Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tech for Writers (A "random bullets" post)

  • I've been using Zotero for about a year now to organize my bibliography, as well as notes on stuff I have already read. I like the interface, and am slowly (manually) migrating my massive database that I created in grad school in Filemaker Pro. So far, I use it to organize bibliography (including a place to store and organize references to books and articles I haven't read), and attach notes on things I have read, as well as copies of articles. Haven't posted it all to the cloud yet, but I will. But I can't help thinking that there are other things I'm missing.
  • After several years of Mac fanatics (I'm a fan, but not a fanatic) urging me to get iWork, I did. This, after a really bad experience in grad school with Mac's first office suite, the odious "Apple Works." I like keynote fine, and pages has a nifty layout or two for newsletters & the like. I can even understand numbers, which is much more intuitive than Excel, in my opinion. But I can't imagine why some of my academic friends are singing the praises of a word-processing software that has no button to insert a footnote.
  • Scrivener. I've been hearing lots about this, and since I'm at the beginning of a project, now would be the time. Also, since I'm at the beginning of a semester. It looks cool, and I'll probably download the free trial to check it out. Anyone out there using this? Thoughts?
  • Also thinking about downloading MacFreedom, which will shut off my internet access at prearranged times. I hate to pay 10 bucks for something I should be able to do myself, but apparently I'm incapable.

15 comments:

Dave said...

I've used Word and Pages but now swear by NisusWriter Pro. It's much sleeker, and oddly feels more fully-featured than Pages. I've also had fewer compatibility issues with .doc files in Nisus than in Pages. Nisus works with .rtf files, which are easy to open on just about any platform, and if you have correspondents who demand .doc, it is easy enough to fix: just rename the .rtf file .doc and it will open up in Word looking much the same as it does in Nisus. However, it isn't an entire office suite, so you'd be missing the presentation and spreadsheet software.

Scrivener, I love. It comes highly touted for a reason. It does a great job of organizing all the random bits of text that come together when working on a project and I think it saved my butt on the most recent chapter of my dissertation thanks to its faux-notecard interface. That said, you might want to hold off on purchasing it: 2.0 is due out this fall and while I'm sure there'll be some program for people who purchased it not long before the update, I don't know if they've announced anything formally. The other great thing about Scrivener is that it has amazing customer support. If you post a question on the literatureandlatte forums, odds are the program's author will pop up and answer it for you.

Dave said...

And also check out SelfControl (http://visitsteve.com/work/selfcontrol/) as a free alternative to MacFreedom.

JBJ said...

Ryan Cordell wrote Scrivener up for us at ProfHacker in the spring: http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Scrivener-Scrivening/23026/.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

No button for footnotes: because some of us use keystrokes almost exclusively wherever we can? (HATE the mouse!)

Scrivener: is awesome, at least for me, as I use it now. You can dump all your PDFs into a project file, and you can split its screen between your document and your notes. And it has a great search function. For me, these are all worth the price of admission. I also like writing in discrete chunks, and then organizing those chunks, which works really well with the Scrivener format.

Digger said...

I was getting all excited by Scrivener, when I noticed it is for Macs only :(

R.K. Wheadon said...

I lovelovelove(!) Scrivener. When working on any project, I copy sections from my secondary sources on to a pad of paper and scan them. I then can have my scrollable notes on one side of the window whilst typing in the other. (And, yes, dumping in the PDFs is also a brilliant feature). It's incredible what always looking at the screen does in terms of flow, as opposed to looking down or sideways or flipping through pages of notes. I've found my writing has sped up dramatically.

(I use Pages to format the papers I've completed in Scrivener -- although it does have a tendency to gobble up footnotes when I print things off. Sigh.)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, Scrivener fans: how (if at all) does it integrate with Zotero?

tenthmedieval said...

No button for footnotes: because some of us use keystrokes almost exclusively wherever we can?

Amen! I don't hate the mouse—though I have a trackball, which helps a lot, including with hand cramp—but it means changing a gear somewhere in my head rather than cruising on at full speed. This is, for me, the main reason why I'll never be a Mac person (and thus presumably never meet this Scrivener thing).

thefrogprincess said...

I love Scrivener as well and I highly recommend it, especially for the kind of work and writing that I do before I'm in the process of writing an actual chapter. One caveat, though: it is possible to do the bulk of your writing on it but doing so isn't for everybody. I wrote two chapter drafts in it and it generally worked fine, although I think I may be switching to Mellel to do the bulk of the chapter drafting. But it has a clunky footnote system where "footnotes" are more like annotations that follow the text in a shaded bubble. This bothers some people in the drafting phase.

As far as I know, Scrivener doesn't integrate with Zotero. The creator of Scrivener designed it to fit his writing process for novels and screenplays so it is not a program designed specifically for academics. But I've found it a great way to keep every scrap of writing, freewriting, random thoughts, varying versions of abstracts, and all drafts of my chapters, even if it requires some adjustments or another word processor.

thefrogprincess said...

oh, and for footnotes, you might be able to add your own command into the program. I've done it before with Mac programs; it was pretty easy.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, you've convinced me: I've just downloaded the 30-day trial version of Scrivener. I'll update you October 1 or so.

PhDeviate said...

I am also a Scrivener fan. I used it to draft my dissertation, and I now use it as much as a database of sorts as as a drafting tool.

I have a scrivener project where I aggregate all the syllabi of all the classes I've ever taught, and I love Scrivener for organizing class documents (syllabus, other course info, lesson plans, pdfs of readings etc.). It's amazing how much course material looks a lot like the various research and drafted materials for a large writing project!

I can't say anything about integration with Zotero, because I (gasp!) haven't worked much with Zotero. For writing/citing, I use Mellel + Bookends, also Mac only. I have a couple recent posts on some digital tools that I either use or am exploring, see my website.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I've been playing with Scrivener all weekend now. I'll have a more complete update at the end of the month, but for now I'm saying that I like it, and that you can drag-and-drop zotero citations into a scrivener document, and they format perfectly.

Margot said...

I am looking forward to that full review of Scrivener. I am trialling the new Windows version (beta) now and like it so far but the lack of interaction with Zotero, as well as the footnote issue is a major drawback.

Cheers,

Margot

Margot said...

I am looking forward to that full review of Scrivener. I am trialling the new Windows version (beta) now and like it so far but the lack of interaction with Zotero, as well as the footnote issue is a major drawback. I would really like to read what you have to say.

Cheers,

Margot