Why should I use Authorea to write my papers?

Matteo Cantiello is a theoretical astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and Authorea’s Chief Scientist.

I am aware that a while back a lot of astronomers have tried out writing their research articles on Authorea, a web-based collaborative writing platform. Some were disappointed by the lack of certain advanced LaTeX features (e.g., deluxetables, now supported). You were disappointed, you told us why, and we just implemented some big changes to make you happy. Authorea now has a ”Power LaTeX user” mode which supports a much much larger subset of LaTeX. Essentially everything. And unlike some services such as ScribTeX and WriteLaTeX (previously reviewed on Astrobetter), all your LaTeX renders both to PDF and to HTML (i.e., the web).

So, why should you give Authorea a spin and start using it daily for your research? It’s a good question. Here some highlights that might guide that decision.

  1. 1.With Authorea, your paper is accessible from any computer, anywhere in the world.
  2. 2.You can write your paper from your browser, no installation of TeX required.
  3. 3.You can write in LaTeX or in markdown. Advanced LaTeX and tables are now supported.
  4. 4.Collaboration is made easy. No need for endless emails threads with multiple draft revisions.
  5. 5.Every Authorea paper is a Git repo, version controlled. Again, no installations required.
  6. 6.Want to work offline via Github? You can. Authorea becomes the rendered version so that your coauthors can still work with you without having to learn Git.
  7. 7.Adding citations has never been easier. One click and done. Believe me, you will never want to go back.
  8. 8.You can include data and code in your paper, like IPython Notebooks. This allows for transparency and reproducibility of results.
  9. 9.Export to any journal format with just one click. We support all the usual suspects, from ApJ to AJ, from MNRAS to A&A. Switch back and forth between these styles in one click.
  10. 10.Powerful commenting system. For internal or even external review.
  11. 11.Authorea has templates to get you started fast with your next Astronomy grant proposal or d3.js paper.
  12. 12.Did I say deluxetables? Well, here’s the same deluxetable posted on Astrobetter a while back, as it is rendered on Authorea: https://www.authorea.com/38778_deluxe.

Ok, enough with the list of fancy features. Here’s my personal experience as an astrophysicist using Authorea. I switched to writing papers with Authorea about a year ago and I noticed a number of immediate improvements: first of all my papers get written faster. Then I noticed that I have no need to exchange emails with collaborators concerning the paper. All the action happens (and it’s logged) on Authorea, including discussions about revisions and suggestions for improvements.

This said, I didn’t really expect the most important upturn. By getting rid of the overhead I had previously considered a messy unavoidable part of the scientific writing process, something remarkable happened. I actually started enjoying writing more!

And I don’t mean just publishing; I had experienced that joy before. The difference is I now cherish the time I spend putting my science into words. It might sound crazy, but Authorea did something amazing: it made me discover the pleasure of writing science together with my collaborators.

So if you ask me ”Why should I write my next paper with Authorea?” my honest answer is ”Because you will love it!”. My suggestion is that you take Authorea for a spin and make up your own mind.

The Astronomical community has a lot of experience with early adoption and innovation, so your feedback can help to substantially improve this tool. Do you think Authorea is on the right track? Is there a particular feature missing that would improve substantially your workflow? Share your reviews and suggestions in the comments!

14 comments… add one
  • Schombert Jul 13, 2015 @ 16:31

    unless it embeds a vi editor, this is a non-starter for me

    • Matteo Cantiello Jul 14, 2015 @ 16:20

      Hi Schombert. We also love vi! You can set vi keybindings (or emacs / ACE ) in settings -> editor preferences. Let us know if that works for you.

  • Mohammad Safarzadeh Jul 14, 2015 @ 9:46

    So when I tried to upload my paper to continue working on it on
    Authorea, I realized that figures are missing and I have to upload
    figures one by one. But even that is not working if I have a
    multi-panel figure (a figure which is merge of 4 other
    figures for example). Is there a way to do this properly?

    • Matteo Cantiello Jul 14, 2015 @ 16:30

      Hi Mohammad,
      Yes you’re right! We are about to deploy an improvement to the article import: Among other things figures will be ingested automatically. It should be out in the next few days. Multi-panel figures are currently not supported, but when I have that need I create one single figure composed of multiple panels, which works great. Thanks for the feedback!

  • RW Jul 14, 2015 @ 10:05

    I was extremely unimpressed to received unsolicited emails recently from this outfit, signed by the author of this post. I don’t respond well to spam and I’m sure most people feel the same.

    • John Mcmalley Sep 4, 2015 @ 4:33

      I can have some sympathy with RW but he/she is not being quite fair here. This does look like an interesting development and not the usual totally irrelevant spam. How else are they to reach out to their colleagues?

  • Wesley Fraser Jul 14, 2015 @ 10:57

    I like RW got the unsolicited email. But I decided to try Authorea anyways. It takes a bit to get used to the gui, especially the graphics handling parts. When I did get used to it though, it became very easy to write in. I haven’t run into any issues yet with bibliographies or any of the usual aastex stuff. So far, so good. Is it better than texshop or what ever else? Not thus far. But I am not currently using Authorea’s main feature of collaborative writing; only 2 authors on the paper. But the gui is fine with no distinctive annoyance or weakness that I have run into so far.

  • Matteo Cantiello Jul 14, 2015 @ 11:31

    Dear RW,
    Thanks for your feedback and sorry for intruding your inbox.
    We are a group of young researchers doing something which we think is profoundly important for the future of scientific communication and Open Science. Our vision is making scholarly communication and dissemination more modern, transparent and seamless. We work hard and we are excited to share our efforts with the rest of our community, so we reach out to corresponding authors of notable published papers because we believe we can recommend a platform that can truly help them writing (and sharing) their work. By doing this we get amazing feedback, which most importantly allows Authorea to rapidly improve and shape around our community. While our intentions are good, we understand that some colleagues are not happy with receiving emails from us. When this happens, we usually engage in a personal conversation to explain our vision and motivations. Most of the time they see where we come from and are happy to explore and help us with constructive feedback. Similarly, we’d love to discuss this further and hear back from you (and other colleagues out there), so that we can improve the way we engage with our own community, and at the same time make Authorea a great place to do science.

    • RW Jul 20, 2015 @ 15:47

      Frankly I don’t care how great you think your product is. Advertising it with spam is simply not appropriate, and its use strongly suggests to me that the product can’t be that good.

    • Nick Nelson Jul 20, 2015 @ 18:18

      Your “spam” is fine by me. I get so much junk that an unsolicited email for something that I actually might want to use is a welcome surprise.

    • CR Oct 27, 2015 @ 10:48

      I’m with RW on this. Unsolicited email is not the appropriate medium to promote your product. Please find another way to reach prospective users, there are many online marketing tools available. Or if it’s really that good then word-of-mouth (or its modern equivalent – social media) will do the job all by itself.

  • Ole Streicher Jul 27, 2015 @ 3:38

    Is the code of authorea freely available? I know some persons have doubts to put their documents on a third party web server but rather want to integrate it into the own (institute’s) cloud.

  • SK Oct 28, 2015 @ 9:34

    I ‘m a health researcher so don’t know about other scientific disciplines. Liike RW I got a spam-like email but thought I would investigate. From what I could discover & as in most so-called freeware, you have to actually pay for a premium version or else you have to share your IP w/ the whole world prior to publication. I don’t know about other fields but in health there’s a danger journals might consider this prior publication & so would take a poor view of the whole process – only brief abstracts are generally permissible prior to submission. So, sorry, but this model does not seem to work for me.

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