Writing app recommendation

Hi there!

For work, I have to generate quite long report-like documents. Up to now, I’ve used either Word or Pages.

I’d very much like to use a specialised writing application with an export feature, such as Ulysses, IA Writer etc.

However, and here is the issue, when I export I need to export into a document with paragraph numbering. This is essential. I’ve looked at a Ulysses and IA writer and they don’t seem to support this.

Can anyone point me in the direction of a suitable application?

One time purchase preferred.

Thanks so much for reading.

Why? Or, more precisely, what about Word/Pages makes it less suitable?

Scrivener has flexible numbering settings - it may be able to handle your needs. But it is hard to make any good recommendations without information about why your current approach is suboptimal.


What exactly do you want to do?
With Ulysses for example, you can set a numbering very easy, while writing.
Do you want to set the numbering after you have written your text?
With an app like Ulysses, you can control a lot via a CSS that “converts” the Markdown into a PDF, HTML or whatever, with the setup you want, or need.

What about a pipeline like this: Markdown → Word → PDF

iA Writer‘s output can be styled with CSS in custom templates.

A custom template should be able to provide automatic paragraph numbering (there are templates for automatic numbering of headers, too).

Certainly paragraph numbering is possible using CSS which, as @Ulli says, Ulysses uses for export formatting. I’ve not actually tried it, but it may well support your needs.

How exactly does your numbering system work?

Edit: not one time purchase, however.

A few thoughts. I’m presuming you want to switch from Word / Pages because you want better support for structuring your documents as you go along (e.g. The ability to move sections around the document easily.)

  • you can use IA Writer for long documents, but it’s aimed more at shorter pieces such as articles and blog posts. It’s light on the abiltiy to restructure your document easily, and its export features are quite limited. It’s very good if you want one of the built-in export templates, but its CSS is quite complicated to amend if you want something outside that.

  • Ulysses is much better at the restructuring aspect: you write each section in a separate ‘sheet’ and can rearrange the sheets in any order you choose very easily. There’s also a wide range of third party export templates for you to choose from, partly, I imagine, because its CSS is much simpler to amend. However, the .docx export doesn’t use all of Word’s features, so you may need to amend it in Word itself. Finally, Ulysses uses its own bespoke Markdown syntax (which is why it has easier image and annotation handling than most other Markdown programs).

  • Scrivener is the closest to Word/Pages, in that the editor is a traditional WYSIWYG editor (Cmd-b for bold, rather than *bold*), so you can use Tables (though not as full-featured as Word’s), images, footnotes, comments, lists etc as you’re used to, as well as proper Word/Pages-type styles. The compilation and export features are far more sophisticated than Ulyssess, but most of the complexity is hidden behind Advanced settings, so if your needs are fairly generic, the process is simple enough. Scrivener also has more help for planning and structuring documents than Ulysses. You can also set up Project Templates, so that once you’ve worked out the best way to produce your corporate reports, you can open a new report with all the settings pre-configured. However, Scrivener is a toolbox for writers – nobody ever uses all the features it offers – and that can seem a bit daunting at first. Scrivener has a much more extensive user community forum than Ulysses (partly because it’s a more complex program so you may need more help…) and you’ll always get help there.

I’d summarise the broad choice as:

  • IA Writer for simpler documents and as a general editor, but not really aimed at more complicated documents

  • Ulysses for short-to-mid length/complexity documents where you don’t mind using Markdown XL and you don’t really need Scrivener’s extensive planning and compilation/export capabiities.

  • Scrivener for anything from short articles up to high-range length and complexity, and it uses more standard RTF editor. You can do a lot in Scrivener that’s not possible in Ulysses: The 800-page Scrivener Manual is produced in Scrivener…

Bear in mind that Scrivener is a one-off purchase of about £45, which is about what Ulysses charges for a one year subscription.

My own choice is Scrivener – I’ve used Ulysses a lot, and I really like it, but I’ve always found in the end that it’s lacking a feature or two that I think I need and I go back to Scrivener.

In your position, I’d download both Ulyssess and Scrivener’s free trials, but it is essential that you do the Scrivener tutorial very early on – you really won’t get how useful the program is, if you try and skip this. It only takes a hour-ish to skim through, but it will give you a very good idea whether it can help you.

As usual, simplifications like this miss out all sorts of valid points, but I hope it gives you something to go on.


This could be done, as far as I understand, also within Ulysses.
And Scrivener is a One-Time-Purchase, but for each Version. I just don’t know how often they change the Version to charge again.
While I had a look into Scrivener I also became aware, that buying the App via the App-Store seems to be cheaper wit 48,99€, than via the Homepage at 53€, which I think is pretty seldom, as often (if there are differences at all) the additional App-Store Fees are added to the products price, if you buy from the App Store, instead of the Homepage.

Ulysses have added tables with the latest update, AFAICT, and yes, of course, it can do lists / comments etc. The table feature seems to be quite well done but they’re Markdown tables still – I was getting at the fact that these features are used the same way as in Word, not that you can’t do them in Markdown.

They take quite a long time over their versions: I bought Version 2 in 2010, and Version 3 didn’t come out until 2017. I was a beta tester for several months before that – I haven’t picked up any rumours of V4 being anywhere near that stage yet, but of course, I’m not privy to the company’s plans. But as they’ve only just released V3 for Windows, and their stated intention from now on is to keep both platforms in sync, I think you’ll probably get some good mileage out of V3… They also tend to announce generous cut-off periods – if you buy a version X months before a new version, you can upgrade for free. The upgrade price itself tends to be a bit over half the full price, so that needs to be taken into account, when you’re calculating the cost vs a subscription.

The App Store version is cheaper (£44 vs £47 in the UK), but there are a couple of things that it can’t do. They tend to be in advanced areas and are forced on the developers by the fact of App Store sandboxing: (from Should I buy from your web store or from the Mac App Store? / Purchasing and Installation / Knowledge Base - Literature and Latte Support)

  • Apple imposes certain security limitations on apps sold through the Mac App Store which can restrict a few features. This means that we cannot always guarantee that all features will be available in the App Store version (although we strive to keep things the same). For instance:
    • Security limitations mean that the App Store version cannot run external libraries or command-line tools. This means that the App Store version of Scrivener cannot be used with Pandoc and that its MultiMarkdown features are limited to the version of MultiMarkdown that is built into Scrivener (Scrivener from our store will use the latest version installed on your machine).
    • This also extends to Scrivener’s post-processing and scripting capabilities, which will be entirely absent in the App Store version. There are no workarounds for either this or Pandoc integration being removed, so if you require these capabilities in your workflow, you will want to purchase directly.
    • App Store sandboxing restrictions mean that it can be more difficult to use Scrivener to link to or access external bookmarks and documents. We provide an “Authorise Folder Access” feature in the “Scrivener” menu so that you can grant Scrivener access to files you would like it to be able to open. This just takes a little extra setup.

The minor limitations above notwithstanding, the vast majority of users will not notice any difference between versions. If you have any further questions about the Mac App Store versions of our software, you may wish to visit our Mac App Store FAQ.

As the difference is only £3, I’d buy the home page version – it means that Apple aren’t deducting their cut, so the developers get more of your money. You can use the non-App Store version on five-ish devices simultaneously, so the usual App Store benefit doesn’t appy.


I haven’t done with table so much right now, but used it last week with Ulysses, and it went quit well.
Can you describe a little more where you see the differences between building a Table with Ulysses, and one with Scrivener, and why is it closer to Word/Pages. I thought Scrivener also uses MultiMarkdown, or am I wrong on that?

This is ultimately where I ended up as well. I like Ulysses a lot and tried to use it for all of my writing projects, but while workable, Ulysses was not as good as Scrivener for a large complex book project, so I switched back to Scrivener for that project. I use Pages for all other writing at this point.

I’m intrigued by the idea of using Scrivener for corporate reports. I’m using Pages with a Pages template I created for that. I’ll have to give this idea a look.


As has been mentioned on the forum before, iA Writer can reference a list of sub-documents to create long documents whose parts are easily rearranged. This is the transclusion feature.

Any Markdown editor like iA Writer can also bold with CMD+B.

Yes, IA Writer can use transclusion, but that’s limited in scope compared to Scrivener’s (and Ulysses’s) ability to work on sections of a document in situ, to see and edit non-contiguous sections as a whole, and so on. It’s better to have transclusion than not, but it’s really not a substitute for scrivenings (Scrivener’s term for such virtual documents), or Ulysses’s glued sheets for complex documents.

Perhaps an example will help. Say you’re writing a novel with three plot strands. Your novel has 40 chapters, each with three to five scenes (so, around 150 Scrivener documents in all), and each scene is concerned with one of the three plot strands. In Scrivener or Ulysses, you simply keyword each scene to one of the strands, then you can select that single entire plot strand and view and edit it as a single document in isolation from the others. This would be difficult (if not impossible?) to do with transclusion – managing 150 documents would be difficult on its own, let alone organising them as a single editable document – yet it takes a few seconds to set up and dismantle in Scrivener or Ulysses. Obviously, the same approach applies to technical or any other long, complex documents, not just to novels: ‘Find every subsection dealing with transmigration of souls and stitch them together temporarily so I can view them as a whole’. If you need this sort of ability, then transclusion really isn’t as useful.

To repeat, it’s not that IA Writer (or BBEdit, or Notepad etc) can’t be used to write long, complex documents – of course they can. It’s just that they don’t have some useful features which exist in programs designed for the task.

And of course you can embolden with Cmd-b in some markdown editors - having a shortcut isn’t the issue here! Markdown text uses different conventions for formatting, which is perfectly fine (I prefer it myself), but some people like the standard RTF methods, so it may weigh in the OP’s decision process, that’s all…



You can write in Multimarkdown in Scrivener (it’s only using common symbols to represent format, after all) and you can compile to Multimarkdown / Latex / RST and other plain text formats, but it’s not a Multimarkdown editor in the sense that Ulysses and IA Writer are. E.g. It doesn’t have an inbuilt preview, so it doesn’t make \**bold\** into bold in the Editor. You can use Marked 2 to preview the text as you write, though.

At heart, Scrivener documents are RTF files behind the scene, not plain text. This allows a variety of approaches. Some people write in Multimarkdown, but export to PDF/DOCX. Some write in RTF formatting (including rtf headings, tables, lists etc), but compile to Multimarkdown / Latex / ReStructuredText etc. The conversions between formats is all dealt with in the compilation process.

The Scrivener manual (800 pages full of images, cross references, variable text depending on whether it’s the Windows or Mac version etc) is written in Scrivener in a combination of RTF / Multimarkdown / embedded Latex, which is post-processed using the memoir style and some custom directives. A lot of academics use such methods to produce complex academic documents.

The difference in tables is just the simple one that you create RTF tables using the WYSIWYG tools and format them on the screen (as in Word), rather than using symbols in the editor and changing their appearence via CSS.


Have you taken a look at Nisus Writer Pro? It’s more akin to a word processor than a specialized writing app, but can be used as a tool for writing longer documents.

It’s all a matter of the format of the compile, completely separate from the writing tool. Basis of Scrivener’s approach and design basis–which I find extremely useful and powerful.

Even if you cannot or do not want to completely format the final corporate deliverable with compile settings, export to DOCX or RTF format and use Pages to tweak to ameliorate your corporate masters’ expectations.


And the 800 page Scrivener manual you mention in a later post might argue for making do with iA Writer’s transclusion. :slightly_smiling_face: Especially since the OP doesn’t seem to be writing a novel.

And iA Writer does show the markup characters, albeit grayed out, so it is not absolutely WYSIWYG. But Markdown editors like Typora and NotePlan, for example, do hide the markup unless your cursor is on the word or paragraph being formatted. And that, to me, is the best of both worlds because I don’t have to try to guess where MS Word or another word processor has put its hidden formatting.

Especially since the OP doesn’t seem to be writing a novel.

Well, that comes a huge suprise to me. If only I’d written something like, oh, I don’t know…

Obviously, the same approach applies to technical or any other long, complex documents, not just to novels:

…in the very post you replied to.

As for the inline formatting of Markdown: I understand. You prefer writing in Markdown. So do I. Some people don’t and they’ll use that fact when they decide which program to use.

Good point.

I’ve written 300-400 page commercial documents with multiple images, appendices, embedded Excel spreadsheets and so on in Word, and it was a nightmare, not just because of the length and complexity of the document itself, but because Word’s auto-numbering really wasn’t robust enough to take the strain. I ended up using explicit numbering codes, just to stop it crashing every few minutes.

Now, I couldn’t have written those documents in IA Writer either and I wouldn’t have attempted it in Ulysses, but Scrivener’s organisational features would have been very welcome. I’d still have had to tidy up in Word, but the whole process would have been a lot smoother.

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I’m using Ulysses now for all my writing (short of meeting notes and daily notes which are ending up in Apple Notes* for speed and convenience).

It’s excellent - like anything else it enables the writer to concentrate on content, not format. By tailoring the export format to suit the requirements I can also ensure absolute consistency with the required styles. As @rms says, it’s really down to setting up the compile to meet the presentational needs.

*after trying many others.