Produce a scientific paper with Lens Writer

At Substance our mission is to push web-based editing to a new level. Motivated by our professional involvement in scientific publishing (eLife Lens and others), we want to propose a solution that radically changes and simplifies the way manuscripts are written.

Introducing Lens Writer

In collaboration with eLife, we present Lens Writer, an independent stand-alone editing component tailored for the creation of scientific content.

Lens Writer is completely web-based and is built on top the open source Substance library. Lens Writer in its current form is not considered a complete software product. Instead it is meant to be customised and integrated into publishing systems, which can be achieved easily.

The Interface

Lens Writer allows you to navigate a cursor through a manuscript, much like as you are used to it from traditional word processors. You can insert figures and tables, and reference them in the text. You can build a bibliography and cite references without having to worry about a correct citation style. This is all done automatically for you. Here is how a newly inserted table looks like:

In the same way you can create figures and cite them in the manuscript.

In order to add new references to your bibliography you can search right from the interface and select a publication from the search result.

In your manuscript, you can now cite those references by selecting an entry from the bibliography. We use a Lens-style 2-column interface for that, so you don’t loose the place in your text during citing a reference.

Your citations are automatically labelled according to a chosen citation style. We use the Citation Style Language and Citeproc.js to generate those labels, as well as the bibliography at the bottom of the article.

Lens Article Format

A simple document model (Javascript) and exchange format (XML) forms the heart of Lens Writer. We’ve utilised the Substance Document Model to define a schema for scientific articles in Javascript. The XML exchange format is similar to JATS, but more linear and strict, thus simpler to understand and transform. The body element uses HTML-markup for the most part, making it very easy to process. For an example see here.

While we chose to use our own simplified XML-format for representing articles, JATS files can still be easily imported and exported. This is actually important to make Lens Writer part of current publishing workflows.

Wrapping up

We created Lens Writer specifically for scientists and publishers that support the idea of open content, produced with open tools. Our core principle was to integrate with existing tools and formats where possible (CSL, Citeproc), and when we introduce new interfaces (Lens Article instead of JATS), make conversion very easy.

This project is at an early stage, which means you may encounter some inconsistencies and bugs (please report them). However, the underlying technology (Substance) has matured over the last 5 years and provides a solid foundation for web-based editing. We believe that our technology is future proof and that Lens Writer has the potential to power the most innovative publishing systems in the near future. We hope that you see that potential too and help us with their feedback.

Like all Lens components, Lens Writer is 100% free and open source. Find the code on Github.

Please leave your comments. I’m curious about your thoughts.