The history of Zettlr does not begin in November 2017, but in the summer of 2014. When I was still an undergraduate student, I began to search for ways to improve my workflow to the extent where I could focus on writing and reading only. So I went on a journey to find the best software that would suit my needs. Moving from the Zettelkasten-approach by Niklas Luhmann (which is where the name of my app originates) towards more sophisticated, more “contemporary” methods, I quickly discovered the markup language “Markdown,” invented by John Gruber in 2004. Markdown is a language that contains everything we need to write texts: headings, blockquotes, lists, footnotes, images, and links.
So I knew that this would be the way. Markdown files are ten times smaller than word processor files, searchable by every operating system, compatible with every silly text editor, simple to read and convertible into all file types one could ever wish for. Continuing my journey towards a good workflow, I tried at least a dozen different Markdown editors that are around the net. But I had to realize that there are simply none written for the needs of organizing a huge amount of text efficiently. Most editors have been written by coders, therefore tailored to the needs of engineers and mathematicians. No luck for a student of social sciences, history or political science like me.
After my graduate studies I finally realized that this was no use and I sat down to begin coding of my very own Markdown editor: Zettlr. The app has a very precise goal: Enabling researchers of arts and humanities, e.g. those people without any knowledge of coding, to finally free themselves from software that costs hundreds of dollars and pave the way into an Open Source era. This would be only fitting, given the fact that especially in political science and sociology, cries for Open Access journals are on the rise. So here’s what Zettlr is all about: It wants to be serious competition for word processors.
Zettlr does not want to return back into a minimalistic age of typewriters, where you have no writing aids at all. But it also does not want to bloat itself with too much functionality that one does not need. It tries to combine Markdown with serious word processing, always keeping in mind what enables and what disables successful writing.
Writing on fixed DIN A4 paper? This always nudges you to fill complete pages, trying not to leave half-full pages. Zettlr only offers you a scrollable area where you can write what you need to write without having to worry about the number of pages that result from it. Directly formatting your text as you write with different fonts, sizes, line spacing? Why should you? Your content must come first. Only when you’re satisfied with your work and want to share it with your publisher, your teacher or some peers, you need to export it. That’s when Zettlr gives you all options you need for a nice-looking, well-formatted PDF file. Or DOCX, if you want to. Or ODT. Or simple HTML.
On the other hand: Correct your spelling? Of course! We don’t want to let one of the greatest inventions in the age of digital writing go unused. Strong support of easily inserting/removing lists? Yes sir! Great support for placing and removing footnotes? That’s why we’re researchers, not bloggers. Immersion into your writing by making it possible to do everything from within the app? Hell, that’s why the graphical user interface has been invented for.
As you see: Zettlr tries to be a real competition and the perfect companion for every researcher. And this free of any charge, because I do not believe in the fast-living, early-dying startup culture. I simply want to help.
The story of Zettlr does not end here. There is still much work to do and I’ll make the app better as I progress through the optimization of my own workflow. So give it a try: Free yourselves from the fetters of word processors and see how your writing process can be improved by using technology that’s right at hand!