Canadian Journal of Nursing Informatics


This article was written on 15 Jun 2017, and is filled under Volume 12 2017, Volume 12 No 1 & 2.

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Software Writing Tools

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Software Column

by Allen McLean, RN, MN, MSc, PhD(c)

Allen is currently a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan in the Computational Epidemiology and Public Health Informatics Lab. His research interests include the development of computer modeling and simulation software for addressing health systems challenges, chronic diseases and health inequities at the population level, as well as machine learning techniques applied to large health datasets. Allen previously attended the University of Victoria earning an MN and MSc (Health Information Science) in a unique dual degree program for Nursing Informatics professionals. Allen has over 20 years experience in healthcare as an ultrasound technologist, clinical educator, team leader and community health RN.


Writing softwareInspired by the editorial found in the previous issue of CJNI, (Why all Nurses Can/Should be Authors, June Kaminski, Volume 11 Number 4), I thought it might be helpful to introduce some of the better software tools designed to make the writing process more efficient, and maybe just a bit more enjoyable. As usual, I will recommend software tools available at either no, or low cost, have no interests in any company that create the software I recommend, and will always try and reference open-source software if available.

My current favorite writing software is Overleaf, and while proprietary, does offer a free version with all the functionality most of us will ever need. There are loads of templates to choose from for creating most any type of document you choose, online LaTeX and Rich-Text collaborative writing and publishing, real-time preview, and much more. If you are hesitant to use LaTeX, the Rich-Text mode renders headings, formatting and equations directly in the editor, to make it seem more familiar to WYSIWYG users. And the ability to share and work collaboratively is great for group writing. One caution, the workspace is split in two, meaning that you write on one side of the screen, and the work is constructed on the other, I find Overleaf generally works best if you are connected to a large monitor.

A second popular option is Scrivener, a writing tool that also includes project management and organization modules, but is best known for its strengths in organizing complicated projects. I haven’t used Scrivener, but several colleagues have and recommended it highly. The website describes Scrivener as “a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.” The software is low cost, but there is a free trial version.

And for those who like to write anytime the mood strikes, Evernote may be of interest. Not really a true software writing tool, but great for capturing thoughts you may expand on later. You can think of Evernote as electronic yellow sticky-notes. You can save text, images or documents on any device and share content in a group notebook. Evernote is a bit pricey, however there is a free option, but with limited features. I have used Evernote on occasion, and many colleagues also recommend – but I still often rely on pencil and my trusty Moleskin notebook in this regard.

I won’t delve too deeply into what is commonly referred to as ‘citation manager’ software; software helping writers organize their references. Fortunately there are many good options at no or low cost. I have found the citation manager built into Google Scholar a simple, straight-forward option, but have also included a good Canadian reference below. Happy writing!


Evernote. (2016).

Overleaf. (2016).

Scrivener. (2016).

University of Toronto. (2016).

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