Lesson 5: Why Mellel is better than Word for serious writing
You’re reading this.
So we can safely assume that you’re not too happy with your current word processor. That said, you’re used to it and to the way it does things. It may treat you as his red-headed stepchild, but you got used to sleeping in the stable and eating cold porridge.
There is good news here, and there is more good news.
The good news is that Mellel does things better. The other good news is that Mellel does things better by doing them differently. Different is awesome. And learning to write, plan, and edit your documents the “Mellel way” will also improve your workflow.
This article will show you everything you need to know about the main differences between Word and Mellel, so you’ll be able to migrate easily, quickly, and smoothly to a word processor that works for you.
Mellel Palettes vs. The MS Word Toolbar
In MS Word, the revolving toolbar has a tab for design, one for layout, one for referencing, and another for styling the words and paragraphs. To access all of the functions, you usually need to “drill” down several dialogue boxes to get to what you want.
Mellel’s interface is built to be a bit different. You can access many of the basic options via the toolbar, which you can modify. But other options are accessible via the Palettes, to the right of your document window.
The reason for the difference between MS Word and Mellel here is simple: simplicity.
Mellel offers a lean, flat interface, where all of the options are clearly presented, and accessible with a single click. MS Word tries to pile on as many features as possible via the toolbar and offers additional options via dialogue boxes. This may seem like having all the options at your fingertips, but the sheer volume of options offered at once makes them hard to navigate, locate and apply.
Once you reorientate yourself with Mellel, things will get very easy. For example, if you wish to set the font, font face or size in Mellel, simply click the Character palette, choose your option and apply it. With this palette, you’ll also be able to edit all other character options, create, edit, delete or save the style. All the other palettes will work the same: all the paragraph options are in the Paragraph palette, all the section options in the Section palette, and so on.
Macros vs. Objects: How does Mellel do Dynamic Bibliography and Cross References Better than MS Word?
MS Word uses hidden code (macros) in the text to apply options such as citations, index marks or cross-references. But macros make the document slow and static. Why? Well, let’s say you insert a cross-reference to a bookmark, and the bookmark changes its location. MS Word will not update the reference unless you “refresh” the entire document — that is, until you run the Macro script again.
At this point it may or may not, based on Bill Gates’ sole discretion, save any styling that you’ve applied to the reference.
Mellel doesn’t use Macros. It uses Objects instead. This has several advantages:
- Better workflow: references, citations or index marks are updated dynamically. For example, if a bookmark changes its location, any references to it update immediately.
- Speed: you’ll get your work done much more quickly. With MS Word and its macros, the more citations or index marks you have, the more macros need to run – and that slows down the document. Mellel uses objects, so it doesn’t have to work as hard.
- Flexibility and Simplicity: MS Word is built to do one thing at a time. So if you wish to have a cross-reference that looks like this: “See note #, on chapter #. The chapter_title on page #” you’ll need to create at least three or four different references — and in some cases you will not be able to achieve the task at all. With Mellel, on the other hand, it’s a piece of cake.You just add the objects to the elements, and you’re done.
- No surprises: Macros are hidden pieces of text in the document. If you really want to be up to date with what’s going on in your MS Word document, you need to display them. And when you do, they occupy space and change the text layout – and the more macros you have, the bigger the change to the layout. With Mellel, because cross-references or citations are objects, they are always displayed as they will appear in print. Everything looks as it should. Always.
Avner and Amber produced this terrific video series that will show you how to use cross-references in Mellel in less than 20 minutes, and in this short series, you’ll learn how to use our live bibliography.
Outline vs. Chaos
Outline is the feature on the left-hand side of Mellel or MS Word which allows you to view and manipulate the structure of a document. At least theoretically.
MS Word has an outline. You can view it. Sometimes, you can navigate using it. But this is as far as it goes. Mellel’s outline, on the other hand, lets you manipulate and control your document smoothly and effectively.
Any writer knows the longer your manuscript gets, the harder it is to control it and keep it all consistent. The outline panel in Mellel is used not just to navigate the document or view the structure, but also to manage your document.
For example, let’s say you want to move a sub-section in chapter 2 to chapter 3, and also make it a sub-section. With MS Word, this is a big deal, involving a lot of copying, pasting, formatting and hoping things will stay as they should. With Mellel it’s a 5-second job. You just drag and drop. Everything else is done automatically.
Or take a common maintenance job. Say you need to review all the figures and images in your document, view where fixes are needed, and maybe add a figure that’s missing. Doing that in Mellel is easy. Simply click a button at the bottom of the outline pane, and all the images and figures will be displayed in a separate section. If you’ve added a marking or a tag to missing images, you can use filtering to display only the problem figures. It’s easy, clear and to the point.
Hard to believe, right? Well, just skim the outline feature video series (8 minutes) and try for yourself.
Style management vs. Style as you go
A professional word processor allows you to style various parts of the document:
- Characters: font, font face, and size
- Paragraphs: line spacing, paragraph spacing, and alignment
- Sections: mainly columns and related options
- Page: header, footer, page numbering and background image
- Other types of styles, such as headings, lists, notes and so on
The most basic are character and paragraph styles. Here, MS Word adopts a hybrid approach where paragraph styles may also include some character style attributes. For example, a paragraph style may define both alignment and font size. This sounds really convoluted — and it is. You might, for example, apply a paragraph style with some character attributes and a character style to the same piece of text, which may be incoherent and often confusing. The end result is that it is very hard to use styles efficiently in MS Word. This explains why the styles brush in Word is so popular. Often, this is the only practical way to ensure that the text is styled consistently.
With Mellel, the functions and styles are clearly defined. Character and paragraph styles are separate entities. A paragraph style contains only paragraph attributes, and a character style contains only character attributes.
The result is that it is much easier to use styles and use them consistently. For example, if you make a change to a character style, such as font size, the change will be applied throughout the document to any text using this style variation. Similarly, if you apply a different paragraph style, no character attributes will be affected, and when you wish to apply a different character style, all the variations will be mapped. For example, variation 3 with the old style will become variation 3 of the new style, and so on.
This different way of thinking is also evident when you’re working with other types of styles, such as section, page, footnotes, and endnotes, or list. The main advantage to all this is efficiency and time saving: you save time because you don’t have to fight for your styles to work consistently. You design them once and then use them throughout easily.
In addition to that, Mellel also offers Style sets: a set of styles (paragraph, character, section, etc.) which can be saved and applied to any document. This is beneficial if you need to keep things consistent between different documents, and it saves a whole lot of time by saving you the need to re-create styles.
You can learn everything you need to know about this in 18 minutes in our video series here. After that, it will make perfect sense.
Mellel vs. Word — Auto-titles
Auto-titles is a feature that allows you to enter headings and captions using a customizable format. For example, an auto-title may include a title element, a numbering element, free text and so on.
MS Word uses styles to set the document structure. For example, if you apply a style called Heading 1 to some text, then this text becomes a heading in the document hierarchy. If you apply the Heading 2 style, then it becomes a different heading in the hierarchy, and if you apply Regular style it is omitted from the outline and the structure altogether.
This marriage between style and structure creates a myriad of problems. Mainly, it’s very rigid – you can’t really use two styles with the same heading – and it breaks down easily. But in Mellel, style doesn’t matter, because the style you use with a heading and its function in the document structure are two separate things.
For example, let’s say you want to use a heading which reads “Chapter #. The_Title_You_Want” you wish to have Chapter #. in a smaller font size, and the title itself larger and also on a separate line. With MS Word, this cannot be done, because if you apply a different style to “Chapter #” or to the title they’ll become two different titles. With Mellel, however, the various elements in the heading are objects, to which you can apply any style you want. The structure would not be affected by that, or by any future change to the styling.
To take another example, let’s say you want to have numbered headings (e.g., chapter 1, chapter 2) and un-numbered headings (Forward, ToC, Work Cited) using the same styling. With MS Word, you need to have two or more styles (at least) and you usually need to apply any change manually. In contrast, with Mellel, you can simply do it with the same style, and when you change it, all different types of headings will change automatically.
It’s really easy to use Auto-Titles in Mellel, but if you want you can skim the short video series here, and in no more then 18 minutes, you are ready to go.
Mellel Game changer: The feature that will save you 50% of the time you waste on editing.
In word processing terms, the tool that we unveil in this section is a game changer. If you are a serious writer, it can save you up to fifty percent of the time you waste on editing.
You can call it the next stage in the evolution of the “find and replace”.
Mellel offers a basic find and replace, and also an advanced Regular Expressions function such as advanced find and replace options. MS Word also offers much of this, and carries most of the options Mellel has in this area.
But here comes the but. Everyone who writes a lot also searches a lot while writing. For editors, searching is a way of life: they need to apply changes uniformly throughout the manuscript, keep tabs on common errors, and so on.
The problem with MS Word is that you always need to do everything from scratch. Define the Find, define the Replace, and then repeat this a hundred times over. Mellel, on the other hand, only makes you do it once. After making a search, you can save it as a Find Expression or as a Find and Replace Action. Any Find Action you save is stored, and you can open and re-run it later on. Further, you can create Find Sets and drag and drop any Find Action into a set, and apply all the Find Actions all at once. The end result will enable you to halve the time you spend on editing.
Learn everything about the Find Set in this video series (21 minutes).
This isn’t all. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. So time to disembark the MS Titanic and hop on a real icebreaker – Mellel.
Have a creative and fruitful week,