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Lesley McCollum is PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. You can follow her on Twitter @lesleyamccollum. I’m writing this post in Microsoft Word. Chances are, it’s where you do a lot of your writing as well. It’s easy, convenient, familiar, and gets the job done for simple text documents.
There are a lot of great features to MS Word if you want to (or have to) stick with it for your writing. If so, check out our by Hanna on quick tricks for formatting in Word. Some tasks call for a bit more than a basic word processor, though. If you’ve ever spent too many frustrating hours trying to format a Word document with multiple tables and figures (why does my figure keep moving halfway off the page?!), then you will likely agree that it’s not always the best to work with. As I embark on the dissertation-writing journey, I have been looking for an alternative to MS Word that is up for the job—something that can handle a large multi-chaptered document with robust formatting options. The ideal software would be cheap (preferably free), fairly quick and painless to learn, and compatible with a reference/citation manager.
One barrier to changing software is that my mentor likes using MS Word to edit my documents with the track changes feature. So a bonus would be that files could easily be converted to.docx to ease sending them to my PI for reviews. Here are a few non-Word options I have come across in my search for the best dissertation-writing software that seem to be favorites: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux/Unix Cost: free LaTeX is an open-source document preparation system that was designed for scholarly and technical writing, and is great for handling large documents. It is a powerful and highly customizable typesetting system that, in contrast to MS Word, separates the content and document design. LaTeX is a markup language—it’s not exactly a programming language, but it does have similarities to coding.
Because of this, there is definitely a learning curve when starting out. I was first exposed to LaTeX during college and used it to write my undergraduate thesis.
It did take a while to learn, but has a huge amount of document support, and a great online community to answer just about any question you come across. The features I found that really made it worth the effort were its phenomenal job at handling mathematical equations, tables, and figures, and its own powerful reference manager BibTeX. Because it was designed to be used with LaTeX, they integrate perfectly and handle citations and cross-referencing effortlessly. One downside is that LaTeX does not export to.docx file format, so if you need a Word document for revisions or submission, there is no streamlined conversion from LaTeX.
If you’re lucky, some schools provide LaTeX thesis templates already meeting the required specifications, so all you have to worry about is the content. Check out this great, detailed article on for writing your dissertation. Windows, Mac OS X, Linux/Unix Cost: free If you are sold on the powerful and flexible typesetting available with LaTeX, but aren’t crazy about working solely with the markup language, a great compromise is LyX. It uses LaTeX in the background, but lets you write the content in a user interface similar to a word processor like MS Word. It still has all the advanced capabilities of LaTeX for mathematical equations and formatting, and integration with BibTeX. Other users have found that it doesn’t completely remove the need to understand LaTeX, but reduces the learning curve a bit. There are other programs that also provide a graphical editor for LaTeX such as.
Mac OS X, Windows, Linux (beta) Cost: $35-45 (free 30-day trial) If you are a veteran GradHacker reader, you’ve likely seen Scrivener mentioned before, like. In addition to standard word processing, Scrivener is great for project management and organization. It combines the visual appeal and ease-of-use that Macs are known for, and its users swear by it.
It has a drag-and-drop interface, so a large document can be easily written in fragments, and provides a personal research database for easy storage of notes, folders, images (and just about anything else) that you collect as sources for your project. Another great feature of Scrivener is its compatibility with multiple file formats, making it easy to export in just about any document type. There are a couple of downsides for scientific writing, however. Scrivener lacks integration with reference management software—though users have found ways to handle citations, it doesn’t work seamlessly. It’s also not great for document layout containing formatted tables and figures. Check out this on the values of Scrivener for academic writing.
An important note: don’t let the preparation of your dissertation get in the way of writing it. A complex document of this size could be edited and formatted forever, so don’t let that be a mode of procrastination! Try the software out, and it you don’t jive with it, stick with what works for you.
Tools like these should only be sought if they will streamline the process for you, not hinder it. To meet the needs of your writing project. There isn’t always one perfect option—you may find that integrating multiple writing programs works best for the writing, compiling, and editing stages. Maybe all you really need is a to get the job done.
Check out these other helpful resources for and for a. What software are you using to write your dissertation, and what do you love about it? Please share it with us in the comments! Photo courtesy of Flickr user and used under a Creative Commons license.
IOS devices have completely changed the way we write. Not only has iOS given us the flexibility to quickly jot down our thoughts wherever and whenever they strike, it's fundamentally flipped our expectations of the humble text editor. In an effort to maximize every pixel of screen real estate, developers rethought what was necessary for productivity and efficiency on our mobile devices, from the size of the canvas to the way we interact with buttons, bars and ribbons. The result left us with minimal, distraction-free environments where the only things that matter are our words. And as formatting bars and font menus became obsolete on our iPhones and iPads, a funny thing happened: They became less important on our Macs, too. From iAWriter to Pages and even Microsoft Word, the streamlining of the word processor has created a world of smart, lightweight interfaces built to adapt to whatever device we happen to be using.
As someone constantly switching between my Mac, iPad, and iPhone, the seamless experience has become an indispensable part of my workflow. My writing sessions are no longer tethered to a desk, but it's not just the freedom I enjoy—the cross-platform congruity has become just as important to my productivity, letting me literally pick up where I left off without losing any momentum my train of thought may have. But even more than that, the tailored interfaces help maintain my focus no matter the size of the screen I'm working on. Having a digital notepad within constant arm’s reach is one thing, but staying in a writing groove is quite another—the feature and font familiarity across my Mac and iOS devices keeps my eyes and concentration from wandering. When I come across a new writing app in either the iOS or Mac App Store, the first thing I do is check the other to see if a companion is available.
It’s hard to say definitively what makes a good cross-platform writing app, but I instantly know when I’ve found one. A good use of fonts is important, but a wide selection isn't necessary—for example, Vesper doesn't let you stray very far from Ideal Sans, but it absolutely would be on this list if a Mac component were available. Also, a pure writing space is nice, but menus and sidebars aren't an immediate turnoff. Simply put, the essence of a great text editor is more than the sum of its fonts or keyboard bars. The bottom line is focus. The best cross-platform apps know what to leave behind when switching from a 21-inch-screen to a 9.7-inch one, and they do it without trampling over any of our individual writing styles and preferences.
And while mine may certainly differ from yours, here are my picks for the best ones: Best: Ulysses III Long before the minimalist trend, Ulysses put a heavy focus on writing rather than formatting, giving authors the tools they needed to brainstorm, organize, and create their projects with ease. Today, (, $45;, $20;, $1) has evolved and matured into the premier writing experience on the Mac. The recent release of a major version 2.0 upgrade has raised the bar so high it’s hard to imagine a better experience on any platform. With full support for Yosemite and an overall refining of the paneled interface, its eloquence is only trumped by its flexibility. Ulysses III on the Mac more than lives up to its namesake's lofty pedigree. Ulysses may be a simple Markdown text editor at heart, but an array of carefully crafted features makes it a true multipurpose utility for writers.
All of your documents are stored right within the app's attractive sidebar, allowing you to search and organize your projects with ease. A slide-out panel stores notes and images related to the document you're working on, while typewriter scrolling keeps your eyes from losing their focus. And unlike many of the other text editors I’ve used, didn’t water down its vision for iOS. On the iPad, you’ll find a full version of Ulysses formatted to fit the smaller screen and reimagined for multitouch.
Everything from its minimal interface to its professional features has been brought to the iPad, but nothing about it feels cramped or crowded. Everything that's great about Ulysses on the Mac is even better on the iPad. As you switch between Ulysses for Mac and Ulysses for iPad, iCloud keeps your documents safe and synced, but it's the uniform experience that will keep your words flowing. Fonts and themes match across both devices, and many of the things that make Ulysses great in OS X, such as attachments, exporting, and picture-perfect previews, all make an appearance. And of course there are some features that only make sense on the iPad.
Slide your finger over the keyboard to control the cursor. Tap the extra row above the keyboard to bring up things like word and character count (including within selections), Markup styles (and an excellent set of punctuation shortcuts if Markdown isn’t your thing). Swipe a document name to move, copy, or export. It's all extremely simple and intuitive, and The Soulmen has gone to considerable lengths to create a smooth transition between the two apps.
On the iPhone, there's Daedalus Touch, a unique, extraordinary text editor in its own right, but it doesn’t follow the Ulysses aesthetic, at least not yet. Instead of panels there’s a system of stacks and sheets that mirror the ones in your OS X sidebar. However, since it syncs only with the Mac and not the iPad, working across all three devices isn’t exactly seamless. Thankfully, an iPhone version of Ulysses is already in the works, so these continuity issues shouldn't last too long. Besides, the Mac-iPad Ulysses tandem is so tight, it's not a deal-breaker in the slightest. Runner-up: Byword A canvas free of icons, menus, and other distractions has become a staple of the modern text editor, but (, $12;, $6) takes it to a whole new level. Starting a new document is a lot like opening Apple’s classic TextEdit app: The only identifying marking you’ll find is a word counter at the bottom of the window.
(And even that can be turned off.) Whether all that extra space makes you a better writer is debatable, but Byword’s mission is to keep you focused, and in that it succeeds admirably. Byword's barely-there Mac interface puts the mini in minimal.
Just because there aren't any font menus or icons in your line of sight doesn't mean there aren't any options. Whether you’re using the full-screen mode or a floating window, an excellent implementation of customizable text widths (which can be set to narrow, medium, or wide) will help you set up your perfect workspace. Byword also includes several typing modes designed to help you write and edit with ease; a pair of “focus” modes dim any excess words around the paragraph or line you’re working on, and small touches like paragraph indents and insert-able lists make outlines and quick notes simple and elegant. Byword's minimal approach to writing feels right at home on the iPhone's small screen. Byword excels as a Markdown editor, but if you're not proficient in the language, you can also write using rich text, just like you would in Microsoft Word. Having another option is a nice touch; unfortunately it's not one that extends beyond the Mac.
Only plain text documents will sync with iOS, so if you want to use bolding and italicizing across your devices, you'll need to get comfortable with asterisks and underscores. But it'll be worth it. Byword's iOS offerings are gorgeous exercises in style and restraint, delivering an experience that isn’t just minimal for minimal’s sake. While the iPhone and iPad versions offer identical interfaces and features, each of the two apps take advantage of the screen they’re presented with; for example, the iPad app presents your documents in a sidebar that isn’t feasible on the iPhone, but both utilize the same simple gestures to navigate between files. And you're not stuck with iCloud—Byword also lets you store files in your Dropbox folder for easier sharing between other apps. Byword on iOS includes many of the same excellent exporting options that the Mac version does, including PDF, HTML, and rich-text email. Also like the desktop version, a separate $5 in-app purchase lets you publish to WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger, or upload to Scriptogr.am and Evernote, but it's even more useful on iOS, where cutting and pasting text between apps is much more tedious.
But even if you just use it as a plain text editor, Byword will give your words a fantastic home, whether they’re traveling on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone. Best for Word stalwarts who don’t have an Office 365 subscription: TinyWord/Microsoft Word Back in the day, Microsoft Word was the go-to app for writers. Powerful and feature-rich, it offered something for everyone, whether you were writing the great American novel or adding footnotes to a lengthy research paper. But over the years, Microsoft surrendered its foothold, and now that it’s tied to a monthly subscription, many people are understandably reluctant to make the commitment. But you can still get a cross-platform Word experience without the rolling fees. On the Mac side, there are numerous apps that claim Word kinship, but they don't all deliver what they promise. TinyWord (, $2) does.
Writing And Reference Software For Mac Free
As its name suggests, it's not exactly overloaded with features, but Word users will certainly notice a distinct similarity in the interface. It can handle all of your.doc and.docx files with ease, and there are more than enough text and exporting options to keep your files looking their best. Tiny Word is just like Word, but tinier. And when you need to transfer a document to iOS, just save it to your OneDrive and open it up in the free. TinyWord will maintain any formatted tables and fonts to keep things from getting messy, and you’ll be able to edit and save in the mobile Word app without needing a subscription. Microsoft has done an admirable job with the Word interface on iOS, adhering to the clean iOS aesthetic while still offering the features Word users crave. Office 365 users will get a few extra formatting and layout options, but even without a subscription, Word on iOS still feels very much like a premium universal app.
Microsoft Word on iOS might actually be better than the Windows Phone app. Best for writers who spent all of their money on new Apple stuff: Pages If you’re looking for a completely free way to write and edit on whatever Apple device happens to be at your disposal (and it’s been purchased within the past year and a half), you won’t find an app anywhere that beats ( and, free). Apple took its iWork suite in a new direction with its iOS 7 redesign, removing many of its professional features along with the price of admission. But even without things like mail merging, linked text boxes, and mailing labels, Pages is a fine tool for writers looking to quickly get to work. If you bought a Mac last year and didn’t download your free copy of Pages, go get it now. No matter which platform you’re using, there’s a clear focus on simplicity, with a sparse interface and a well-stocked library of templates. There’s no Markdown support, but headers, footers, and margins are all adjustable, and rich-text support maintains desktop-class uniformity across all of your devices.
Pages makes the most of every pixel. But writers working in a standard template will be pleased with Pages' responsive layout and exporting options, which includes.doc as well as ePub and PDF. Documents are neatly formatted for each screen, and there's even a web component that lets you work on Windows PCs and collaborate with up to 100 other writers.
Writing And Reference Software For Mac Mac
And if you work alone, you can still utilize Pages' excellent annotations by inserting comments, monitoring changes, and highlighting parts you need to work on later. Pages has taken its lumps over the years—and it’s probably not worth the $30 price Apple charges for older devices—but you'll be hard-pressed to find a free writing app with more features in either the Mac or iOS App Stores, let alone both. Best for keeping a writing journal: Day One Any of the apps here can double as a writing journal, but none of them let you personalize and simplify it like (, $10;, $5) does. With an impressive system of tags, reminders, and hashtags, Day One is versatile enough to be more than a digital diary—with a little creativity, it can become one of your indispensable writing tools, especially if you’re already accustomed to using Evernote or OneNote to record your thoughts throughout the day. Day One doesn’t just have to be for selfies and food shots—it can also be a tool for organizing your thoughts.