by Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Company: Masterwriter, Inc (www.masterwriter.com
Licensing: $9.95 (1 month), $99 (1 yr), $199 (purchase)
Information: info@masterwriter.com
Technical Support: (805) 892 – 2686 (support@masterwriter.com)
Click here for a video product tour from MasterWriter.

Most writers either make trips to the library or use web browsers online to gather background information for their works of fiction. Masterwriter is a tool to help organize writing data – words, grammar, and reference sources – for creative writers. It gathers a wide range of data sources so they are ready for access when needed. The software contains a word processor, thesaurus, dictionary, the Bible, and Word Libraries.

System Requirements

Mac:
PowerPC G4 1.42 GHz or better or Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 Ghz
OS X 10.4 or better
512 MB or more RAM, 1 GB recommended
Built-in or External Microphone
QuickTime 7.5.5 or better

Windows:
2.4 GHz or better Processor of Intel Pentium/Celeron Family or
AMD Athlon/Duron Family
Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, XP recommended
512 MB or more RAM, 1 GB recommended
Built-in or External Microphone
QuickTime 7.5.5 or better

Getting Started

I installed the software using a disk onto my 2.26 GHz Macbook and did not encounter any errors during the process. The first time the product is launched, it requires registration, so make sure you have the serial number on hand at that time. It also checked for updates and took care of it, but there was no status bar that showed the progress of updating, so I had to wait for a update complete message before proceeding.

To test Masterwriter, I wrote a new short story just to get a feel for the user interface. To start I selected ‘File-New Title’ and  started a fantasy short story I called Second Best. The left half of the Text screen is devoted to the text of the story, and the right side of the screen contains dictionary searches. There are different areas of Masterwriter that are accessed by the icons across the top of the screen, which is useful but I’d like some buttons to navigate to a previous screen instead of re-selecting the category at the top of the screen. I like the UI of the software, as the organization is logical for writing fiction and so it is easier to compose stories.

A brief word about Word Families. These are from Masterwriter, and they associate words in a relevant manner that makes it easier to find that special or different word you need to avoid being too repetitious. I used this tool a couple of times and really like it, and Masterwriter told me they continue to enhance these entries over the evolution of the product.

The file created when I exported my story was XML, and the file name was Songdata.xml – not exactly what I’d expect for a writing program, and the story I wrote was not discernible in the XML file, so what is the purpose of exporting in the first place? I contacted Masterwriter support and they told me the exported content is in a format for Masterwriter, and that I need to use the ‘Export text file to’ icon to get my story out for access by MS Word. I used the icon and was able to read the story in Word and a text editor.

Note: You can set the file name and file extension so you choose what program is used to open the exported content. I view this as a positive feature.

After a bit of composing, I set out to explore some of the nicer features of the product. I looked at the dictionary and thesaurus and was pleased to see Masterwriter uses the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus in their product – both good enough for use in many English classes at university. Next I looked at the entries in Pop Culture and was definitely pleased with the number of categories I could use for research, which included The World, The Famous, Food and Drink, Products, and the Bible. I read some of the scriptures in the Bible but did not see the translation, so I can’t share that with you.

Conclusion

I enjoyed using the software to write a couple of stories. It was handy to have so many writing tools without needing to leave my word processor.

Masterwriter lacks a mechanism to navigate back and forth between sections of the program – I left my story to look up a phrase in Word Families and had to reselect the Text menu item to be able to resume work on my story.

I liked this version but there are some things I’d like to see included in the next major release of the software:

  • A status bar to show software update status. Something small but nonetheless needed in a future revision of this program.
  • A way to navigate back and forth between sections of the program without needing to select the main categories for those areas.
  • Better online help – either Robohelp or PDF (or both formats).
  • More Word Families.

Notes – March 20, 2011

On February 3, Masterwriter emailed me with news about some improvements they made to the product. A portion of that email is below:

We did update all users with Synonym Finder about 2 weeks ago.  If you haven’t already, open MW, leave it open for up to 5 minutes, you will eventually be prompted to update, at which point, install, then once you restart the program, go to Thesaurus, and the new one will be there.  It’s a major improvement in my opinion, we also continue to update Word Families with new words and refinements to existing families.

I installed the update – this is the screen I saw when starting MasterWriter:

I like seeing vendors make constant product improvements, and I would ask any people using Masterwriter to commend on their impressions of using this well-designed product either as amateur or professional writers. Personally I enjoy using it.

Notes – January 18, 2011

There have been some updates since this review was originally posted in August of 2010, including more Word Families and improved online help.

This software automatically checks for updates when the software is launched, or you can manually check using the ‘Help/Software Updates’ menu option. The software still does not prompt that it is checking for updates; the only prompt displayed is to notify you that an update either is or is not available. I’d still prefer to have a status message that the software is checking for an update.

As of today, the most current version of the software (Shown by selecting the ‘Help/About Masterwriter’ menu) is 2.0.0.38 (R11).

I did not test this software on Windows, so I’d suggest anyone with Windows/Masterwriter issues contact Masterwriter with questions about issues with that operating system. Newer versions of Windows like Windows 7 may require that the installer be logged in with Admin rights, but that is typical of a lot of applications.

Positives

  • A nice product with decent UI that does a good job at simplifying creative writing.
  • Modest hardware/OS requirements, so many people can use this software without needing a massive system upgrade.
  • An impressive list of industry pundits that like and endorse this software.
  • Supports importing and exporting text content.
  • Includes the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus.
  • I like the number of categories of pop culture items covered in Masterwriter – very useful.
  • Word libraries are nice, and MasterWriter intends to continue to improve them in the near future.

Negatives

  • Pricing seems a bit high with a $199 purchase price. MS Word 2010 was $139.99 from the Microsoft store on 7-31-2010, but Masterwriter does include a decent thesaurus and the bible, as well as their expandable Word Families, so the product is more than a mere word processor.
  • I’d prefer to have both icons and menu items for options as some people prefer to point-and-click, while others  prefer to use keyboard shortcuts. Initially I was unaware that there is only an icon for exporting stories as text, which threw me off.
  • The packaging is adequate, but I’d like a PDF of help content if no help documentation is included with the product. The online help was not adequate for the few time I needed help, but MasterWriter’s support team quickly responded to my questions.

Recommendation

Try it. This product is worth the time you’ll spend to check it out. If you’re fiscally conservative, you can use the free download to see how you like it and then buy a monthly or yearly license, or purchase it outright. Download the free evaluation copy and give it a try. I like that I don’t need to switch to a browser or a third-party program or grab a book to look up information when doing creative writing, which interrupts the flow of creative writing.

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Comments
  1. The files exported in MasterWriter are exported as .xml’s and are only readable by MasterWriter because there are so many layers to a particular title. There can be text, sketches, audio, collected, writer info, title information, etc. Because of this, these exports can’t logically be read by another program, only MW. If a user ever wants to export any of their text from any of our text fields, they can do so by using the export test utility on the text editing toolbar. The fact that the file name is Songdata.xml is an oversight on our part that has not been reported to date, thanks for pointing that out, we will correct.

  2. Vander says:

    Thanks, I’ll give this a try.

  3. Harold Whitaker says:

    I would like very much to download your free 10 day trial. But was unable to complete the download for some reason.I think it’s just the tool I’ve been looking for,But would like to try it first before I buy it. Could you please let me know what I’m doing wrong. thank you.

    • Harold: I forwarded your information to MasterWriter – they should be in contact with you soon.

      I like their product and suspect you will too. It is far more than a word processor.
      -Mike

  4. fastplans says:

    It’s just not worth it!

    Let me list some negatives.
    1. cost = $199 even with a discount you are paying way too much, for the value you receive.
    2. limited to 2 installs. this is a real pain. if your computer crashes you will have to call the support even if you have your cd’s
    3. awkward to use.

    I purchased mine in ’07 and I used it off and on (mostly not). I just called support and i have to buy an upgrade to load. (“because they dont support this version anymore”). I didnt get my moneys worth the first time, so im not going down that road again.

    FREE ALTERNATIVES
    Free Rhyming dictionary
    http://www.rhymezone.com
    http://www.rhymer.com

    Free writing lyrics and chords
    (this is far better than what Writer gives you. you can put your chords with the lyrics and the chords move above the line of words. you can also transpose the whole song to a different key. very useful)
    http://praisebase.com
    Store your chord charts, lyrics, midi and MP3

    Free Drums
    http://www.threechords.com/hammerhead/download.shtml

    Free Recording
    http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

    spend your money on the things you need – NOT THIS!

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