Writing and Outlining Platforms

Paul Ford briefly reviews a variety of new online writing and outlining tools:

(Two academic collaborative tools not mentioned but worth checking out are Fidus Writer and Authorea.)

He notes that these platforms are a return to "reflective thought":

What all these new tools for thought must prove is that there are enough people willing to give up the quick pleasures of the tweet or Facebook post and return to the hard business of writing whole paragraphs that are themselves part of a larger structure of argument.

I'm not so sure that it's a "hard business," but it is time-consuming. I suppose some can just rattle off in good prose whatever comes to their mind and at the same time say something worth reading. For myself, however, it takes time to think through what I've read and even more time to build upon it something, if not new, at least different enough from the original post to be worthwhile for others' consideration. Perhaps the amount of time it takes does indicate in some way that it's hard. Lack of time is the main reason my posting has almost stopped in the last few years.

As Ford notes at the end (citing Engelbart), the right tool can "augment human intellect." I would add that even if not "augmenting," the right tool can certainly save time. Unlike a pen, word processors allow us to edit freely. Bibliographic managers write our reference sections for us in a click or two.

A tool I use is Tinderbox. I use it for keeping notes, writing this blog, analyzing research, and making adjunct assignments (in the fall semester assigning around 100 adjuncts to about 200 courses). With respect to adjunct assignments, for example, the combination of attributes, agents, and badges let me see visually who can teach what at which time and who has two, one, or zero assignments. Every semester, it saves me hours of remembering who can do what when and hours of double-checking to eliminate mistakes. (I'm looking forward to seeing the features Tinderbox 6 will bring.) It's an expensive tool, but it more than repays itself with the time it saves me. Thank you, Mark.

So, yes, these tools can help us do better writing and perhaps even better thinking.