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In a typical content workflow:

  1. A writer writes an article
  2. The article gets sent to an editor
  3. The editor sends back an edited version
  4. Optionally, someone reviews it (legal, accuracy)
  5. The article gets published on the website OR
  6. The article is submitted to another website as a guest post, etc.

So the article needs to be in a format that is easy to email around to various people, in a format that they can be accessed on a variety of platforms.

The defacto program for this has always been MS Word (or an Open Source equivalent), but word processors are actually terrible for this type of work.

Anyone familiar with pasting content from Word into websites knows that Word loves to add quotes-that-are-not-quotes and all sorts of other non-standard junk characters that need to be painstakingly cleaned up and replaced with proper HTML entities. Words that are bolded or italicized need to be replaced with strong or em tags, and links have to be re-written in HTML format, with title attributes added.

The alternative is to use plain text files that include HTML markup right in them. This is great for me because I'm a web developer, but when you include non-technical people in the content flow, they complain that the HTML makes it hard for them to read.

Given that more articles are published and read online than in print and the proliferation of content marketing and guest posting, it seems that someone must have come up with a better option for working with content destined for online publication, in an offline file format.

Are there more suitable tools/formats than word processors for preparing online content?

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    Most content management systems allow drafts to be written in a rich text editor in the admin section of the website. I'd prefer that over something that "needs to be emailed around." – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 22 '17 at 23:10
  • Unfortunately, there is little to no cross-over between office style products and what is required for the web these days. It is one or the other, an office product or an IDE for development. That's it. I see a need for an editor that is strictly for web content that includes features that help the content writer to create content friendly to search engines, not just with a smattering of SEO junk, but one that pays attention to semantic linguistic disciplines that help to make the content focused and relevant as well as the ability to plan content that creates a solid portfolio of content. – closetnoc Jun 22 '17 at 23:36
  • I wonder how many CMSs provide the additional features that writers/editors/reviewers might require... the ability to track changes, revisions, etc.? – MrWhite Jun 23 '17 at 9:29
  • There are also automated ways of converting office docs to clean HTML. This article recommends converting it to HTML on the command line using open office (headless) and then running it through "HTML tidy". – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 23 '17 at 10:03
  • These days, forget the email. Everything is becoming collaborative online. As Stephen said, if it's available, use the internal tools for your software. If the project doesn't have it's own editor, then use Google Docs or something similar. This way, everybody is working on the same actual document with the same tools, and most of these tools don't do strange Micrsoft things with strange characters. – DKing Jun 30 '17 at 15:08
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This essay expands on the concerns you expressed about word processors. And yes, there are better tools: text editors, i.e. software designed for editing plain text files.

All text editors are suitable for use with lightweight markup languages that are easier to learn than HTML and capable of being rendered as HTML. Most blogging engines and CMSes are capable, either natively, or via plugins, of rendering most mainstream lightweight markup languages, especially Markdown, to HTML.

Text editors vary in heritage and complexity.

  • For novices at text editing, Atom might be a good bet. It offers realtime Markdown rendering (like StackExchange sites), so that the user can preview the final appearance, and it follows modern conventions for keyboard shortcuts, etc.

  • A more powerful option, but with a steeper learning curve, would be GNU Emacs or its new, ergonomic variant Spacemacs. These support Org-mode, which can be exported not only to HTML but also to PDF, ODT, LaTeX, Word, etc. Some authors love Emacs because it brings them so many benefits.

  • Vim is another good option.

As Stephen Ostermiller commented, most CMSes will allow authors to save drafts, avoiding any need to email them between contributors. If, however, yours does not allow this, and you adopt plain text files as your medium, then you will be able to share them via any number of systems besides email, including Etherpad, Syncthing, SparkleShare, or Git.

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A while back (maybe 2-3 years ago), I experimented (skeptically) with the native WYSIWYG editor for Google Sites.

I was astounded at how semantic and concise the HTML/CSS it rendered was.

Might be worth looking into...

If memory serves, Google Docs that I exported as HTML were equally as impressive.

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If you don't want your (presumably non-technical) authors to have to learn mark-up then Open Live Writer might be a more habitable application for your editors. It provides a more WYSIWYG interface that looks like a word processor with formatting options.

It's based on the old Microsoft Live Writer, and can plug into a number of different blogging engines out of the box, as well as offline saves.

Alternatively you could consider switching to Markdown and then using a tool such as Markdown Monster which provides formatting tools and a real-time preview of the output. This also allows offline saves (as .md markdown files), but you may need to provide a markdown-to-html import process.

Both of these assume a fairly plain layout for your articles, with limited layout options (e.g. bold, italic, lists, quotes, just inserting images).

* I have no affiliation with either of these, I've used Live Writer in the past, and own a license for Markdown Monster as sometimes I want a preview and don't want to open Visual Studio.

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