Microsoft Word is indelible. When someone thinks of a word processor, they think of Microsoft Word. It is the Kleenex of facial tissue, the Band-Aid of adhesive bandages, the Frisbee of flying disks.
However, it turns out, there are quite a few alternatives to Microsoft Word, and they’re not just carbon copies of Word with a different logo in the top-left corner. These alternatives boast different sets of features than Word—in some cases more robust and others less. And, every one on this list is free (or at least subscribes to the freemium model).
Additionally, I’ve compiled some other free writing tools that do more than word processing, so you can get a little tech boost to your entire writing process without spending a penny.
Let’s dive right in
Free Word Processors
OpenOffice Writer is developed by Apache and has been around for quite a while now. Apache is essentially the open source version of Microsoft Office. In addition to Writer they also have a spreadsheet tool similar to Excel, an alternative to Powerpoint, and some more tools.
OpenOffice Writer is probably as close to Word as you’re going to get without using Word. It has tons of style and formatting options, spellcheck, and even autocomplete. One of the best things about OpenOffice is that it can read .doc and .docx formats, so you can take anything from Word and put it right into OpenOffice without a hitch. This is not something you’re going to get from every free word processor.
Google Docs has become the norm for me at my office. As a word processor, it’s not quite as robust as Microsoft Word, but it has all the basic functionality needed. Also, if you ask me, the track changes and editing features are more intuitive than Word’s.
The real reason Docs has supplanted all the other word processors I might use is the ease with which I can share documents. It’s easy to select who you want to be able to access a document and how much access you want them to have. This makes having a group edit a single document much easier.
Rather than just creating another run-of-the-mill word processor and making it free, Airstory decided to improve on the concept of word processing. This tool has tons of features that are simultaneously brilliant and simple.
Airstory enables you to do things like keep your notes open in the window you’re using to write, so you can stay organized at all times. They also have a pretty awesome versioning functionality that makes it easy to go back a view previous versions—writing is iterative, and this feature sure makes iterating easier. Lastly, the product has no shortage of integrations so you shouldn’t have a problem plugging it into your software ecosystem.
Bells and whistles can be a good thing. However, when you’re writing, bells and whistles can be as conducive to focusing on your work as stuffing your face with donuts is to losing weight. This is why Writemonkey strips all the bells and whistles away so you can focus on your writing.
The program features a full screen writing mode that eliminates all distractions, as if you’re writing with a pen and paper. The tool is customizable, though. So if complete emptiness isn’t what you’re looking for, you can add things like a toolbar with the file name, a progress bar, and the time.
Additionally, the tool comes with other cool features like a writing timer, bookmarks, as well as some “hidden features” for Writemonkey donors. Two of them are “flow mode” and “tweet from Writemonkey.”
Does your work require longform writing? I’m not talking about 1,000 words long, think more like 40,000 words. If so, FreeWriter might be the tool for you. Whether you want to write a novel or your job requires in-depth reports, FreeWriter provides you the functionality to switch your focus between the macro and the micro without losing track of either.
What does that even look like?
Imagine you are writing a college thesis. You need to make sure every sentence you write accomplishes what it’s meant to, so that’s where your focus lies. However, mid-sentence, you have a thought that applies broadly to your thesis’ overall structure. You need to make note of it, so as not to forget.
FreeWriter provides you with a “thought canvas” where you can quickly and easily capture your big picture thoughts. Then get right back to that sentence you were writing. With this tool you can focus on the micro, without losing sight of the macro.
Writing Quality Tools
This one should be in every writer’s toolbox. No matter how great a writer you are, you’re bound to make grammar errors. Sometimes they’re caused by fatigue, sometimes confusion, and sometimes it’s even ignorance. No matter the reason why you make an error, Grammarly will catch it.
Grammarly offers a free plugin which automatically checks your work for grammar errors as you write. No matter if you’re writing an email or a 50-page business analysis, this is a great tool to make sure you avoid any embarrassing grammar mistakes.
If you write for the internet, you know how important it is to have readable writing. Readable has a host of features that improve the readability of your writing. It identifies sentences that are too long, passive voice, keyword density, and much more.
By highlighting long sentences, difficult words, and adverbs, you’ll be writing highly readable, Hemingwayesque content in no time. It’s worth noting that this is a premium tool, so for $5/month, you will get some more features.
In George Orwell’s six rules of writing, rule number one is: “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.” The reason being is more than the value of originality, but also, the more a cliche is used, the less meaning it has.
Cliche Finder is a very simple tool and requires little explanation. To use it, you paste text into a box on the website, and it scans your writing for cliches, highlighting the ones it identifies. Then it’s time for you to let those creative juices flow and come up with more original, effective ways to say what you mean.
Orwell’s fourth rule is: “never use the passive where you can use the active.” I bet you can guess what The Passivator does, can’t you. That’s right, it identifies the passive tense in your work. It does this by highlighting passive verbs like “is,” “was,” and “are.” Once you’ve run your writing through The Passivator, turn your passive into active for stronger writing.
Do remember that Orwell’s sixth rule is: “break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” So, exercise judgement.
Writing begins before you actually start writing. Unless you’re one of those folks who doesn’t outline or plan and just goes. Freemind is essentially a brainstorming tool on steroids. You can create workflows for outlines, link to files and external sources of information, and you can keep miscellaneous notes.
If you have trouble ordering and organizing your thoughts, a mind mapping tool like FreeMind might just come in handy for you.
Bubbl.us is another mind mapping tool that lets you create a graphical representation of ideas and concepts. If you are trying to tell a complex story, it can be difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. Bubbl.us makes it easier to do this, and it’s easy to share projects, which makes collaborating on larger projects much easier than before.