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Mac Software For Research Papers

What software do I really need for academic work on Mac?

Posted onJuly 4, 2014byAleh Cherp

A reader has just challenged me to re-think the software I use for academic work on Mac. Well, there are over 250 items in my Applications folder, but how many do I need to remain productive? So imagine that I have a completely new Mac with no software (except OS and its standard apps). Also imagine that I am not bound to any historical file or data formats. What would I choose? To answer this, I have made a mission critical list of 25 apps in five categories. These apps do not duplicate each other, on the contrary some of them are mentioned under more than one heading and some are used together (e.g. NValt and Ulysses or Byword and Scrivener). I am pretty sure that I could do my professor work with these 25 apps but if any one was removed without replacement I would be severely handicapped.  

Reflections and explanations are at the end of the list

A. General tools

  1. LaunchBar – a launcher and an automator (€24) /alt: Alfred, check here for comparison
  2. TextExpander* – Mac typing shortcut utility (€35)
  3. 1Password* – password, identities and other sensitive information management (€40)
  4. Dropbox* – file sharing (free) /alt: Box

B. File and e-mail organizing and management

  1. Hazel – file management automator, indispensable for managing reference files (€20)
  2. Papers – managing scientific articles, also used for annotation, citation and bibliographies in writing (see D); check Macademic reviews (€60) /alt: Sente, Bookends
  3. Foxtrot – a professional search engine; “goodbye haystack, hello needle!” ($40 or $130 for the professional version) /alt: Leap, DevonThink, HoudahSpot
  4. MailTags – tagging mail messages in Apple Mail ($30)
  5. Mail Act-On – processing and organizing email with keyboard shortcuts in Apple Mail ($25)

C. Calendar, task and project management

  1. Fantastical* – natural language calendaring, part of the Macademic Ninja Kit (€16)
  2. BusyCal – professional calendar management (€40) /alt: Mac’s native Calendar
  3. OmniOutliner* – outlining for brainstorming and project planning; also used for writing outlines (see D) ($50 or $100 for professional version) /alt: MindNote
  4. Notebook – project management and planning ($50) /alt: Daylite
  5. OmniFocus* – unparalleled task management app extensively reviewed on Macademic; however tempting it is, don’t try to put all your life in there! ($40 or $80 for the professional version /alt: Things, TheHitList, TaskPaper

D. Note-taking, research and writing

  1. NValt – plain text and markdown no-frills note-taking (free) /many alternatives
  2. Evernote* – capturing text notes, documents, contacts, images, photos and screenshots and sharing them including on iOS devices (free with some paid features)
  3. Ulysses – a rapidly evolving software for taking and organizing notes using searches, tags and folders; I use it extensively for teaching (€37) /many alternatives
  4. OmniOutliner* – writing outlines, also used for project management (see C) ($50 or $99 for the professional version) /many alternatives
  5. Byword* – simple and efficient text and markdown editor for Mac (€8) /many alternatives
  6. Scrivener – writing software, especially suitable for theses and other complex texts ($45)
  7. Pages* – Apple native word processor producing beautifully formatted documents, features sharing through iCloud (free with OS X) /alt: Mellel, Nisus
  8. Microsoft Word for Mac – very powerful word processor, a standard for many publishers and in the Windows world, sometimes irreplaceable but should not be over- or misused (various pricing models) /alt: Mellel, Nisus
  9. Papers – citation and bibliography management, article annotation, also used for managing scientific articles (see B) (€59) /alt: Sente, Bookends, EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero

E. Data processing, presentation and graphic design

  1. Microsoft Excel for Mac – an extremely powerful electronic spreadsheet (various pricing models) /alt: Numbers
  2. OmniGraffle – vector graphic software for diagrams and other illustrations ($100 or $200 for the professional version) /alt: Adobe Illustrator, iDraw
  3. Keynote* – the most powerful presentation software with amazing possibilities (free with OS X) /alt: Microsoft Powerpoint, Prezi
  4. PDFPen – editing pdf files ($60, $100 for the professional version) /alt: Adobe Acrobat

Observations and explanations

The cost of this package varies between ca €600 ($800) and ca €850 ($1,150) depending on whether one chooses light or professional versions. This is without discounts but excluding the cost of MS Office.

* indicates that I also use a related and synced app on iOS

Italics indicate software which I am still trying and may decide not to use. This software has not been reviewed on Macademic but it has a critical function in the academic workflow;

  • I did not list the standard components of Apple OS X (most importantly Mail, Contacts, Safari, iPhoto, Spotlight, and Preview);
  • I excluded several web-based services such as Google Drive and SaneBox;
  • I excluded browser extensions (e.g. Pinboard and Getpocket) and a news reader since I use them more for personal rather than professional needs.
  • I excluded communication utilities such as Skype, Google Hangout, Webex, etc.
  • I only listed alternatives which perform more or less similar functions and which I have actually tried;
  • Prices indicate non-discounted prices in Sweden as of July 4, 2014 converted with current exchange rates and rounded to the nearest 10 € or $.

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About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.

View all posts by Aleh Cherp →

This entry was posted in Automation, Bibliographies, Email, Files, Graphics, Notes, Presentations, Projects, Tasks, Workflows, Writing and tagged OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, TextExpander. Bookmark the permalink.

Ok, so we’re still in the middle of summer, so why would I want to talk about research papers? True, it’s not the most exciting of topics at this time of the year, but unfortunately it’s what many scholars around the world are working on right now. You may have a deadline and the important thing is to reach it with your paper completed.

Although you’ll probably find less specialized applications on Mac than on Windows, I’ve noticed three excellent applications that not only help you handle your references, but also search and organize your papers and journals. These are, in no particular order, Sente, Papers and Reference Tracker. For those of you looking for quality Mac applications to help you out on your research paper, here is a look at each application’s notable features:

  • Sente – I really like this reference manager. It has an iTunes-like structure to store and organize your papers in smart folders. The search function lets you reach numerous university library catalogs, PubMed and the Web of Knowledge. Sente also lets you download and search PDFs and has a great tool to insert citations into any word processor.
  • Papers – Very similar to Sente, in that it offers the same sort of interface and structure. Papers lets you search through dozens of specified search engines for scholars such as ACS Portal or Citeseer. The multi-tabbed interface is great to keep more than one journals open at once and you have quick access to discussion panels from the right of the interface.
  • Reference Tracker– Probably not as complete as the other two, Reference Tracker is still a very good program to handle your references.  The app keeps all your citations stored in the Harvard formatted list style and includes ISBN lookup and Amazon search. Handy if you are starting to lose count of all the references for your research paper.

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