I recently posted a fairly long (for me at least) answer, which took quite a while to compose in the editor window. I was fearful the entire time that a mis-click and I would loose it all. I checked into the availability of an offline Markdown editor, but an existing Meta question here has gone unanswered (though it does seem to have some recommendations in comments I may follow up on later).

It seems the History stack may generated longer answers than some, and I know some of you tend to generate very long, but well structured answers. Do you use any offline tools, or have developed any work flow techniques, which enable a smooth transition from information you have gathered researching a question to entering it into the sites answer editor?


4 Answers 4


You don't have to worry...

... when using a web browser. See footnote.

The answer is being progressively sent to and saved on the cloud. If you're online, every time you stop writing for a couple of seconds, a packet with the current content of your answer is sent to the StackExchange server.

It even tells you draft saved under the left corner of the textarea (even though your post is usually safe a couple seconds before it appears).

a "random" StackExchange answer WIP :D

There's essentially nothing you can accidentally do to lose your answer other than actually deleting the text you've written. If you log out, clean out the cookies and local storage, after logging in and visiting the page with the question you're answering, your WIP answer will still be there in its last saved state.

You can even log in using a different browser later and the draft will wait patiently for you - right where you left it at.

So write your answers without worries!

The above applies if you're using a web browser. Apps seem to be less reliable in this manner, as pointed out by sempaiscuba.

I did lose a couple of draft answers in the Android app.

  • 2
    A very good point. Of course on occasion this behavior is actually annoying. 9 times out of 10 if I abandon a new post, I meant to.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 3:23
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    @T.E.D. I think the 'discard' button is there exactly for that.
    – Steadybox
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 15:36
  • @Steadybox - Yes. Having got chippy and hit the wrong button (wait, did that button say "Discard" or "Post"?), I prefer to just manually select and delete it all. The problem there is when you don't actually have the edit window active, and the browser interprets each backspace as "Go back one webpage". Arg!!!
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 20:52
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    I did lose a couple of draft answers in the Android app. Another problem when working on a phone is copying the links to sources, which involves saving the draft, opening the source in a browser, saving the link, opening the draft & pasting the link. A Royal PITA, if I'm being honest! But it still seems to work better than trying to open SE in a browser on a mobile phone! Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 23:39
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    @sempaiscuba Writing long answers on a phone is generally a PITA. I can imagine that not many do it and therefore the progressive saving may not be present in the apps (it does eat considerable bandwidth and some computing power after all). I did include your experience in the answer, thank you for your comment!
    – sjaustirni
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 8:51
  • @sjaustirni Thanks, I think I may have been misled by loosing some longer comments when navigating away from a page. I have tested navigating away a couple time now, and haven't lost anything. The dialog box warns that you may loose 'unsaved' parts of your answer however, so I assume it is possible to at least loose parts done after the last draft was saved.
    – justCal
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 17:34
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    @justCal You're welcome! Yes, progressive save doesn't apply to comments AFAIK. Yes, you may lose a part of your answer, but from my experience, if you wait at least ~2 seconds, leaving the page is totally safe. Glad I helped! :)
    – sjaustirni
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 19:06

I write quite a few answers on my Android phone while commuting / travelling. I just use a free Notepad app to compose the answer. I copy & paste links to online sources into the text at the appropriate points (enclosing them in brackets).

When I'm ready to post, I just copy all the text & post it into the editor window in the SE app. After that it's just a mechanical process of editing ...

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    I use a text editor to grab info as well, Notepad++. But for me its usually just outline style, raw, sometimes unorganized, info. I'll have to consider a second file perhaps to compose the answer in. Thanks.
    – justCal
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 14:38
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    Upvoting this answer, as I believe this is the exact kind of info the OP was asking for.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 3:21
  • @sempaiscuba I am curious(and completely off topic), since you are using this app on a phone, are all the features such as the edit button and voting keys easily available on that small screen? I suspected for some a while that the previous user who would not vote or edit might have had some form of software issue...
    – justCal
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 17:53
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    @justCal Most of the features seem to be there and working in the app. The ability to edit and vote certainly work. :) Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 18:40

I am in the same boat, looking for land.

Writing or editing short posts in a browser has certain advantages if they should go straight up here on this site. But there are also certain disadvantages that get worse when the posts in questions or answers are getting longer. As soon as you have to expand the editor box things get ugly fast.

Are long answers bad? If you have to provide sources or quotes, like on this site, length grows quickly without much written by yourself. And I remember one of the preformed critique sound-bytes that sometimes appear under SE posts: "We expect longer answer, that…"

Sometimes I am under the impression that two paragraph answers without sources or links appeared on this site and to me that indicated mostly a quite trivial question yielding trivial answers. While I sometimes struggle to really keep it short, I really try to constrain myself. (Is there a general guideline or recent discussion I overlooked on how to orient yourself, lengthwise in an answer?)

Here, on a site that benefits from at least slightly longer answers, the default browser edit-field is way too small to fit just three proper paragraphs into it. As soon as the editor/writer has to scroll, keeping an eye on structure and layout is simply terrible. If it would at least live-render in side by side mode. Way to many of my edits are because I overlooked something basic, lost orientation in my own text or just wanted to prevent loosing the text.

Offline composing with any editor available that live-renders markdown and only posting the final result when all links and pictures and any formatting quirks are dealt with seems like a better way to go. If it isn't, please correct me. For example if I overlooked a browser configuration or extension?

I've looked into several editors that run on Apple hardware – I also searched for software that does a tiny bit of what I am asking here before — (also in questions on this SE). What came closest so far: I more or less chose to explore MacDown for a quite nice two pane view of source and rendered output. This enables the writer to theoretically write everything offline and then just post the final text on this site. But the downsides to this are the following:

Shortcomings of the current browser editor as is:

  • the editing capabilities of this site are optimized for really short posts, your own overview of what's going to be rendered soon requires a lot of scrolling (at least the scrolling mess can be mitigated a bit with this userscript side-by-side-editing)
  • browsers used for editing introduce a dependence on internet access (for just writing something this should be superfluous)
  • browsers tend to crash a lot more than simpler editors: with online dependence, draft saving make your work a lot more volatile that way (I recently read in a comment "the internet ate my answer…")

Shortcomings of my offline editor:

  • pictures cannot be uploaded and auto-linked (a plugin might help?)
  • links can only be of the inline-type — not the endnote style this system automatically generates and I prefer in general
  • the syntax options available in the preferences of MacDown are a bit oblique to this site (different names, math not available on most SE sites etc.)
  • the rendering quirks of this site can not be predicted accurately (really, less of a concern)

Therefore I am still looking for a free alternative that mirrors as close as possible the options available from the SE builtin editor or a pointer on how to achieve this with the otherwise nice MacDown, an alternative editor (also for linux) or a better browser configuration.

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    I take the view that an answer should be as long as is required to answer the question. Sometimes, even questions that appear quite trivial demand rather longer answers! Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 23:33
  • @LangLangC Thanks for the response. Not being a Mac guy, I won't be able to look at this one much closer, and the ease of placing links and setting images are definitely part of what attracts me to the idea of a Markdown editor to convert some of my own research (in txt files) into something more 'multi-media' friendly.
    – justCal
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 17:47
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    @justCal In case of web images and web links it is still time saving to put in the just the links and then polish them with the SE web editor. Manual coding is just too error prone. That should apply to all editors. But I wonder why these built-in capabilities of the SE site do not improve. I really hope the devs for the site or SE apps read this some time in the near future. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 17:53

I'm generally of the mind that if you're tempted to use an editor, your answer is too long. (Based on the ratings, I'm in the minority here)

For me an ideal answer is no more than about 5 paragraphs. I certainly shouldn't have to scroll my browser to read it all. I'm not saying I'll never write one that long, but if I do its a pretty good bet I'm dissatisfied with the length.

  • 1
    Normally I agree, I don't care for book length answers either. Sometimes, however, in order to do a question justice it takes a little more. I was secretly hoping to pick some organization tips as well, but asking 'How do you organize your sources and multi-media research data' would probably be off-topic.
    – justCal
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 1:10

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