Poor English can delay the publication of research. A latest article in New Scientist, a British weekly science magazine, mentions that poor English “is another factor that puts some scientists at a disadvantage. Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the leading US-based researcher working on iPS cells, argues that some papers from Asia are so […]
Matias Piipari is the CEO and co-founder of the recently launched Manuscripts, an app that helps researchers write and lightly navigate and structure elaborate research papers. Matias is also the CTO of Papers, the makers of a reference manager instrument popular among researchers (founded by Alexander Griekspoor, the other co-founder of Manuscripts). After a PhD in molecular biology at Cambridge, during which he built mobile software and tech consulting projects as part of a company he began at the time, Matias has been involved in creating innovative solutions for the academic research community. His graduate research dealt with large-scale machine learning methods for identifying gene regulatory signals.
In this conversation, Matias tells us more about Manuscripts and how it helps researchers from the earliest stages of preparing a research outline to the later stages of preparing a submission-ready journal article. The highlight of Manuscripts is its feature that permits authors to manage large manuscripts without disrupting the structure. The organization helps authors concentrate on writing instead of worrying about other potentially distracting aspects such as formatting. Matias also shares some interesting views on the advancement and use of technology in present-day academic publishing. He emphasizes that researchers and publishers should be open to attempting out fresh devices that will introduce efficiencies in writing and publication.
Could you begin by telling our readers more about Manuscripts? What is it and how can it help researchers?
Manuscripts is a user-friendly writing contraption that helps authors create and manage complicated scholarly documents, from outlining and writing a research paper to editing and proofreading it as well as putting it through the publishing stages.
The truth is that research writing is a large task. Not only do authors have to organize their thoughts, but they also have to ensure that they present sufficient proof of their work by creating reference lists, tables, figures, etc. And journal subordination brings in the extra details of styling, formatting, etc. The central problem Manuscripts solves is ensuring that via these numerous stages, authors are able to concentrate on the substance of their story (their research) as opposed to getting dispersed by mechanical tasks. Manuscripts helps authors plan, write, navigate, and edit a sophisticated paper without getting lost in the document; authors using Manuscripts also don’t need to deviate from their natural writing flow to leap into a diversity of outer implements.
Manuscripts offers a accomplish scholarly writing practice in a single app: multi-panel figures, table editing, equations as well as a top-of-the-line citation workflow. It also includes over 1,000 journal-specific manuscript templates to give authors a beginning point for writing their articles. (We expand this database regularly and are seeking publishers to collaborate with.) The implement takes care of the visible and not-so-obvious aspects of using journal paper templates, e.g., maximum word counts and acceptable figure formats. Papers created on Manuscripts can be exported to Word, Spandex, and Markdown formats. It also permits authors to import outward files (in numerous formats) on to the app. While using the app authors don’t truly need to understand paragraph styling or clean typesetting markup in Spandex. In essence, Manuscripts is a word processor re-imagined to perform a bulk of mechanical formatting on behalf of authors, so that they can concentrate on getting the actual writing work done. Overall, we help both authors and publishers by ensuring that documents created using Manuscripts are of a certain minimum technical quality.
Matias, there are several authoring devices and apps available to researchers today. What makes Manuscripts special? How will it switch the publication landscape?
Manuscripts stands out because it combines in one app features that haven’t yet been made available by other writing implements. To elaborate, Manuscripts is a stand-alone, fully offline-capable, rich-text writing instrument (i.e., authors don’t need to write in a Web browser) that permits users to import and export MS Word, Markdown, and Spandex formats; it also retains the utter version history of a document. Manuscripts is not a text editor that offers a minimal set of features. It is also not an MS Word clone; it is actually a fresh type of writing instrument. For example, the app can also be used to write non-Latin documents.
Setting aside the technical features of the app, we are striving for something fatter – the most streamlined user practice imaginable for authors. Manuscripts offers an utterly polished, task-focused practice that authors connect with. We’ve been receiving positive feedback from authors about the look and feel of the device. This is absolutely essential for motivating writers – who are acquainted to contraptions such as MS Word, text editors for editing Spandex, and Markdown – to attempt out newer devices. We think that fresh implements that make the publication process smoother are a big part of the future of academic publishing.
How can different people in academia benefit from Manuscripts?
The concentrate on usability makes Manuscripts particularly appealing to writers from non-technical backgrounds. Albeit many of our users are from the biomedical sciences, the app has been designed to work for a broad range of disciplines including psychology, geography, engineering, mathematics, physics, and computer science.
Manuscripts also has a broad user base outside of academia. The app is used for preparing school essays, blog posts, legal documents, or company whitepapers because it is a instrument that understands the structure in any type of content, enforces word count thresholds, and, most importantly, helps the writer concentrate better. In fact, we already have a number of non-academic book authors amongst our early adopters, and as we grow, we expect our user-base to diversify. And as far as global uptake is worried, thus far, we have seen a lot of usage by authors not just in US, Canada, and European countries but also in Japan, Korea, and China.
How user-friendly is the app interface? On the support section of your website, you say that users of Manuscripts “will not find half a dozen ribbons of nonsense like in MS Word from Manuscripts.” Could you elaborate on this?
The reason we eliminated many ribbons and character styling options available in instruments like MS Word is that good writing is all about consistency. A visually consistent, and beautiful, representation of your writing on the screen helps you concentrate on the consistency of your writing. And despite omitting the multitude of styling options, Manuscripts is a very powerful device and its capabilities are applied to features like paragraph styling for different parts of a document. For example, in Manuscripts, headings are never marked as bold text, and you cannot add spaces inbetween elements with tabs or extra line cracks – we believe this to be counterproductive for both authors and publishers. The bottom line is that writing or editing instruments can help with the visual representation of a document, but a paper must be well structured. Only then can authors concentrate on what they are good at, i.e., formulating their argument or telling their story.
Matias, many authors actually choose and are acquainted to using MS Word for their writing work, and they may not be certain about using a implement that excludes many of the features suggested by MS Word. Do you see this as a problem?
Very first, Manuscripts offers superb Word interoperability and we do not ask our users to leave Word behind: we both import and export Word documents, citations and equations included. We also do not exclude formatting options as much as we help the author think in a form where the formatting goes after from the meaning of what is being written. That means the user can think on the level of writing content, and gets the formatting done as a bonus. For example, section headings, assets paragraphs, block quotes, equations all have a pre-defined look that you can edit if you like, but with Manuscripts, you only do so whilst maintaining the overall consistent look to the article. This means that you lose many formatting options as character level features, to build up these styling options instead in a consistent form across your article. This is proving a very intuitive way to think about formatting an article for our users. We do of course receive suggestions for improvement, but the basic concept is truly a big hit and the feedback indeed concerns the details and the extent to which we are able to automatically format the document.
2nd, the academic writing landscape is not truly fairly as uniformly MS Word-based as the publishing industry tends to think: often, all content is required to be submitted in .docx form. That the publisher receives a Word file does not mean the author actually used MS Word to create it. The majority of people of course write in Word, many others in Spandex, but there are also people writing in simpler markup formats like Markdown, which can also be used to produce Word files as an output. We help writers using all three kinds of platforms: word processor, Spandex, and Markdown. We also do not ask the user to be “exclusive” to Manuscripts in any way as we interoperate with all these three major formats.
Third, Word is a very commonly used contraption, and I don’t dispute that some people even may like using it. But I doubt there are many academic authors using MS Word who truly feel convenient with the numerous buttons suggested in the toolbar or the sophisticated and fairly hidden form in which the styling options take form in Word. Word is a common implement in part because it is often found pre-installed on systems and because it is the most evident choice of contraptions but we certainly see the request for Manuscripts to be because people are actively looking for alternatives.
Citation (presenting and formatting) and citation linking are critical aspects of manuscript writing, tracking, citing, and influence measurement. To what extent does Manuscripts help researchers manage their citations better?
Manuscripts includes an entirely open interface for working with citation implements. Today, at the 1.0 launch, Manuscripts works in a very integrated way with the Papers reference manager using this interface. It also imports bibliographic data from key formats (e.g., BibTeX, EndNote XML, and RIS) and has a built-in citation implement so you can truly use any referencing device of your choice with it.
The app’s reference management capabilities will grow. Albeit we will need outer reference managers, for many projects (especially those for undergraduate writing) Manuscripts will suggest comprehensive citing devices for writing project.
In scientific research and publishing, technology is becoming more and more responsive to the needs of users (researchers, authors, publishers, and readers). Fresh instruments are being created to introduce efficiencies at various stages of research. Are researchers aware of these contraptions? How effectively are they using them? Also, do you think there are differences in how these contraptions are used by researchers/authors in different parts of the world and at different stages of their career?
As far as the adoption of newer devices to help paper creation and publication is worried, there’s undoubtedly a big difference depending on the field and seniority of researchers. We expect Manuscripts to appeal to researchers at all levels and from all fields. Writing is something that researchers and students need to commence at an early stage when, for example, getting references right may not be emphasized as much as getting the story, document structure, and length right. Incidentally, these are tasks that conventional word processors do not support directly.
I think researchers choose using contraptions that are easy-to-use, because they value their time and are, to some extent, still fairly conservative about adopting fresh workflows and implements. In my opinion, this level of ease of use is presently under-appreciated in the publishing world; as a result, we underestimate the extent of time and effort that these contraptions can help us save. Such contraptions help both researchers and publishers by making the publication process more effective. At any case, with Manuscripts, we want to provide a contraption that stands the test of time and is not built to fit a certain trend in the publishing industry.
As I understand it, the current version of Manuscripts is being released for Mac systems (Manuscripts requires Mac OSX Yosemite, Ten.Ten, or later). Will this limit your user base? Do you plan to make the app available on other platforms as well, such as Manuscripts for Windows, Manuscript for Web, Manuscripts for smartphones, etc.?
Building a superb product, like writing an effective paper, requires concentrate. Our concentrate has been on proving the concept and building something beautiful and usable, something that permits us to iterate very quickly to early adopter feedback (we have been shipping beta updates on an almost daily basis, for example). For that reason, the release of Manuscripts 1.0 was targeted at Mac users only. The response we have received validated our choice: we have an enormously enthusiastic group of early Manuscripts adopters who spread the word, and word-of-mouth marketing is what we plan to use to grow the business.
But a Mac release is truly just the beginning. We spent a good three years building Manuscripts, and this was partly because we dreamed to begin with building the technology into a form that could be ported across to the Web and other desktop platforms, including the iPad.
What else can users expect from Manuscripts in the near future?
We have planned a sustained stream of updates to release a number of fresh features, including those that permit us to support more fields. We have enabled an experimental right-to-left mode, and we will work on it based on feedback from our users. We may even consider releasing localized versions to help authors from non-English countries. However, the fattest development to look forward to is our collaborative writing feature. Supporting collaboration is the most common request we receive from our users. This is something we are excited about and have already commenced building. In fact, the current version of Manuscripts permits total version control because of the upcoming collaboration features.
We believe that it is essential to enable online collaboration and at the same time provide an offline practice. In my opinion, the present set of collaborative scientific writing instruments enforce a compromise inbetween individual productivity and the need to write collaboratively, and we believe that through Manuscripts, we can suggest something unique.
Thank you, Matias!
Matias also collective a movie that shows how authors can use Manuscripts to their advantage: