How is Authorea different from Google Docs?

We get that question a lot. Both Google Docs and Authorea are collaborative writing platforms, but Authorea is intended for technical, scholarly, and scientific writing. Authorea knows what a scholarly article looks like and structures every document around it. So you will see that every Authorea document has a title (up there at the top), a list of authors (well, that’s just me in this case), a number of paragraphs/sections, and a list of references at the bottom. Yes, if you use Authorea, there’s no need to build and format your reference list. We’ll do that part for you. For example, let me refer to some cool and unconventional studies such as the flying ice cube (Harvey 1998), associative memory in London taxi drivers (Woollett 2012), and an analysis of Grateful Dead listening behavior (Rodriguez 2008).

Writing scientific content. Authorea also lets you easily write mathematical notation, tables, plots and figures. So, if you have to include a Fourier transform in the paper you are writing, you can include it in LaTeX or MathML and produce something like:

\[\sum\limits_{n = - \infty }^\infty {x(n)y^* (n)} = \frac{1}{{2\pi }}\int\limits_{ - \pi }^\pi {X(e^{j\omega } )Y^* (e^{j\omega } )d\omega }\]

Export options. Most users writing on Authorea will want to submit the papers they are writing to academic journals. In Authorea, there’s a button for that. Click on the Export button on the top right to see what the post you are reading looks like formatted for publication in a certain journal style. In just one click you can change the look of your scientific article. It’s a bit like Instagram for scientific papers!

Version control. Authorea is built on top of Git, a robust version control system. Every Authorea document is a Git repository. Why is this important? In science, it is very important to keep track of every single change that is made to a research project. A tiny modification in a dataset, a sentence, or an equation might lead to bogus results and conclusions. No one wants bad science, so let’s try to keep things as transparent as possible. If you click on the clock icon in the left sidebar, you can display the entire history of this document (and I can undo specific commits and revert to previous versions). That’s a lot of data, yes, but it is an entire log of every single change that happened to this document. And for scientific documents, it’s important.

Collaboration. Google Docs and Authorea handle collaboration differently. In Google Docs, two or more authors can edit the same sentence simultaneously. In Authorea, things work a bit differently. When you are working on a piece of text (a paragraph, for example) you effectively lock that paragraph, so that no one else can touch it. When you are happy with your changes, you click save and that paragraph in the article is updated. This lets you work with other people on the same document, simultaneously, but without feeling that there’s someone breathing down your neck.

Data-driven articles. Finally, one last important difference to mention here is that Authorea documents are not only limited to text and images; they can also host data and code. If you click on the folder icon in the left sidebar, you will be able to browse the folder structure of this document which can host any kind of material. This is important because science is becoming more and more data-driven and sharing the data behind scientific plot is of fundamental importance. The scientific article of the future will seamlessly integrate text, data, code, images.


  1. Stephen C. Harvey, Robert K.-Z. Tan, Thomas E. Cheatham. The flying ice cube: Velocity rescaling in molecular dynamics leads to violation of energy equipartition. Journal of Computational Chemistry 19, 726–740 (1998). Link

  2. Katherine Woollett, Eleanor A. Maguire. Exploring anterograde associative memory in London taxi drivers. NeuroReport 23, 885–888 (2012). Link

  3. Marko A Rodriguez, Vadas Gintautas, Alberto Pepe. A Grateful Dead analysis: The relationship between concert and listening behavior analysis. First Monday 14 (2008). Link

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