Thursday, September 15, 2011

More on using your mac for long-form writing

This is following up my last post on this topic, mostly by copying and pasting comments. First, I want to especially thank Craig and M.Allen for their helpful suggestions. Also, I had some people ask me if there were any similar program suggestions for a windows based computer. Particularly for citation management. Any suggestions, let me know.

First, one category I left of were things to stop time waste (you know, like reading blogs). I have used LeechBlock. Craig makes this suggestion:
I also recommend Freedom. It turns off network connectivity for a designated period of time thus preventing you from wasting your life reading blogs and Twitter. (As I am doing now.)
Which is a good suggestion. I think I might try using this one. I have found that I am just too skilled at getting distracted on the internet, that LeechBlock is sometimes too nuanced of a tool for my work.

On the issue of what to use for word processing and citation management, this is what Craig suggested:
I write in plain text in TextWrangler, where I also markup the text in LaTeX. Marking it up as such allows to easily identify what should be bolded, italicized, and the like should I want to output the text to Word or RTF instead. Unlike proprietary document formats (e.g., Word, Mellel, etc), plain text will most likely always be readable by all computers at all times. Will come in handy when you are editing your complete works on your deathbed in fifty years.For citation management, I use BibDesk, which integrates very well into LaTeX. If you loved the aesthetic features of Mellel (which I had used at the start of my dissertation), you'll die for LaTeX.

I've never used Scrivener, but I understand it can fulfill the same functions as TextWrangler. The advantage of TextWrangler (and LaTeX and BibDesk) is that it is professional quality and free. LaTeX and BibDesk also have the advantage of being open source.

M. Allen also made these comments on LaTeX:
Since I do some technical work, I had trained myself in LaTeX. Thankfully, LaTeX is incredibly flexible in compiling documents, lists of tables, list of figures, and is built with its own bibliography package. TeXShop for mac is free, so my bibliography and writing packages are free altogether.

When compiling the document, I can specify what I want if I don't want the whole document. So, for the job market, just telling it to return "Chapter 4", makes life easy for that (or having people read it).

If you do not do any mathematical work, then learning LaTeX is not really ideal. However, if you do (logic, or in my case, game theory), then this combination made it a great tool for compiling my dissertation.
Lastly, JonEP suggested this for citation management, a browser based solution:
I'd strongly urge you to consider Zotero, not only for bibliography management, but especially if you are girding yourself for the long haul of a dissertation (I just finished one). Zotero is particularly useful for acquiring articles -- as you do research on your computer, you are constantly pulling down articles that are useful to you. Without Zotero, the task of entering bibliographic information about each article is so onerous that it soon overwhelms you. With Zotero, you are able to rapidly integrate new material into your collection and keep it organized and relevant.

I'd also strongly recommend checking out NVIVO, a program that helps you code and analyze your notes. [Nvivo is for windows, and I haven't used it. --Scu]

Now, I haven't used any of these programs, but I figure I would put this out there. And I generally agree about using open source tech. So, there you have it. Any other suggestions? Comments?