Stylo, a semantic writing tool for scientific publishing in Human Sciences

1. Abstract

Stylo ( is a tool designed by the Canada Research Chair on Digital Textualities, with the support of Érudit, designed to simplify writing and editing scientific articles in the humanities and social sciences (HS).
Writing in a digital environment ― whether for printed or digital dissemination ― is now a matter-of-course: no one writes an article by hand and then has it typed. However, rarely do scholars think about issues related to the act of writing and, in addition, we have far from exhausted the potential for digital technologies to enhance writing and editing practices.
Moreover, the tools available for writing in an academic context are limited, often proprietary and rarely designed and adapted to the needs of HS researchers. In concrete terms, almost all scientific production in HS today uses a single software and the same format: Word and docx, both of which are owned by Microsoft. Designed for all contexts ― although particularly intended for office use, as the name indicates― , this duo is poorly adapted to the specific needs of scholars.
Stylo is also a tool for writing and editing scientific texts, specifically designed to meet the challenges of scholarly digital publishing. Stylo is still a prototype; its development remains strongly linked to theoretical thinking on writing in a digital environment. ?Many less successful software have and continue to be developed. However none have come close to rivalling Microsoft’s dominance on the world stage of writing tools. The ambition of the project is not so much to create an umpteenth tool, but to think about the epistemological stakes of writing practices in digital environments. How do these new forms of writing structure thought?
The philosophy of Stylo builds on the simple fact that writing skills are semantic rather than graphic, and yet, authors of scholarly articles are often asked to deliver graphical layout rather than enriched text. Indeed, writing tools have a major impact on the production of knowledge: they influence content structure; define content accessibility criteria; determine the durability or obsolescence of content.
Almost all scientific content is still produced with proprietary word processing software that is not conceptualised and designed for academic use, namely Microsoft Word (Kirschenbaum Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing 2016). However, this tool for the general public has problematic shortcomings for scientific publishing in HS:
- The principle of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) confuses structuring and formatting: to facilitate the reading and processing of an article or book, the semantic value of fragments must be dissociated from their graphic rendering, for example: a level 2 title and its graphic rendering in a large font size. Stylo belongs to this type of initiative, alongside Software Studies (Fuller Software Studies: A Lexicon 2008).
- The docx format does not allow the contents page to be structured scientifically. The contents produced in docx are poorly tagged and difficult to access because they are not indexed. At a time when text production has never been so abundant, it is crucial that documents be properly structured to improve their indexing and allow them to be queried using advanced search tools.
- Publishers undertake the long and tedious task of reworking texts in order to reintroduce a semantic layer and to correct the many errors created by these word processors.
- The durability of documents in docx format depends on Microsoft's willingness to maintain this proprietary format. However, sustainability is neither the mission nor the priority of a commercial company. There is no guarantee that content in docx format will be accessible in the future.
By closely studying the editorial practices of scientific journals in HS, it appears that, when passing from the author to the publisher to the distributor, the scientific article goes through highly disparate states and formats. This process results in a considerable loss of time, data and meaning.
There is therefore an urgent need to conceptualise and experiment with new writing models that are better adapted to the needs of HS knowledge production.
Stylo has been conceived to offer a complete and continuous workflow from writing to publishing and to avoid loss of data and meaning between the various editing stages. It gathers functionalities such as sharing, versioning, track changes, reference management, revision annotations, multi-format export, metadata aligned with online authorities (LOC, Rameau, Wikidata, ORCID, ...) and inline semantic markup. In order to avoid frequent data breaches during editing processes, Stylo offers a continuous workflow from writing to dissemination, ensuring that semantic information provided by the author will indeed be published.
Stylo can provide multiple outputs, depending on the needs of the author and the publisher:
1. XML (Érudit, JATS, TEI, etc.) for diffusion and harvesting platforms
2. HTML5 for direct publication on CMS
3. PDF & EPUB with programmable stylesheets
4. ODT, DOCX for common use
Based on modular, lowtech and standard editing tools and formats, such as markdown, bibtex, Pandoc, and LaTeX, Stylo integrates, into a single interface, the best practices in terms of web-based writing and publishing.
In the digital chain of writing and publishing scholarly journals in HS, it is increasingly clear that the publisher no longer has control over the cultural, social or technical existence of its contents in an environment that is increasingly dependent on text-related data. Indeed, making a text exist in the digital environment implies exposing sufficiently rich and relevant data so that the contents be indexed by search engines. Stylo contends that each actor, from the author to the disseminating platform, is likely to be involved in a production process that guarantees the continuity of data. This is possible thanks to the sharing of a single pivotal format that is simple to access and use, and rich enough for the publishing of scientific texts in the humanities and social sciences.
In this vision, writing is no longer just writing. Writing in the digital environment becomes part of a publishing dynamic. In other words, the act of writing necessarily goes hand in hand with the act of publishing. This idea that writing = writing + structuring brings us closer to a culture of digital literacy, which enables a mastery over the writing environment and an ability to inscribe space as much as to structure it. It is a matter of both knowing how to evolve in this environment and how to make it evolve.
As pragmatic research project, Stylo works alongside the practitioners of writing and scholarly publishing, aiming for an evolution and an enrichment of these practices and inviting actors to reflect on the most effective means to harness the power of the digital environment.
Margot Mellet (, Canada Research Chair on digital textualities, Antoine Fauchié (, Canada Research Chair on digital textualities, Nicolas Sauret , Canada Research Chair on digital textualities, Marcello Vitali-Rosati , Canada Research Chair on digital textualities and Arthur Juchereau , Canada Research Chair on digital textualities

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