

works also as preprint system;

LaTeX- and plain-text language Markdown-based

yes

yes (allows to search PubMed or CrossRef, or pull in articles by DOI or URL)

yes

yes

yes

yes

formats papers to thousands of styles;

provides profile pages, including bios and statistics, for authors and institutions

free basic version /owned by Wiley through Atypon, USA

doDOC

designed for the pharma industry with a strong focus on manuscript authoring

yes

yes
(connects to PubMed and Scopus, with import of EndNote citations)

yes

yes

short free trials/
doDOC Corp., USA

Fidus Writer

especially made for academics who need to use citations and/or formulas

yes

yes (added from Zotero with a drag-and-drop function and allows search from Datacite and Crossref)

yes

yes

can be self-hosted, no data lock-in;

easy to use for non-technical users;

provides a number of layouts

free/

code licensed under the GNU AFFERO GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE

Google Docs

browser-based  collaboration and document authoring tool offered within Google Drive service

yes

no

no

no

no

yes

has broad applications, can be used easily by everyone;

not specifically designed for publishing research articles;

Stencila, New Zeeland, created useful plug-ins for researchers

free for personal use, paid business version available as part of GSuite/
owned by Google, USA

HackMD

plain-text language Markdown-based

yes

no

yes

only light formatting and not many features

free basic version

(CodiMD is the free, open-source software version of HackMD; has fewer features)

licensed under GNU Affero General Public License

Manubot

for scholarly publishing;

plain-text language Markdown-based

yes

yes (finds and inserts a reference itself using cite-by-identifier; allows DOI, PubMed, arXiv ID, URL, or ISBN)

yes

no
deploys the manuscript as a webpage

yes
(uses Pandoc (file-conversion functionality), and GitHub)

elegant and lots of extra functionality, but complex, rather something for coders who like working with GitHub

free/
open source

developed at Universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, USA

Manuscripts.io

especially made for academics

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

yes

combines collaboration with offline editing

free/
owned by Wiley through Atypon, USA

Overleaf

LaTeX-based
(previously WriteLaTeX)

yes

yes
(via Mendeley or Zotero)

no

yes

yes

open-source;

two-panel interface (LaTeX code editor and live rendering output) makes it easy to use also for those not familiar with LaTeX

free basic version/

owned by Digital Science (connected to Springer Nature)

released under the GNU AFFERO GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE

SharePoint

document management and storage system that integrates with Microsoft Office

yes

no

no

yes (via Office Software)

no

yes

wide variety of capabilities but desigend to store files;

not designed for publishing research articles

bundled in Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions/
Microsoft Corporation, USA

 

We asked some of the providers which tools they would recommend to beginners. In summary, we deduce from this:

  • The most user-friendly and intuitive seem to be Fidus Writer, Google Docs, HackMD, Manuscripts.io. Which of these to choose would then depend on what the main goal is: collaboration and document word processing or to quickly uploading content and publishing it, and If privacy is a concern.
  • Authorea and doDOC seem to be good solutions to publish and broadcast your documents. Users should know LaTeX but do not need to be LaTeX experts.
  • Manubot and Overleaf seem to be for users who are familiar with writing and managing code files.
  • SharePoint might be a good solution for users who already have a Microsoft 365 subscription.

 

 

References

  1. Jeffrey M. Perkel, Synchronized editing: the future of collaborative writing, Nature 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00916-6
  2. Jeffrey M. Perkel, Three ways to collaborate on writing, Nature Index 10 January 2020. Link
  3. Matias Piipari, Alf Eaton, and Alberto Pepe, Introducing Manuscripts.io: open source editing environment for structured, computationally reproducible research documents, Journal Article Tag Suite Conference Proceedings 2019. Link
  4. Michele Wilson, Imagine Collaboration, Without the Faff, technologynetworks.com 2019. Link (accessed April 30, 2020)

 

 



 

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