Digital Writing

Table of Contents

Writing Natural Language

Before we start writing, we should set up the ergonomic workstation and practice using an ergonomic keyboard and touch typing as discussed in the Workstation chapter.

The need for digital writing arises in many situations – for example, written communication such as emails, message boards, and chats and professional writing such as reports, articles, and documents. Becoming proficient in digital writing requires adopting a digital-first view of writing and typesetting in contrast to the print-first view. For example, in digital writing, should page size optimal for reading instead of the A4 paper size. We can set minimal margins on pages. Our document output should be easy to read on a mobile device.

Browser-based document editors make collaborative writing possible on the internet. They make automatic backups on your document, make documents easy to share, add the ability to add comments, and suggest edits to documents. Modern web fonts make reading documents easier.

Google Docs is an application for collaborative online writing.

Grammar and spelling mistakes in our text are embarrassing and unprofessional. In the digital age, they are easy to correct by using a digital writing assistant. Digital writing assistants go beyond grammar and can analyze whole paragraphs from a text and suggest edits. They make writing high-quality text simpler and faster. With higher-quality text, we can display competence and make our text easier to understand. We should always use writing assistants for editing official texts that other people are going to read.

Grammarly is a powerful writing assistant. Grammarly can correct spelling and grammar and suggest edits on correctness, clarity, engagement, and delivery. It can replace words with synonyms, find definitions for words, and detect plagiarism. It has plugins for browsers and Google docs.

Beyond writing assistants, we can also improve our writing quality and style. Here are some excellent resources for writing better:

In his short essay, The day you became a better writer, 2nd look, Scott Adams demonstrates the importance of simplicity and clarity in your writing.
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, discusses the principles and methods of good writing and how to write in different forms and attitudes. In good writing, every word is doing useful work. Good writing avoids filler words or words that bring ambiguity or vagueness to the text. The book also contains the most important truth about writing: “Rewriting is the essence of writing.” Good writing is always born out of editing your writing multiple times.

Since we become less attached to our text over time, we recommend adding time between writing and editing to ease the pain of removing unnecessary text.

We may also need to translate our text into different languages. For best results, translate from English to the target language.

Google Translate is an application for translating text to different languages.

Writing Markup Documents

We can use markup languages to write structured text content such as webpages, scientific articles, and technical documentation. Similar to programming languages, a markup language is a plain-text format with a special syntax. In markup documents, we can write natural language text and other elements such as links, equations, code, and citations.

Markup document consists of one or more markup files and assets like images. We can write markup documents with the same tools as we write code, typically using a specialized text editor referred to as a code editor. Code editor combines useful functions such as project file view, color-coding, terminal, and other integrated tools. In addition to the core features, we can add capabilities to code editors by installing extensions for specific tasks.

Code editors always use a monospace font designed for displaying code. In monospaced fonts, every character has the same width, making structured text easier to read for humans. For example, Fira Code is a monospace font with ligatures that make multicharacter symbols easier for our brains to parse. Although Google docs is not a code editor, it also supports Fira Code font.

Visual Studio Code (VSCode) is an excellent code editor. Additionally, we recommend installing the vscode-icons extension to improve the icons for files and directories and the Dark++ Regular extension for its theme and support for Fira Code font.

Depending on the output format, we can produce the markup document’s output using converter software or directly interpreting the markup source files. The benefit of markup documents is the control over details, the plain-text format allowing the use of software engineering tools, and versatility and ability to produce multiple output formats from the same markup source files.

In practice, we should use light-weight markup languages that support a subset of markup with an easier syntax. A light-weight markup document can be converted to a markup document using a converter.

My article Scientific Writing with Markdown explores the technical aspects of writing scientific text with Markdown, a popular light-weigh markup language.
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