Finally, a good writing app for Windows 10

Unlike most lawyer-tech enthusiasts, I use Windows and I enjoy it. But the OS has always lacked good writing apps. (I love Microsoft Word, but it’s meant for editing and publishing, not writing.)

Windows lacks writing apps like Ulysses. Apple’s ecosystem has spawned a plethora of apps meant to do one thing: get you to type words. Apps like Ulysses are free of distractions and pleasant to use. They make it easy to just type.

Windows has lacked this kind of app for a long time (probably because Apple users are more willing to pay $20 or $40 for it). The closest contenders are Writemonkey, which shows its age, or Draft, which is browser-only, or Write!, which lacks some features I’d want. These are good programs, but they never quite hit the sweet spot of features plus minimal design.

When it comes to writing, I want as little friction as possible. That means I want a program that does what I need and nothing else. There’s a Goldilocks zone the app must hit.

That zone has been so hard to hit for me that I confess to occasionally checking the website for Ulysses (and other Mac/iOS writing apps) just to see if, by some astronomical alignment, its developers are working on a Windows version. I am always disappointed.

That’s why I’ve been enjoying Appy Text. It has what I want from a minimal writing app:

  • Custom fonts—I’m picky about typefaces (blame Matthew Butterick for that), so the ability to pick any font installed on my computer is almost essential. The lack of this feature is largely what left me unsatisfied with Write!.
  • Good typography—Appy Text lets you control the size of the text and keeps line lengths short for optimal legibility.
  • No distractions—The program displays just a single column of text, a bar for basic functions like undo, and a couple of buttons. Because it only saves plain text and Markdown files, there’s little formatting to fiddle with.
  • A pleasant writing space—Appy Text has several color themes, and all of them look nice.
  • Markdown—Appy Text saves plain text files and supports Markdown, which is an easy way to add HTML formatting (like bold, italics, and bullet points) to a plain text document without needing a complicated formatting interface like Microsoft Word. It also has an easy button for previewing what your Markdown document will look like when published. Markdown is an ideal format for drafting content; it’s easy to convert to any publishing format needed (particularly HTML and PDF).
  • Automatic Save—A lifesaver for any writer.

Appy Text is a simple program, and that’s a good thing. It’s great for pounding out a blog post or an article. I hope more apps like it come to the Windows Store.

If you use Windows and find Microsoft Word distracting, give Appy Text a try.

Why you should heed the typography experts

Like most lawyers, I learned poor typography from an early age. Throughout college and my first year of law school, I typed two spaces after every sentence, double-spaced my papers, and wrote everything in Times New Roman. Then I read Typography for Lawyers, and my eyes were opened. Once an expert carefully explained how to make my documents look professional and why it mattered, I was quick to adopt all the typographical conventions.

Not everyone is so quick to adopt, though—and understandably so. Lawyers are an independent sort, relying on our own judgments. We get used to the way things are done and recognize the value of constancy. Many lawyers need a better reason than “the experts say so” to make a change.

I recently marshalled those reasons to try and persuade some colleagues. I rounded up much of what lawyers other than Matthew Butterick have argued on the subject of typography, and now I offer those links and nuggets below. I’ve quoted selectively to focus on a few particular issues, but the sources discuss more.

These sources generally agree on three points:

  1. Certain typographical conventions are almost universally upheld among typographers, designers, and publishers.
  2. Following those conventions improves legibility for the reader.
  3. Following those conventions improves the credibility of the author.

To give credit where it is due, I found much of what I quote below through Raymond Ward’s blog, the (new) legal writer. You can start with this post and follow the rabbit trail of links.

Everyone agrees on certain typographical conventions.

Pretty much everyone who is an authority or knows something about the design of documents agrees that only one space should be used after a paragraph, that justification with hyphenation or left-aligned text is acceptable (but justification without hyphenation is not), and that first-line indents need not be used along with spaces between paragraphs. These are near-universal conventions of professional typography. “Everyone” includes Bryan Garner, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Matthew Butterick (author of Typography for Lawyers), appellate lawyers, legal bloggers, criminal defense curmudgeons, Above the Law, legal writing professors, a contract drafting lawyer, and a New York City judge (and many of these people cite others, too many to gather).

These conventions are universally accepted because they are useful. They improve legibility for the reader and credibility for the author.

Following typographical conventions improves legibility.

If you read nothing else below, read this article. It cites to interdisciplinary studies and accepted graphic design principles to provide evidence that following typographic conventions improves both legibility and credibility.

There’s really too much to quote directly. Read it all—this is the only article I’ve found that pulls together real interdisciplinary studies on how typography affects legibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility. …

When used with proportionally spaced type, extra spaces lead to what typographers call “rivers”—wide, meandering areas of white space up and down a page. Rivers interfere with the eyes’ movement from one word to the next. …

Do not justify your text unless you hyphenate it too. If you fully justify unhyphenated text, rivers result as the word processing or page layout program adds white space between words so that the margins line up.

The Redbook:

Readability. Except in the hands of a skillful typographer, fully justified text can be harder to read than unjustified (“flush-left”) text. This is always true for office documents, especially when they are un-hyphenated as well. … Rivers of white space may appear to flow down the type, requiring some editing of the copy to correct. … Setting the copy flush left has its own advantages, too: the uneven right margin gives visual clues that help the reader find the beginning of the next line. Readers don’t lose their place in the copy as often.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Because typography affects legibility and readability, lawyers must, when in doubt, prefer legible to beautiful and, then, complying with rules to legibility. …

Legal writers, as opposed to publishers, should stick to left-aligned text; it’s easiest to read. The uneven margin on the right-hand side, also known as a right-ragged effect, helps readers find the beginning of the next line. It helps readers keep on reading.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

Following the typographical conventions improves credibility.

The Seventh Circuit:

A business consultant seeking to persuade a client prepares a detailed, full-color presentation using the best available tools. An architect presenting a design idea to a client comes with physical models, presentations in software, and other tools of persuasion. Law is no different. Choosing the best type won’t guarantee success, but it is worthwhile to invest some time in improving the quality of the brief’s appearance and legibility.

Above the Law:

It matters because as a lawyer, writing is your craft, so you should use your tools correctly and expertly. It matters because some of your readers might just realize that you made a mistake, and might just think a little less of your attention to detail, or about how much you really care about getting things right.

Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice:

That’s largely the point of [Typography for Lawyers], that by adopting the ways of typographers, without having to reinvent the typography wheel with every point made, we can make our work appear more professional, poised and persuasive. …

The book is filled with nuggets, rationales and mechanics to make our papers look better. No, they won’t make a loser appeal into a winner, but like wearing a decent suit to court, or polishing your shoes, it’s one less detriment and one more benefit. Butterick’s point, and mine, is that there’s no good reason not to do it as well as it can be done.

Mark Bennett at Defending People:

Typography is the art of making documents work well. Butterick makes the case for lawyers learning some typography: it is a necessary tool for holding readers’ attention. Filing an important document without considering how it looks is like (in Butterick’s words) showing up for an oral argument dressed in jeans and sneakers, then slouching at the lectern, eyes cast downward, while reading from a script in a monotone.

A New York City Judge:

Without effective, legible typography, the reader won’t appreciate a document’s content. When you have a choice, make the document accessible, comprehensible, persuasive, and professional.

Adams on Contract Drafting:

Does justified text have anything going for it for purposes of word-processed documents? Well, its defenders will tell you that it looks “professional.” But it’s a phony professionalism, in that it comes at the expense of readability, which should be the first priority of any kind of typesetting, including word processing. …

As the online Chicago Style Q&A states, there’s no evidence that using two spaces makes text easier to read. …

So if you’re still using two spaces, stop it—your credibility is at stake!

How to make your documents look professional

If you’re at all like me, you spent your entire college and law school career writing papers with required formatting: double-spaced, Times New Roman, and one-inch margins. You put two spaces after each sentence because that’s how you were taught to type. You hit the tab key at the start of each paragraph because how else do you get that nice big indent?

Many of us carried this formatting into the professional world. The problem is that it produces memos, emails, and reports that look like homework, not professional analysis.

The look of your documents matters for the same reason wearing a suit to court matters.

Wearing a suit to court is a matter of decorum, professionalism, reputation, and respect. It means you take the matter seriously. It won’t win you the case, but the judge isn’t going to berate you because you’re wearing sweatpants, either.

Legal documents need to appear in formal attire, too. With only a few changes, you can dress up your writing and make it that much easier for your reader to hear you.

Here’s how to start.

1. Use only one space after each sentence.

Like many, I was taught to hit the spacebar twice after each sentence in my middle school typing class. This is a holdover from the days of typewriters. In today’s world, it is objectively worse than using only one space.

Matthew Butterick—your friendly neighborhood typographer-lawyer—lays down the law:

Always put exactly one space between sen­tences.

Or more gen­er­ally: put exactly one space after any punc­tu­a­tion.

… [O]ne space is the well-set­tled cus­tom of pro­fes­sional typog­ra­phers. You don’t need to like it. You only need to accept it.

I have no idea why so many writ­ers resist the one-space rule. If you’re skep­ti­cal, pick up any book, news­pa­per, or mag­a­zine and tell me how many spaces there are between sen­tences.

Cor­rect—one.

That last bit is, humorously, exactly what converted Bryan Garner himself. He tells the story as a vignette for the ABA. His first secretary at LawProse told him that he had to stop putting two spaces after each sentence, or “[o]ur coursebooks are going to look amateurish.” As proof, she told him to look at his two books that Oxford University Press had published. Garner: “I went through an extensive reference library to prove Ruth and Oxford wrong. But every reputable source I could find, including The Chicago Manual of Style, supported them—not me.”

2. Start your paragraphs with either a first-line indent or a space after the previous paragraph.

From Butterick:

First-line indents and space between para­graphs have the same rela­tion­ship as belts and sus­penders. You only need one to get the job done. Using both is a mis­take. If you use a first-line indent on a para­graph, don’t use space between. And vice versa.

He also admonishes not to approximate a first-line indent with the tab key. In Word, set it as a paragraph property. Why? Because paragraphs with tabs are hard to keep consistent or reformat. In other words, it will allow you to use Word’s styles properly.

3. If you justify your text, turn on hyphenation. Otherwise, left-align.

Much of the legal and professional world seems to like justified text. It has that bookish, formal look—until gigantic spaces appear between words. That’s why hyphenation exists, and you should turn it on. It’s under the “Layout” tab in Word. For a nice side-by-side illustration of the effect, see Butterick.

If that’s too much of a bother, left-aligning the text is fine, too. Many people find it easier to read. It’s especially appropriate for webpages, where the width of the text will vary with the reader’s device.

4. Use appropriate line spacing.

Double-spacing is for drafts; it isn’t meant for reading. You’ll never see a book, newspaper, or magazine double-spaced. Single-spaced text is hard to read, too. It takes a bit of work, but setting the line spacing between 120% and 145% of the point size of the text is best.

5. Consider a different font, if you can.

Times New Roman is the king of default fonts. It’s okay (Butterick thinks it connotes apathy), though not ideal for readability. Using it won’t hurt your credibility or distract the reader (unless your reader is a font snob). So using a different font is something of a judgment call.

If you can make that call, though, you have the chance to present something fresh and interesting to the reader. Rather like choosing a tie, you can show something of your personality in your choice of font. Butterick’s list of acceptable system fonts is a good place to start. One of my favorites is Charter, which is even available for free (Medium notably chose it as their text font).

6. Increase your side margins to 1.5 inches—or 2 inches if you dare.

This produces one of the most immediate and dramatic improvements to the look of any Word document. It takes some courage, because people are so used to 1-inch margins that they’ll notice it immediately. But once they’re done noticing it, they’ll realize it’s better.

Increasing the margins increases whitespace, another characteristic of professional publishing. It’s all about line length. The longer a line of text is, the harder it is to follow and read from line to line.