desktop view of focus and dark mode for iA Writer
Image: iA Writer

Mac users authoring text snippets, composing content, writing copy and otherwise drafting notes and ideas commonly turn to macOS’ own TextEdit. While it’s a competent text app, there’s no natural equivalent for Apple’s iOS users, who also commonly use Macs. Information Architects’ iA Writer is a deceptively simple Markdown language text editing app that permits accessing and editing files across all Apple devices (Macs, iPads and iPhones), should a user desire and purchase both the macOS and the iOS corresponding licenses. In addition to the program’s ease of use and minimal user interface, iA Writer is a powerful writing program that exceeds TextEdit in many other ways. Here are 5 ways iA Writer provides important functionality TextEdit lacks.

1. Complete Markdown support

iA Writer provides complete Markdown language support, making it easy for authors to stay within the writing flow when composing web copy, informational articles, blog entries, social media posts and similar content that often includes hypertext (HTML) language. There’s no need to lift hands from the keyboard, break rhythm, reach for a mouse and begin right-clicking, copying and inserting hyperlinks, as is sometimes necessary using TextEdit.

Instead, with full Markdown support, links can be embedded within the natural flow of writing, as can be seen in Figure A. This year alone I’ve written tens of thousands of words for corporate webpages, marketing materials, newsletters, informational websites, blog posts and similar outlets and I’ve found such convenience transforming. With today’s distractions and our own short attention spans, don’t underestimate the importance of remaining within a single headspace while writing.

Figure A

Style writing without shifting focus with Markdown in iA Writer
iA Writer provides full Markdown formatting features, as well as multiple focus and export capabilities.

If you’re unfamiliar with Markdown formatting, and if you perform any kind of writing either for work or to better organize your thoughts and plans, you should take a look at iA’s Markdown Guide. Using simple punctuation, such as a single hashmark to format a word or phrase as a headline, you can style the text as you write.

With Markdown, you can stay in the writing flow and never need to reach for the mouse to seek a style selection somewhere within an ever-changing menu. The same is true for specifying italic (single asterisks around a word or phrase) and bold (double asterisks) styles. With the addition of a couple of keystrokes, you can remain within the zone while also smoothly embedding hyperlinks, emphases, lists, bullets and highlights. The convenience is a game changer.

2. Multiple export options

While I sometimes write content within iA Writer that I never intend for publication elsewhere, I typically write for a newsletter, website, publication or other outlet. While some outlets work directly with a Markdown-formatted file, often the endpoint is WordPress, an HTML newsletter, a Website or other source. Subsequently, I often provide publications with PDFs and Word documents. iA Writer supports exporting text files to both. The program also supports exporting text files directly to HTML and project files.

When I’ve tried exporting macOS TextEdit files, Markdown-formatted hyperlinks, other headings and styles don’t translate properly. The native macOS app, instead, typically works better when writing just straight or simple rich text not requiring much formatting or manipulation.

Yet, so much of writing marketing copy, creative content and other material authored today benefits from the features iA Writer, and Markdown formatting, enable. The program’s multiple export options, subsequently, prove necessary.

3. Integrated file navigation

When working with TextEdit, macOS proves a little disruptive by first opening a window that mimics Finder. From that file management window, Mac users can then create a new text document. iA Writer, on the other hand, opens a new file by default. And if you choose to open iA Writer with its Library displayed, not only does the app open with a new file ready for composing text, but an iA Writer file navigation menu appears alongside your open file.

These are subtle differences, I recognize. But when you spend the better part of each day capturing thoughts, content and material and writing, the convenience adds up. Switching between iA Writer files proves much easier, too. Mac users don’t lose their train of thought by easily navigating between files and documents within iA Writer.

4. Focused editing and style checking

I still remember when Microsoft introduced red underlines for text its Word program didn’t recognize. As a professional author, this technical innovation was incredibly helpful. iA Writer has taken the concept even further. The program includes multiple focus options that permit flagging various elements with color coding to help spot errors, confusing passages and opportunities for clarity improvement.

From the program’s Focus menu, Mac users can choose to highlight specific syntax, such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and conjunctions, as shown in Figure B. The Focus menu also permits highlighting styles, including fillers, clichés and redundancies. If you work within a specialized field, the app also supports specifying custom style alerts in which you enter your own rules and exceptions using the program’s Preferences.

Figure B

Focus on the current writing when you turn on the focus feature.
iA Writer permits highlighting numerous variables while writing to help improve text composition.

The app’s ability to highlight nuances doesn’t end there. iA Writer’s Focus capabilities also permit setting focus scope — the area the app highlights and emphasizes as you write — to a sentence or paragraph. These are compelling features that need to be experienced in the middle of writing to truly appreciate. But the app’s ability to center your attention on the attributes you specify is a nifty feature that better enables writers to direct attention to the content they’re drafting, as opposed to the predetermined mechanics of the app being used to collect that writing.

TextEdit, meanwhile, permits checking spelling and grammar while you type, which is helpful, and even automatically correcting spelling — a feature I’ve learned over time to avoid in favor of highlighting specific passages, which I’ve found works better for the materials I frequently find myself composing. But the native text app doesn’t offer the numerous style and focus options found within iA Writer that prove so effective.

5. Focused writing

With a few quick keyboard shortcuts — COMMAND+E toggles the navigational library and file list to the current view and is among my favorites — iA Writer can switch from displaying a list of files you’re actively developing to just the text you’re actively composing. With the ability to display a single text file full-screen with no other ribbons, toolbars, status menus or distractions present, combined with the ability to enable a single sentence or paragraph focus, iA Writer excels at limiting your focus to the actual text you’re actively authoring.

When Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom was initially released 11 years ago, its singular focus on text was my favorite feature. You can think of iA Writer as a similar composition app, only with the addition of multiple robust features that fine-tune focus on the copy and text one is writing, while permitting Markdown functionality and multiple export options.

Priced at $29.99, it’s likely inevitable the app will switch to being a subscription-based product. I’ve become so dependent upon the Markdown writing program I’ll happily pay a monthly fee, though. iA Writer’s minimal but robust feature set helps refine writing, and in today’s harried professional environment, the functionality is well worth the expense.

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